What Makes Stand Hunting a Great Hunting Method?

Why can any number of deer hunters use the same hunting method, stand hunting, for example, but end up with much different hunting success? Is the hunting method at fault or does something else account for such differences?

Differences in success while stand hunting are caused by quite a number of variables. Take stand site selection. The number one stand site characteristic many stand hunters insist on today is a great field of view. Others look for up to eight characteristics known to make stand sites mature-buck-effective (not including a great field of view). Many stand hunters do not realize most of today’s mature whitetails are “stand smart,” meaning, they quickly recognize and avoid obvious manmade stand site construction, destruction and intense human trail scents so characteristic of many stand sites today. Many hunters take no particular precautions at all while stand hunting. Some, including my sons, grandsons and I, routinely take up to thirty every half day. Some hunters rarely miss a minute of hunting during periods when odds for hunting success are greatest. Others have no idea when the odds are greatest. Many stand hunters seldom see deer within fifty yards until shortly after they become alarmed enough to begin snorting and bounding away with all possible speed, making them very difficult targets. Some hunters stand hunt in a way that provides easy shots at unsuspecting deer, standing or moving slowly short distances away. Many stand hunters rarely see mature bucks, much less take one. Some see several mature bucks per hunting season and take one nearly every year. Many hunters believe it takes no more knowledge and skill to take mature bucks than is needed to take fawns and yearlings, which is far from true. Most hunters do not recognize important hunting-related information provided by deer signs. Most do not know how to take advantage of such information. With the exception of farm fields and clearcuts, most hunters cannot identify whitetail feeding areas and whether or not they are current favorites of desirable quarries. Many stand hunters do nothing to keep their necessary motions and silhouettes (large and dark against the sky or snowy backgrounds) from being easily spotted and identified by whitetails. Most stand hunters spend too much time at one stand site, not realizing almost all mature bucks and many mature does discover and begin avoiding them during the first 1-30 hours they are used. There should be little wonder, therefore, why different stand hunters end hunting seasons with vastly different hunting success.

Of all the reasons there are differences in stand hunting success, what contributes most to making this hunting method effective enough to enable a hunter to regularly take the most elusive of whitetails, bucks 3-1/2 years of age or older? It’s “certain precautions,” up to thirty of them.

A Great Way to Introduce Whitetail Hunting to First-Timers

America has been a nation of deer hunters for about 400 years, beginning in the early 1600s. Because of our fast-growing human population, in the 1930s subsistence deer hunting (living off the land to put meat on the table) had to give way to sport hunting and being limited to taking one deer a year during short hunting seasons. Throughout the history of American deer hunting, hunting instructions have been passed on primarily by word of mouth—in the beginning from American Indians to European colonists and since then from experienced hunters to beginners—fathers to sons or daughters, for example. Other than learning how to safely use a firearm, my own first instructions for deer hunting (1940s) were rather sketchy, my most important instruction being, “Walk straight north (or south, east or west), keeping an eye on your compass, until you come to the road (or trail, stream or opening) where the standers will be.” Back then, those I hunted with only made drives. After that, I was largely on my own to figure out how to hunt deer other ways (mature bucks preferred), often ending days afield muttering, “There’s got to be a better way.” After eight years of college, earning three degrees and being engaged in some kind of research during most of those years, I decided the only practical way to become a more successful whitetail hunter was use the scientific approach to study habits, behavior and range utilization of wild deer and use information thus attained to develop more effective ways to hunt deer. I’ve been doing this for nearly sixty years, full time beginning in 1980. Based on my research are my ten editions of Whitetail Hunters Almanac, each covering different subjects. My first edition was published in1988. My 10th Edition (likely my last), published in 2018, covers all the best of what was learned in my two primary whitetail study areas and other areas in our country since my 9th Edition was published in 1997. In this 10th Edition are detailed instructions for using six new, extraordinarily-productive, mature-buck-effective stand hunting methods, developed and honed since 1990. If you’d like your son, daughter, nephew, niece or a friend who has expressed a desire to hunt deer to be regularly successful from the outset, my 518 page, 8 x 10 inch 10th Edition is arguably the best new written source of advanced deer hunting instruction today. Anyone who receives it as a gift from you will be forever appreciative. Based on all the thank you letters and photos of big bucks I regularly receive, I can guarantee it.

Why My Sons and I Change Stand Sites Twice Daily—Part III

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).

