By Tom Peplinksi
This month I have several questions coming from Dennis in southern Iowa. His questions are “I’ve been following along the Whitetails 365 articles for quite a while now. Thank you for the information. I have several questions I was hoping you could answer. You talk about food plots in the woods, I think you have referred to them as interior plots. You say a hunter should pick the spots not just what is easy like openings but how do you do this? How do you clear away all the stumps so that you can plant without having access to a bunch of big equipment?
I also have questions about how you set up your tree stands. How high do you hang and why? Do you use hang on stands, ladders stands, blinds, and why? I have several good spots where I hunt but the trees are mostly smaller shingle oaks, do you have any suggestions for tree stands in smaller trees? When do you hang your stands, I’m afraid to hang mine early for fear of squirrels chewing on them, any suggestions? When do you cut your shooting lanes? Thank you for any tips.
Thank you, Dennis, for the questions.
The Makings of an Interior Plot
I had often wondered what other hunters thought when I made the claim that you should indeed put your interior plots where you want them…not letting the timber dictate where you plant these small transition plots. The point is to plan these plots out so that deer move from bedding—into and through your transition interior plots—then leave them on their way out to bigger plots or agriculture fields. This makes their location more important than any other consideration including what is planted in them. The goal is to dictate or manipulate the deer into moving where you want them to move, making their travels advantageous to you…the hunter. In this way you can take advantage of entrance routes, exit routes, different wind directions, even a nice tree you would like to hang your stand in. The problem seems to be HOW do you establish these plots and plant them in the timber where there is no natural opening?
Establishing an interior plot in the middle of the woods seems like a task you can only accomplish with huge equipment; but that’s not the case at all. Now, when I’m planning these plots I’m picking the location at a sky view level first; meaning I’m picking the general location that I want to manipulate deer to travel through. Then, I scout the area on foot picturing in my head where a small plot would work best, how I could access the area, where my stand would get hung, etc. Because I’m picking the spot I can also move the plot to accommodate the timber to make it work…in other words, in every timber setting there are pockets or holes that make putting in a food plot easier than in other spots. In most cases, I’m still required to remove woody brush and to cut down and remove mature trees. I have never, however, removed the stumps. The key really is to cut the woody brush and trees as close to the ground as you can so that you can work around them when you go to plant. Remember, these plots are small. In many cases, only a few trees will need to be cut and removed to open up enough canopy to make planting a green plot possible. To plant these plots, I generally only use a disc because a disc won’t hook roots and will ride up and over stumps unlike a drag. This can be hard word and very labor intensive for a hunter with limited equipment, but I’ve been doing these for over 20 years with usually nothing more than a sharp chain on my saw and a well stretched back.
Tree Stand Tips
The second line of questions is about hanging stands. I think I’ll address all the questions by just describing what process I use when hanging my stands, or maybe a better description would be when planning my sets because they aren’t always tree stands.
I like to plan out and put in all of my sets in late winter or spring before major green up occurs. I do this because late winter after the snow melts is most like fall hunting conditions. And, by doing my work during this time frame I am not disturbing the deer at all close to hunting season. Because of this, I have tried to stay away from strap on type stands because of the risk of having animals chew threw the straps. I have now transitioned to mostly chain on type stands, or ladder stands. All of my stands are hung somewhere between 15 and 20 feet in height, and all of my ladder stands are in that same height range. In most cases the height has more to do with finding that right spot on the tree where it will be comfortable to sit for long periods of time, or where a branch could provide me with cover, or considering safety getting in and out of the stand. Rarely am I thinking I need to go higher for cover’s sake. 15 to 20 feet high has always seemed to get me above the normal sight line of deer as long as I’m still, quiet, and have cover around me.
In situation where I find there are just no good trees to hang in, I will double down and keep looking. Small trees, like small shingle oaks can still support a stand. In fact, I have already tipped a ladder stand into smaller shingle oaks, brushed them in, and built a great set in a tree most hunters wouldn’t consider. Ladder stands really excel in this area, where there are small trees, crooked trees, or otherwise trees that won’t support hang on type stands…a ladder stand will usually do the trick. And, I have yet to see evidence that deer can pick out ladder stands any better than hang on or climbing sticks; especially when you hang your sets well before the season starts. In fact, as I get older, I find a comfortable ladder stand preferable to a hang on for comfort, safety, and versatility. In one case, on a farm I hunted years ago, I actually installed a 12-foot tripod stand in an area where only very small trees and brush existed. The spot was far too awesome to not hunt there, ground blinds were impossible to see out of, and hang on or ladder stands were impossible. The 12-foot tripod stand that I brushed in did just the trick!
If all else fails, or in instances where I am hunting an area with literally no trees, a well-placed pop up or other ground blind will certainly do the trick. An enclosed ground blind certainly has its benefits during late season or during nasty weather. In fact, all of my late season hunting is planned for using ground blinds that are either partially or fully enclose.
In terms of stand safety, I am now transitioning to the full tree length safety rope and prusik knot system. I think it’s a great idea to be attached the whole time you are elevated. This requires additional work however because these systems have to be installed and then taken down each season so that they don’t get compromised by animals or weathered. My system for using these fall systems is to carefully go to each elevated stand about September 1st of each year and inspect the stands. Then, I install both the full fall restraint system and an additional 10,000 lb. strap around each stand…even stands that are chain on. This extra heavy strap not only makes the stand safer, but it keeps it from shifting or making noise. The addition of the safety system and heavy strap make it safer to hunt out of elevated stands. I have had screw in steps grow into trees too and have even seen some snap, so I am also transitioning away from screw in steps and eliminating them altogether.
Rarely will I cut shooting lanes close to or during the season. I cut all my shooting lanes during late winter and I make them wide enough in anticipation of vegetation growing back in. I always carry a very small folding saw and bypass shears in my pack to quietly tweak away limbs and leaves on my first time in during the hunting season. On trees that are small, don’t offer good cover, or where the hunter could be sky-lined (something you should avoid to begin with) I’ll also brush the stands in during late winter while I’m cutting in my shooing lanes or maintaining the lanes I’ve already made.
I’m glad Dennis wrote in with questions about small interior plots and tree stand placement and maintenance. I spend a lot of time on these two issues each season making sure I get things right while paying attention to detail.
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