When Doc is scouting he is constantly picking up dead branches from trails.
Most stand hunters realize hunting for trophy whitetail bucks is very difficult, but few know why. The innate elusiveness of an older bucks is not the only reason. Most of the following more common reasons have something to do with you the hunter:
- Among the 15–23 deer normally living in an average unfenced square-mile of suitable habitat, only one is likely to have antlers measuring more than 150 inches (a normal distribution of the largest of bucks, enforced by the largest of bucks).
- Though the largest of bucks are likely to be most predictable and vulnerable to skilled stand hunting while breeding is in progress, most American whitetail hunters believe they are more likely to take big bucks at sites far less likely to be productive during this period and use lures, baits and other hunting aids also less likely to be effective during this period.
- Except for farm fields and clearcuts, most hunters are unable to identify doe feeding areas.
- Most stand hunters only use one stand site per hunting season.
- Though it has become popular to attempt to be scent-free while hunting whitetails, few hunters concern themselves with avoiding discovery by motion-sensitive eyes of whitetails and their very sensitive ears that constantly evaluate sounds heard within surrounding circles having a radius of 200 yards or more.
My hunting partners and I avoid making the above common mistakes several ways. To begin with, we scout, often in early spring and always in fall, often several times. Initially, we are most interested in finding fresh deer signs made by mature bucks — absolute evidences of their existence and locations of their home ranges — and whitetail graze and browse feeding areas.
In fall we select 3–5 stand sites per hunter, each intended to be used 1–2 half days each during the first 2–3 days of the hunting season (occasionally used a week later). We also check deer trails that were used to search for fresh deer signs during previous hunting seasons (using a wolf-inspired form if no-alarm scouting) and deer trails never used before, adding those with promise to the maze of deer trails used during past hunting seasons. All stand sites selected preseason are adjacent to deer trails that connect to these trails, thereafter regarded as stand site approach trails. To make our approach trails sufficiently silent while hiking within 100 yards of selected or probable (unselected) stand sites and make them easy to follow in darkness, we remove all dead branches that lie across them and attach double-sided fluorescent tacks that light up like Christmas tree light bulbs in the beam of a flashlight to trunks of trailside trees at regular intervals. We make it a rule to complete these preseason preparations 2-3 weeks before a hunting season begins to ensure all deer that were unavoidably alarmed will be back in their home ranges doing predictable things during predictable hours at predictable places by opening day.
While working on a stand site approach trail, in pouring rain, Doc attaches a double-sided fluorescent tack to a tree. This tack is placed fairly high, so this tree is probably over 100 yards from the stand site. Doc places them progressively lower as the stand site gets close. The final tack might be only a foot off the ground. This reminds the hunter to keep the flashlight pointed low.
Each stand site we select preseason or mid–hunt is intended for only one-half to one full day of buck hunting at well separated sites. Several in our gang are weekend hunters only and require few stand sites. Those of us who remain in camp throughout a hunting season, myself included, need many more. This is not a time consuming ordeal for us. Stand sites selected during the hunting season are generally ground level sites (for hunting with a backpacked stool) that require no significant preparations. Most are selected on the fly (without stopping) midday upon discovering fresh tracks or droppings near promising locations while whitetails are normally bedded, beginning an hour or so before lunch. Promising locations at this time are feeding areas currently favored by does, revealed by lots of fresh doe and fawn-sized, zigzagging tracks and/or droppings off-trail — characteristics of feeding areas. Most stand sites selected at this time are either at unprepared sites never used before or sites that haven’t been used for two or more years. Years of doing this has taught us sites that require no altering of cover tend to be the most productive for taking trophy-class dominant breeding bucks.
[Some hunters in the Nordberg Camp have 4–6 tree stands each but only a handful of ground blinds, while other hunters have only 1–2 tree stand and 20 or more ground blinds. We have a wide range of preferences.]