Why My Sons and I Change Stand Sites Twice Daily—Part II

During the early 1990s, tracks in snow revealed mature bucks in my study/hunting area were going out of their way to avoid many of our previously used tree stands and ground level blinds, whether in use or not, including those many used only once for a half-day. Because my sons and I routinely take special care to ensure we are well hidden and downwind or crosswind of trails or sites where we expected to see a buck, it was difficult to imagine why this was happening. Deer tracks in snow finally provided a long ignored reason. During a day of stand hunting, bucks are as likely to pass downwind as upwind without the hunter realizing it. When they pass unseen within 200 yards downwind, upwind hunters are readily identified and easily avoided. Via airborne scents alone, mature whitetails can also accurately determine the hunter’s location, whether or not the hunter is moving and in which direction. Experienced whitetails today apparently realize a hunter whose source of airborne scents is not moving is a “stand hunter,” therefore harmless as long as a safe distance is maintained. Tracks in snow in my study area have often revealed some young and older downwind bucks and does will sneak near enough to take a look at what the hunter is doing. I’ve known several bucks that went out of their way to pass downwind of stand sites I had used before, doubtless to determine whether or not I had returned. Some even bedded downwind where they could monitor any move I made from my stand and the direction I took when I departed. The point is, in addition to any seen or unseen upwind or crosswind deer that may have identified us because our dark silhouettes were clearly visible against the sky or a background of snow or because of because of motions or sounds inadvertently made, lots of downwind deer that lived within the surrounding square-mile had learned all they needed to know to avoid us and our stands for the rest of the current hunting season and more. To minimize wasting time at stand sites soon avoided by intended quarries, my sons, grandsons and I began switching to new stand sites, always in sight of very fresh deer signs made by the same or other mature bucks near locations where they normally spend most of each day, namely 1) current favorite doe feeding areas and buck scrape routes along which scrapes are renewed every 24–48 hours during the 2–3 weeks before breeding begins in early November, 2) current favorite doe feeding areas early and late in the day and doe bedding areas midday during the two weeks does are in heat and 3) current favorite feeding areas of mature bucks and sometimes bedding areas of older bucks beginning mid-November. All stand sites we use are 100 yards or more apart from previously used stand sites.

Why My Sons and I Have Long Changed Stand Sites Twice Daily—Part I

A few older bucks recognize preludes to hunting seasons —shots taken by waterfowl and upland game hunters, for example — after which they disappear for the entire firearm deer hunting season. Generally, however, it takes 1–3 days — one for still-hunters and hunters who make drives and 2–3 for stand hunters — for all other mature whitetails (2-1/2 years of age or older) to realize they are again being hunted by human hunters. Inexperienced yearlings (including bucks) and fawns not led by mature maternal does are slow to realize this, making them the most vulnerable to skilled hunting. By day three, many mature does and all bucks 3-1/2 – 6-1/2 years of age will be using the tactics that enabled them to survive previous hunting seasons: traveling off-trail more than 50% of the time, for example, becoming less active during daylight hours and becoming more apt to abandon their ranges for the rest of a hunting season. Following nearly a half-century of widespread stand hunting, older bucks everywhere have become proficient at avoiding ambushing stand hunters, typically discovering and beginning to avoid stands with hunters in them within the first 1–30 hours they are used. Today, if stand hunting close to a trail or site currently frequented by an older buck, you’ll either get the buck within 1–4 hours or it will begin avoiding your stand site within 1-4 hours. The latter is most common.

More on Getting to a Stand One Hour Before Sunrise

Though some hunters strongly disagree (to put it mildly) when I recommend getting to a stand site one hour before sunrise in the morning, my three sons, three grandsons and I consider this precaution to be one of our most rewarding buck hunting practices. The reason is, about 80% of the 101 mature bucks we have taken since 1990, including three we took last November, were all shot near edges of feeding areas early during the first legal shooting hour of the day (beginning 30 minutes before sunrise). They were all taken on public land in a region inhabited by overabundant gray wolves and where where only one deer has been taken per 10 square miles for quite a few years. Our mature, especially wary, wolf country bucks generally head back to their bedding areas by 9:00–9:30 AM in the morning, but getting to our stands early is important for another reason. Mature bucks and other deer feeding near our stands are almost certain to hear one or more indistinct sounds or spot one or more indistinct motions made by us as we approach our stands in darkness (through dense cover downwind or crosswind). This arouses their curiosity, but as long as those deer are unable to positively identify us, they will not abandon the area. They will be especially alert and cautious for about thirty minutes, however, sometimes longer. They often move to nearby cover to hide their presence, but if nothing more is seen or heard from us after we are settled at our stands, they will usually resume what they were doing a half hour or so later, feeding, for example, and becoming visible, just about the time it becomes legal to fire at them.

Getting to a stand without seriously alarming deer along the way is not easy. It took many years of trial and error and some lessons provided by wolves to learn how to do it. To make it work today, we routinely use about 30 special precautions. It doesn’t work every time, but it works often enough to provide most or all of us with one or more opportunities to take an older buck almost every year. Not all hunters are capable of doing this, being unable to sit still 4-5 hours or being unable to hike to a distant stand in early morning darkness without seriously alarming deer along the way, for example.

