Back in the early 1990s, my sons and I rediscovered stand hunting at ground level. No longer content to find lumpy and damp stumps and logs to sit on, we began using folding backpacked stools and existing natural cover as blinds. Surprisingly, it turned out to be as productive as our best tree stand hunting, often more so. The reason is, stools have several big advantages over tree stands. They can be moved and set up at new, never-used stand sites (most productive for taking mature bucks) much more quickly, easily and silently during a hunting season. Unlike tree stand sites, sites where our stools are used have no obvious physical changes and far less trail scent to attract the attention of today’s stand smart deer. Stools make it easy to sit downwind or crosswind of very fresh tracks, droppings or ground scrapes made by mature bucks and/or their current favorite feeding areas every time, twice daily. This keeps us close to mature unsuspecting (standing or slowly moving) bucks every half-day of a hunting season. What other hunting method can do this?
Fresh 3-1/2 to 4 inch long hoof prints of a walking (unalarmed) deer, fresh (shiny) 5/8th to 1-inch clumped droppings or a freshly renewed ground scrape more than two feet in diameter next to a well-used deer trail with damp soil, moss, leaves or turf pawed widely to one side and with one or more overhanging branches ravaged by antlers mean a big buck is very likely near. It means you might see that buck in a few minutes (if you do things properly). If discovered midday, that buck is very likely to be seen in the same vicinity in that afternoon or evening or even noon following certain weather events. If discovered while heading back to camp at the end of the day, that buck is very likely to be seen in the same vicinity during the first two legal shooting hours the following morning. A stool makes it easy to quickly take advantage of such knowledge.
An important point to keep in mind is, especially while breeding is in progress, the biggest buck in each square mile of your hunting area will likely be accompanying a doe in heat in one limited area in its home range one day and a another doe in heat in another limited area in its home range up to a mile away the next day. Individual does are only in heat 24-26 hours and only about 10% are in heat on any one day during a two week period of breeding (there are three two weeks of breeding each fall and early winter). This means, on the average only about one doe witll be in heat per day in a square-mile. If you wait a day or two to take advantage very fresh deer signs made by a big buck any time during a hunting season, your odds of seeing that buck won’t be good. This is because there are also a host of other reasons mature bucks often change portions of their home ranges they use from day to day, including, of course, hunting. During a hunting season, therefore, never be slow to take advantage of deer signs made by mature bucks that appear to have been made minutes earlier.
With my stool always on my back , I rarely pass up very fresh signs made by a mature buck while on my way to a stand site in early morning unless I have a very good reason, such as, the buck was obviously heading to the feeding area where I had intended to stand hunt. Upon discovering a freshly renewed ground scrape, black dirt scattered widely to one side across the snow in my flashlight beam ahead, an uncommon find while breeding is in progress, I rarely hesitate to back off downwind or crosswind to dense cover or a natural blind such as a fallen evergreen 20–50 yards away and then wait patiently. I have taken many fine bucks by doing this, several now on walls in my home. Some of them appeared within 15-30 minutes after I sat down (during daylight hours) and some showed up up to four hours later.
Back in the early 1990s, my sons and I began devoting more time to preseason scouting, our goal being to select about 3–6 promising mature-buck-effective stand sites per hunter (another big subject covered in great detail in my recently published 10th Edition of Whitetail Hunters Almanac) — half for tree stands and half for ground level stands — primarily intended to be used during the first three days of the hunting season when mature bucks are most vulnerable. Most stand sites we use after that are selected daily along widely looping trails we call “cruise trails” (connecting deer trails), one in each square mile we hunt. Some bucks adopt these trails because they are cleared of dead brush and branches and silent to use but most don’t like them because lasting human trail scents are deposited on them, or portions of them fairly regularly. Mature bucks and other deer nonetheless often cross them, providing us with all the evidence we need to decide where to hunt them next, the nearest feeding (graze, browse or acorn) area, for example. All of our stand site approach trails branch from our cruise trails and these two kinds of trails are the only trails we use during hunting seasons, giving our deer lots of room in which to live during hunting seasons not tainted by threatening human trail scents—thus encouraging deer to stay in their home ranges rather than abandon them. We are therefore rewarded with many more deer sightings right up to the last days of our hunts.
Though fresh deer signs made by mature bucks have short term hunting value, forcing us to change stand sites twice daily, our deciding factor, always, for selecting new stand sites is very fresh deer signs made by mature bucks. We hunt practiculy nowhere else. Such signs found in or adjacent to a feeding area are our most productive. More than anything, fresh deer signs keep us close to mature bucks, greatly improving our odds of taking our self-imposed limit of 4, sometimes 5 mature bucks annually (four typical bucks taken during a recent hunt in photos above).