Outdoor Articles

Hunting Sites – Part 2

by T.R. Michels on January 14th, 2009 in Big Game Hunting, Hunting

Many hunters realize that they see deer most often at dawn and dusk, but some of them fail to understand that the deer rest in wooded areas during most of the day, get up around sunset, and move out of the woods and into fields after dark. They also don’t understand that, when the weather is nice, the deer often spend the night eating and resting in or near fields, and that around sunrise, they leave the fields to go back to their wooded bedding areas. During the night I regularly check the feeding areas where I do research and hunt. While I often see deer feeding after sunset and before sunrise, I also see them bedded in or near the fields from 10:00 – 12:00 PM and from 2:00 – 4:00 AM. Several different studies on daily deer activity show that during the fall deer are most active at night around dawn and dusk, and from 12:00 – 2:00 AM. This means they are not moving much between 10:00 and 12:00 PM, and between 2:00 and 4:00 AM.

So what do deer do at night? When deer leave their bedding areas at sunset they often head for the nearest field, stopping to feed on grass, sedges, forbes, fruits and twigs along the way. Once they get to the field they stock up on corn, soybeans, alfalfa or where what ever else is available. In areas where there are several types of forage the deer may travel to each of them during the first few hours of darkness. The deer don’t actually digest whet they eat while feeding because they are ruminants, they store the food until later. Once they are full the deer usually lay down to regurgitate their cud and chew it to make it digestible. From the daily activity studies I mentioned earlier it appears that deer feed for 4-6 hours in the evening, lay down to rest and chew their cud for a couple of hours, then get up and feed for another couple of hours after midnight, rest again for a couple of hours, and then get up to feed again for 2-4 hours before going back to their bedding areas. It is thought that deer rarely sleep longer than two hours before standing up to at least stretch. During the winter deer may sleep longer than that. During the rut bucks may bed very little.

While I was watching the hunters during the first day of the gun season one year I noticed three does, each with a fawn, feeding in the cornfields within a half-mile of my truck. Because these deer were not harassed by hunters they continued to feed until about 8:30. Even with several gunshots around them they continued to feed, and appeared not to be alarmed by the dun shots in the woods, or the fact the hunting season was in progress. Shortly after 8:30 the does and fawns moved north and crossed a county road in open country. Then they went north until they got lose to a group of trees planted along the neighbors driveway as a windbreak/snow fence, followed the trees east and crossed a highway, and eventually moved back into the wooded area where they bedded.

I suspect the deer were unaware of the hunters stationed in those woods, unless they came across their scent, and therefore they may have continued to move and feed as they normally would. They probably didn’t stop moving and feeding until they got back to their bedding areas, which may have taken an hour or more. Movement by deer such as these, which were unaware of the hunters, explains why hunters often see deer moving in wooded areas late in the morning even during the hunting season. Hunters who know that this activity may occur can take advantage of it by staying in the woods most of the day. They may even see a buck following a doe late in the morning during the rut, especially if the does have been feeding in fields away from their bedding areas.
Stand Site Selection

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A stand is where you choose to hunt, and can be any location where you wait for the animals. It could be near a tree, rock, or hilltop; or it could be a tree stand, tripod or ground blind. The main purpose of a stand is to allow you to see the animal and get a shot before it detects you. A stand site should afford some means of protection from the animal seeing, smelling or hearing you, while letting you see the animal.
 
Your method of hunting dictates where you place your stand. If you are rifle or muzzle loader hunting your stand can be farther away from where you expect deer than if you are shotgun, handgun, archery or crossbow hunting. Distance alone is enough to avoid detection. The shorter the effective range of you and your weapon, the more concealment from sight and sound, and the more the wind direction dictate where your stand should be placed. If you intend to wait for the animals, or use techniques to attract them at distances closer than 100 yards, place your stand out of the direct line of sight of the animal and keep downwind or crosswind from its approach. A tree stand can be placed near high use areas but can be out of normal visual range because of height. Height also helps to disperse scent and sound.

Ground stands can be effective as long as adequate concealment or camouflage is used, and precautions are taken so the animal doesn’t smell you. There are numerous hunting blinds that conceal movement, muffle sound, and because you are out of the wind, less smell escapes. Because deer have learned to look into trees for hunters, and associate the upright human form with danger, I have begun hunting more from the ground. The biggest advantages of ground stand hunting are mobility and comfort. By sitting on rocks, logs, the ground, or my Back Seat portable stool, I can easily pick up and move if the area is unproductive. I don’t have to worry about hanging multiple stands that may or may not be in the right location, or taking down my stand and moving it. I simply get up and walk away. This is especially helpful if there is a sudden wind change. While I am sitting on my Back Seat I don’t present the upright human form, and deer don’t perceive me as a danger. I have been hunting from ground stands for years and have had more “close encounters” with animals and shooting opportunities than I have when hunting from a tree stand.
Tree stands

With hunters spending so much time in tree stands hoping to see and get a shot at a deer, the location of the stand in relation to where they expect to see the deer is crucial. But, I often see stands hung too close to open feeding areas, too far from core areas; too far from or too close to deer travel corridors and trails; in places where the wind or thermal currents are wrong; in surroundings where the hunter is sky-lined; and often too low. In order for you to get the most out of your tree stand it needs to be in the right location; an area frequented by deer at the time of the day that you intend to hunt from it. Ideally this is in a wooded or semi-wooded area where the deer feel secure in during the day.

Secure Areas

Since deer spend the majority of the daylight hours in secure areas, often in thick vegetation and wooded or low-lying areas where visibility is limited, the majority of your stand sites should be in or near those areas. If you can’t see the deer and shoot into those areas, you are too far away. Deer (especially older bucks) don’t usually leave their security areas and  move into open areas until shortly before or after sunset, which means that hunters who place their stands at the edge of agricultural fields and other open areas will see fewer deer, and especially older bucks, during legal hunting hours, than hunters who place their stands in or near the secure areas.

Close Enough

A stand also needs to be close enough to where you expect to see the deer to get a shot, but far enough away so that the deer don’t detect you, either while you are waiting or getting ready for a shot. Obviously hunters using a bow, crossbow, handgun, shotgun or muzzleloader need to be closer to the deer than a rifle hunter. When you choose a location for your stand consider the effective shooting distance of you and your weapon, and then set up several yards closer than that for good measure. Do not set your stand too close to where you expect to see the deer. Too often I see stands that are within yards of a deer trail, or are hanging off to the side of the trail where the deer may be looking directly toward the stand as it comes around a corner in the trail. If you are using a short-range weapon, and can see several yards of the trail in any one direction, you are probably too close, because the deer will probably be able to see you.

Not Too Close

Although you want to be close to the deer’s core area, where they spend most of their time during daylight hours, you don’t want to be so close that you alert the deer to your presence. You don’t want the deer to smell, hear or see you when you are in your stand; and especially when you put your stand up, which is when you can be seen, smelled or heard by the deer as you walk in, hang your stand and clear shooting lanes. How close you can get to the core area depends on the terrain, the thickness of the vegetation and the wind direction. No matter what the terrain and vegetation are like, I don’t think you can setup a stand closer than 100 yards without the deer hearing, seeing or smelling you. Air currents are often the determining factor as to where you can set up, because wind from you to the core area will carry your scent to the deer. If the wind or thermals are wrong, a half-mile may be too close.

One Response to “Hunting Sites – Part 2”

  1. Greg May Says:

    I had a neighbor once who was an avid hunter and a philanderer. Once his wife asked him why he left her so much to go to the woods. He replied he was looking for beaver!.

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