No, we do not take mature bucks every half-day we hunt. On the average we take one, sometimes two on opening morning (in photo above is grandson Ryan with the buck he took 20 minutes before sunrise on opening morning, 2018), but by the end of a week, we usually have our self-imposed limit of four mature bucks. Yes, we have taken bucks during all hours of the day, so we are usually out there hunting them during all hours of the day. Yes, we have also taken quite few between 11 AM and 3 PM as well, particularly when a certain recognized sequence of weather events triggers brief but massive midday feeding…but no one in the world is ever going convince my sons and me, and now my grandsons, to quit making the effort to get to our stands one hour before sunrise.

Watch for explamaions about tho 30 precautions mentioned above in my fuure blogs, YouTube presentatios, Midwest Outdoors Magazine articles and my website.

Delayed Book Shipping

Sorry for the delay in receiving books you ordered, Guys. If you are a deer hunter, you will understand. The Minnesota firearm deer hunting season has been in progress since November 3th (one of my most important hunting-related information gathering periods of the year). On the 7th I slipped off a snow covered log into a narrow space between two sharp rocks in a clearcut and injured my left foot (my first debilitating injury during a deer season in 73 years). Hours after I returned home on the 11th (after spending most of my last four days in camp while my gang continueed hunting), an ancient (my historic Queen Ann house was built in 1880) pipe connection in a wall of my upstairs bathroom popped apart and flooded two floors. Things are now back to normal (except my foot), so I am now finally back to filling book orders. You will receive your orders soon. I hope you all had or are having a great deer hunting season. Doc

Catch ‘em by Surprise

There is not a stand hunter in America who can’t wait to return to a stand site where he or she took or saw a mature buck last year, or the year before or the year before that. I do it myself, even though my many years of hunting related studies have taught me there is a better, more sure way to take another mature buck.

 The most productive buck stand site provides great downwind or crosswind silhouette-hiding cover for the hunter, means of getting there without being positively identified by nearby whitetails and fresh nearby tracks and/or droppings or a freshly made or renewed ground scrape made by a mature buck. Nonetheless, if it is located where mature bucks living in the surrounding square mile have discovered a hunter stand hunting one or more times, typically happening without the hunter realizing it during the first 1-30 hours of stand hunting there each year, the odds of thereafter taking a mature buck at that site won’t be particularly favorable.

There is a reason. Mature whitetail bucks and does have excellent memories. Wherever you have hunted two or more years, all mature deer (not including a few possible mature newcomers and lone fawns or yearlings) will remember what you smell like, look like and sound like (including your unique footsteps) from hunting season to hunting season. They’ll even remember the trails and stand sites you commonly frequented, making it easy for them to avoid you right from the outset of a subsequent hunting season, doing the things that enabled them to survive past hunting seasons.

 The best way to overcome this mature-buck-hunting handicap is use a new (never used before) stand site often during a hunting season, each at least 100 yards away from any previously used stand site. Catch big bucks by surprise at stand sites where they have never discovered you before. They have no defense for this. As long as each new stand site has all of the above characteristics, each time you move your odds of taking a mature buck will again be usually favorable, but remember, only for a short time, not day after day for an entire hunting season or year after year. Older bucks are too smart to fall victim to that.

To Take a Buck

At age ten (1945) I asked my uncle Jack how to hunt a big buck. “You have to be at the right place at the right time,” he said. Though confusing at first, early in my later whitetail studies I discovered this was a very good answer no matter what class of whitetail you wish to take.

It’s simple. The “right place” is a trail or site being used by a big buck (or other deer) during any day of a hunting season, which will very likely be same trail, site or vicinity the deer will pass through or spend time in during the next three whitetail feeding periods—unless alarmed by a hunter, including you, in the vicinity meanwhile. The right place” will be made evident by very fresh tracks and/or droppings of a walking deer (differing sizes of tracks and droppings reveal classes of deer that made them).

 The “right time” is simple too. Whitetails are most active (during hours they can be hunted), doing almost everything they do in addition to feeding and drinking water, in the morning between first light and ten AM and in the evening between two hours before sunset until dark. If you know how various factors such as differing weather and the five phases of the rut alter these hours, you can narrow it down further.

 The problem is, how can you get close enough to the right spot at the right time for an easy shot before the deer there realizes you are approaching and sneaks away unseen and unheard or bounds noisily away with all possible speed, thereafter avoiding the site? This is the part of deer hunting that requires knowledge of whitetail habits and behavior during hunting seasons, special (wolf-like) hunting skills afoot, alertness, patience and the ability to make it very difficult for nearby whitetails to discover and identify you via airborne and trail  scents, sounds characteristic of hunting humans, motions and your unique human silhouette. Sometimes you get lucky, but over the long run you generally get what you earn via your application of your level of knowlwedge and skills in whitetail hunting.

Get a Big Buck This Year, Next Year Too & Every year After That!

Get a big buck this year, next year too and practically year after that using one of Dr. Ken Nordberg’s six new, mature-buck-effective hunting methods. Learn how in his new Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition. To review and order this remarkable 518 page, 8” x 10” hunting manual with 400 instructive photos and diagrams, based on 55 years of unique, hunting-related studies of wild whitetails over much of America, go to www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com and click on “store” today for quick delivery.