There’s a lot more to setting a tree stand than tightening up a few screws and securing it to the tree. Setting your stand where it will do you the most good is the first consideration and ultimately the most important one.
White-tailed deer are creatures that have predictable behavior patterns in general terms and that are also tough to predict in specific situations. To place your tree stand in the most productive location you should start by thinking about the deer’s general behavior and then settling on your options once you’ve considered the overview.
Habitat and food are general behavior motivations that all whitetails respond to. Look for natural corridors that funnel deer through areas that tend to concentrate their movements. Ridges, waterways, dips and valleys all serve as highways and road signs for deer as they move from bedding areas out into feeding stations. A break in the cover can be a deer magnet, especially when the habitat doesn’t vary much from one spot to another. A field edge, a fencerow, the edge of the woods. These are all significant habitat in the eyes of that elusive big buck and he’ll be spending some time there.
Setting up a tree stand near forage is another way to take advantage of what makes a deer a deer. Whitetails lead a relaxing life as they meander through the browse, munching a little here and picking off a few leaves over there. Acorns may be the sustaining feature of the woods. Better yet are places where the overhead canopy has been opened up to allow sunlight to revitalize the forest floor. Fires, logging, ice storm breakage, and other natural or manmade disasters serve a long-term good in creating new forage. Old stumps will often sprout to create new browse at the perfect height. Deer do well on these areas until the rebounding forest grows out of their reach. In the meantime the young trees, grass and other flora serve as a smorgasbord of easy-to-find food that will sustain a deer population in even the worst of weather.
Field hunting next to a crop field is the best hunting most hunters will ever see. Big bucks move out into the field to feed when they’re certain there’s no trouble afoot, often letting younger deer lead the way. Stand hunters typically take the first buck they see and never catch a glimpse of the monarch that was waiting in the shadows.
Bedding areas are another great place to set a tree stand, especially if you can locate the pathways in and out of the beds. Thick stands of undergrowth are preferred spots due to the afforded security but sometimes the deer will fool you. Grassy fields where they can lie in the tall grass aren’t likely-looking bedding spots but whitetails will use them. Set your stand near the trails you’ve located and just bide your time.
Big bucks lay claim to the best areas within their domain. Younger bucks and does give way to the rack as he establishes his territory in the thickest undergrowth, the best hardwood stands, and within easy walking distance of corn and bean fields. Trophy-class bucks slide through meanest thorns and most inaccessible thickets you wouldn’t dream of trying to weasel through as a hunter. The same sections of woods with an open overhead canopy provide not only great eating but excellent cover as well. Most hunters can’t penetrate the thickets and that’s just what the trophies are counting on.
Hunting on public property brings in a new set of factors that you’ll have to take into consideration. Many public areas prohibit the use of tree stands altogether or may limit their use to portable stands that have to be carried out at the end of the day. Other difficulties arise when access is open to all takers and you’ve set up on the perfect spot only to have other hunters wandering around under your stand.
Specific factors that determine the best tree stand locations include visibility, stealth, and concealment. Set up in good habitat, near food and bedding areas, and on paths being used by deer. Make certain you’re high enough to get a good shot in as many directions as possible. Set your stand so that you’re comfortable and can sit still without wiggling or moving around. Use camouflage to avoid reflecting sunlight from unpainted steel and hide as well as humanly possible.
Now you can set your tree stand and know that you’re in business.