“Location, location, location” might be your motto when it comes to placing deer stands, and location is certainly important to your deer hunting success. In fact, I think many deer hunters focus so much on stand location that they fail to think about how they will enter and exit a stand undetected. I firmly believe that access to and from your stand is just as important as having a great location. If you want to consistently have enjoyable and successful hunts in those great locations, you need to access them without revealing your presence to deer noses, eyes and ears.
Yes, that’s a tough assignment, especially in some areas of the country where the landscape and forest cover doesn’t naturally make this an easy task. But I follow a handful of simple rules that might help you. This list of Do’s and Don’ts may not be suited to every situation, but the more of them you can put into practice, the more likely you will remain undetected when entering and exiting your stands.
First a Word About Wind
The wind can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to outsmarting whitetails. I do not hunt a stand unless the wind direction is absolutely favorable for that location, but that goes for my access route as well! As you move toward your stand, is your scent blowing into some great bedding cover or high-use deer travel corridors along your route? If so, adjustments to that access route need to be made, or an alternative route needs to be found. Some lands don’t lay out perfectly for solving situations like this, and that is where a little creativity may be needed. The ideal route might lie on an adjacent property, and obviously, you would need permission from the landowner. Some of my best stand access routes involved getting permission from a neighboring landowner. Along with the potential of obtaining a new access point, you might even use this opportunity to talk to neighboring landowners about forming a QDM Cooperative.
Now, my personal Do’s and Don’ts for stand access.
Don’t Do This
I don’t hunt a stand unless the wind direction is favorable for both the stand location and the access route I’ll use to get there. Yes, we’ve covered this already, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t be a rebel; hunt the right wind.
I don’t walk the tops of ridges to get to my stands. Instead I choose a route that goes low or has cover to break up my silhouette from the sky, whether I’m trying to avoid being backlit by the sun, moon or stars. Walking the top of an open ridge you will look like Bigfoot against the skyline.
I don’t drive my ATV or any other vehicle to the base of my tree or even close to it. I enjoy hiking, and I don’t like causing unnecessary noise near my hunting area. There are also some pretty quiet e-bikes available that can get you far from camp and close to hot stands with minimal noise.
I don’t walk across open fields or woods. I want to be concealed, and that means a path that is hidden by vegetation or other natural obstacles. This may take some planning ahead and maybe some off-season work with a chainsaw to create cover for your ideal access route.
I don’t walk across food plots. This is for two reasons: not being seen and not being smelled. You will probably leave scent where you walk through the plot, and this scent could even alarm deer that arrive later, after your hunt is over. When hunting plots, always choose stand locations that allow you to enter and leave without touching the plot itself.
I do pack most of my clothes into the stand. I wear thin layers on my way in and pack my additional layers to be put on at the base of the tree. This helps me avoid sweating. I always play the wind, but I also try to take every measure possible to reduce my scent on the landscape, and this is one of them.
I do slow it down and take my time. This is especially important when I’m within sight of my stand as well as climbing in. Slowing it down decreases your odds of being seen by deer, whose vision is specially designed to catch movement.
I do use topography to my advantage when possible. I use ditches, creeks, rocky shelves or bluffs to hide my movement whenever they are available. I especially like using creeks as I believe walking in shallow water helps with minimizing scent along my trail.
I do canoe or boat in whenever that’s an option, especially on public land. Canoeing in adds a bit of work, so it’s not for everybody, but it can put you in some lightly pressured locations, and it’s a quiet route that doesn’t leave a scent trail through the woods.
I do borrow the yard rake or leaf blower from the garage and clear my trail of sticks and crunchy debris. This needs to be done pre-season or at least several days before your hunt, but it helps minimize noise as you walk. Also use garden shears to clip small limbs or vines in your path so that you don’t brush against them when you’re on the way in.
I do use a very small, dim flashlight, especially one with a red filter, when entering or leaving my stand in the dark. Sometimes I don’t use a light at all when there’s enough natural light from the stars or moon, and when I know the trail well. I carry a separate, brighter light if needed for blood trailing.
“Access, access, access” isn’t likely to become a cliche, but access is just as important as finding that great stand location. Follow these do’s and don’ts this season and you’ll have more success at outsmarting the senses of whitetails. Good luck this season accessing your path to an enjoyable and successful hunt!