I’ve always wanted to be a trapper; running the trap line on vast amounts of acreage. The anticipation or waiting game after setting the trap…what could be waiting for me around the next bend as my set comes into view would be exhilarating! Well, maybe someday this will happen. For now though I am not a trapper and don’t know much about it. But I love reading about trapping or talking with a veteran about the techniques they use. With today’s technology I can get lost for hours watching You-Tube videos on the subject. To a novice, it seems as though the best trappers have it down to an art. I love the detail and cunning nature of a trapper as they square off with the equal or greater cunning of a fox or coyote. The detail that seems to come second hand to a good and experienced trapper is the final touch on a good set or the “fencing”…that stone or stick placed in just the right spot to make a wary animal step in just the right spot on top the of “pan”. Setting a trap! When hunting whitetail my sets take me all year to prepare. Creating the right habitat in the right locations to predict and manipulate deer movement is my way of setting a successful trap; it represents the “lure” and “fencing”. My treestand or blind…the “pan”; my weapon…the “spring”. In essence, all the work we do each and every year, all year, to get us in position to take that shot is about creating the right set—setting the right trap in the right place with particular conditions!
I bring this analogy up in September because it is now our time to put the finishing touches on our sets. October and November is not the time to start planning for a successful hunting season…unless you’re planning for next year. Our habitat improvements should be done. Food plots in and flourishing; security cover established and holding deer. September is our run up to season opener and there are some final touches to be made. In just a few weeks we will be able to start measuring our return on investment into this hunting season. Will the hard work, planning, money, and time pay off? What will our return actually be?
Entry and Exit routes-I remember many years ago on an opening day of archery season. My friends and I had staked out a spot of public land only accessible by a small creek and canoe. We had scouted the timber of the public land during the off season and it was very promising. Deer were feeding heavily in alfalfa and soybeans to the east and would travel back into the timber as the sun would rise. Our sneak attack allowed us to get in behind the deer under the cover of darkness and with an east wind we would wait in ambush. The access by canoe deterred other hunters from the spot. Only our sneak attack was no sneak at all. When we got to our hot spot the morning of opening day, we found traveling through thick brush under the blackness of night was more difficult than we ever planned for. Our bows and climbing stands clanked and clacked with embarrassment. We heard several deer bolting off in the distance and at least one doe thought it was a good idea to snort until day light. We got skunked! Our plan was flawed badly…we had no way of getting in for a morning hunt without spooking most or all of the deer in the area. Common sense right? Yet many hunters never take into account an exit or entrance strategy.
September is a great time to perform entrance and exit route maintenance. It is close enough to hunting season that the work we do now will remain effective into October, yet deer will not see the intrusion of tractor, people, and possibly other equipment as substantial enough for them to permanently move. Every stand and blind I have has an entrance and exit strategy…without exception. I will have larger trails and roads that I can maintain with my tractor and 3 point rotary brush mower. Then off these larger trails I take the extra and crucial time to create routes in and out of my stands that offer me quiet and easy access. This means cutting off small brushy plants, grasses, and other foliage. Many times I will rake the path with a pitch fork or yard rake to remove twigs that can crack under my feet. Lately, because many of my sets don’t change from year to year and the larger brush is gone…an early September spraying of glyphosate from a hand or backpack sprayer works great for keeping down new growth like grass and briars. A lack of vegetation also helps to reduce or eliminate undergrowth rubbing against me where my scent can be deposited. These small trails allow me to get in and out making a minimal of noise. When making these trails, take the extra time to do two things. First, always point the trail to move past your stand on the upwind side about 20 yards or so away…never cut in a trail right at the stand. Deer will use these trails too and the last thing I want is a giant buck traveling down a trail I cut in walking directly at me or worse yet on my downwind side. Second, run the trail past the stand making a “T” where your stand is so deer traveling the trail walk past your stand yet you can still get to your spot on a clean path. Sometimes it requires having a different exit route when leaving your set so you don’t walk past deer on your way out. This is especially true on evening hunts…take the time to clear an exit path as well.
Tree Stand Maintenance-Most of my stands are planned for and picked each year well before hunting season. Many of them are in the same tree year to year. In some cases, I will actually leave a stand out year round especially hang on stands fitted with a chain. I will just loosen the chain each year in the spring so the tree growing doesn’t stress the stand…this goes for strapped hang on stands as well. (If you leave stands out, make sure to inspect straps and chains every year and replace them if there are any signs of wear!) For safety reasons, I will sometimes add an additional rated ratchet strap to the stand in September. This gives me the added piece of mind of double holding power so the stand is more secure and stable. Now is also a good time to put in place safety lines that travel the whole length from ground to stand.
The bulk of my shooting lanes are cut in late winter or very early spring. When sitting in the stand I have a very good perspective of what everything looked like last fall. This works great with two hunters. One hunter can sit on stand…the other can cut off branches and remove large obstacles in shooting lanes. September is another critical time to clean up your shooting lanes that grew in since you last trimmed them. A small set of shears and hand saw work great from the stand and a longer 20 foot adjustable staff saw works great for cleaning up around each set. I’m not gutting the area this time of year but rather just cleaning up what lanes I have already made months earlier.
In most cases I’m always trying to plan for placement of my tree stands in a tree offering me natural cover. But being in the right spot doesn’t always make this possible. In cases where I’ve hung a set in a sparsely covered or small tree, this is the best time to brush them in. I like military surplus netting as it proves to be good at brushing me in and lasts a long time. Pine boughs and branches work great too although they are less permanent. Long needled varieties like Red Pine are my favorite because the needles can stay on for years in some cases. I think placing the cover behind you is sometimes as effective as having it out in front of you. Especially in tree stands, having a good back drop behind and above you can prevent a deer from “sky lining” you.
Simulate drawing your bow and aiming while sitting and standing up. Rotate yourself in the stand while in the simulated position so that you can plan for and remove if necessary any limbs or leaves that are in your way. Better to do this now than on a quiet morning or evening during your hunt. Listen for squeaks or noises in your stand and fix them by tightening hardware or lubricating with a scent free food grade silicone spray. If you have squeaks that you can’t get rid of, consider replacing your stand. Listen for snaps and pops from the bark in your tree rubbing against the stand or strap/chain. Wear your safety harness now…this is both for safety and to plan for having it on while hunting. These are all things that will ruin that moment of truth that are mostly preventable now with some due diligence.
In conclusion, there are a lot of things to do in September to get us ready for whitetail hunting. Preparing routes to and from our sets is a critical final step in setting our trap. Tree stand maintenance and safety will go a long way in helping us close the deal at that moment of truth. The hunting is about to begin in just a few short weeks…don’t forget these last two important steps. This is the type of work that doesn’t get much glamour or print in our sport…but often times separates a consistently successful hunter and one who only has stories to tell. Take the time as we run up to season opener to put the finishing touches on your sets!
In September, I will most certainly be preparing entry and exit routes and performing stand maintenance on my hunting grounds. I will also start glassing preferred food sources this time of year in preparation to the season opener of October 1st. Now is also a decent time to start taking some inventory of the local buck herd from scouting cameras. Be careful not to read too much into camera data this time of year as there might be a big shift coming as bucks can move from summer ranges to fall areas. Don’t over pressure the deer herd by pounding your grounds checking cameras and scouting. For an archer, September represents a buildup of excitement in our cores not unlike a buck leading up to the rut.
In October’s issue, I will be covering what food sources are the most preferred, timing of those sources, and how plots become active with the fall harvest. I will explain the transition from early season hunting to hunting the rut. Taking advantage of evening hunts with a rising full moon. How changing weather affects movement early on. October is about taking advantage of the hard work you put in this year!