Chapter 20: Positioning Your Stand

Another chapter from by forthcoming book. Comments and criticisms appreciated.

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Setting up treestands requires some thought and some physical exertion.

The first thing is to select a tree in the general area that you want. A climber will require a nearly straight tree devoid of branches. A hang on stand, with ladder section steps needs a straight tree, and a hang on stand with screw in steps can go up nearly any tree.

The tree should be at least nine inches in diameter for any style of stand. I’ve tried going up trees that are as small as five inches in diameter, but they are way too wobbly and you can’t get up high enough.

The tree should be alive. Lots of trees will remain standing for years after they die, but you will not know when they will fall, and you won’t want to be up a dead tree when it does decide to fall. Adding your weight fifteen feet up a tree probably does not help the stability of a dead tree either.

When using a hang on stand, or a ladder stand, you may want to go up a tree that has lots of branches. Branches are good for cover. A big part of stand hunting is to be concealed, and being surrounded by branches is a great help in being concealed.

When my dad and I look for stand locations we argue the merits of more branches or less. He prefers to be surrounded by more branches in order to be more concealed. I prefer fewer branches because branches get in the way of shooting. Branches are particularly troublesome when hunting with a bow, because you’ll need room for both limbs of your bow.

Once you put your stand in the tree you’ll want to sit in it to make sure that it is in solidly and you’ll want to trim some branches. Many branches may need to be cut from the stand. While sitting pretend like you are drawing your bow and then cut the branches that would seem to be in the way. Then stand and cut the branches that would seem to be in the way.

A deer that is behind you cannot be shot while sitting, you’ll need to stand in order to turn around enough. This will affect your branch trimming.

Ideally you will sit in your new stand and direct someone else to cut branches that you cannot reach from your stand. Don’t yell, or talk loudly, while doing this. You always want to be quiet while in your hunting area.

You’ll need to decide whether to put your stand op a branchy tree or a less branchy tree, and you’ll need to decide whether to trim more or less branches. But usually there will be a tree that is obvious for a stand and you’ll need to live with the number of branches that it has. The location is what is most important, not the number branches.

Trees with branches are usually what you will have to work with, but don’t overlook trees with multiple trunks or clumps of trees. My Favorite Tree (capitol letters for a proper noun) has two trunks that split at the ground, another big tree to my left, and a small one behind. None of these trees have many branches, which is good for shooting, and yet the number of tree trunks on all sides means that I am never an obvious thing for the deer to see. There is always another tree trunk behind me.

There are all sorts of trees that you may sit in, consider the best spot and fit that tree you your hunt. We may prefer hang on tree stands to go up straight trees and a straight stick steps to go up and down, but it is good to have a stand meant for going up angled or crooked trees and some screw in steps. It would be a shame to not hunt the best tree because you don’t have the equipment to do so.

The two most important things in staying out of a deer’s sight are to not move and not be silhouetted against the sky. You can guess where the deer will be and then you should want to have a branchy tree behind you. If you are in a heavily wooded area this will not be a concern, but you will not want to be in the only tall tree in the area either. If your only tree option does make you silhouetted, then you will want to trim fewer branches away, and maybe add some braches around you.

Once you have selected your tree you will want to decide on which direction to point it. This requires more thought than you might think and will often seem to be wrong.

The angle of your treestand is very important. The biggest buck that my dad has ever seen from a tree was straight behind him and he was not able to twist around the tree enough to get a shot. Smaller trees are easier to twist around, but they are less stable.

First decide about where you think that most of the deer will be. From there we will arrange the stand.

Think of an analog clock face: 12 is straight ahead of you, six behind, 3 is the right and 9 is to the left.

You do not want to point your stand straight at where you expect the deer to be. You will want to angle your stand to the right of that place. (Reverse this, and the following directions, if you are left handed.)

Your left side (if you are right handed) will be what faces the deer when you shoot. Shooting a bow and a rifle change the angles a bit, but you will be easily able to shoot from 7 to 11 without moving below the waist. You will want to have the left front (away from the tree) stand corner to face where you think that the deer will be. You may want to error on the side of the front of the stand facing the deer, because you will spend most of your time looking straight ahead and you are more likely to see deer that are in front of you.

You want the deer to be in front of you to see them and to your left to shoot them.

Many trees will not give you options for the ideal angle. Other trees’ big branches will often prevent your ideal treestand angle.

One more important thing to think about is the lean of the tree. A tree with a stand in it can go straight up, or it can lean away from where your stand faces. Even slight lean forwards can make a sit become very uncomfortable. You will not enjoy feeling like you are leaning over the edge of your stand. Leaning to one side, a little, is not too bad, but leaning forwards at all, or to a side a lot is unacceptable.

For the most part, you pick your ideal stand location, then pick the best tree that is there. The trees available will decide how you face your stand, how high you go up, and how many branches that you need to trim.

Pick your spot. Then take the most appealing tree available from which you can shoot to your left from, and then improve what you can.

Hunting from your new stand will show you a lot. Once you hunt from it you may want to point it in a different direction or move trees altogether, and you will, almost certainly want to remove more branches. Move it if you want to, but wait until the next day, don’t move your stand around during your prime hunting hours.

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Chapter 9: Improving Your Hunting Property

Another chapter from my forthcoming book. Any suggestions or criticisms would be appreciated.

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Deer need three things: food, water, and cover. To have the best deer property possible you need to maximize the quality and quantity of all three.

After you’ve put up your “no trespassing” signs you should plan where you want cover and where you want to add food and water. These improvements will need to take place over a series of years because some aspects take time to grow, and you may not be able to afford all of these improvements at once. So your property improvement plan should cover the next several years. Where your access roads will be should also be part of your plan.

Where you want to improve your property will depend largely on what your individual property looks like. When you will look at your property with an eye towards creating food plots some spots will stand out. Those spots may be small meadows, old fields, or an area that has few trees and stumps to remove to clear a space.

The most efficient place to add water will be where the ground is already low. Places where puddles form in the spring are prime places to create ponds. Deepening ditches or streams (check your local laws) are also obvious places to create a year round water source.

Anyplace on your property might be changed into cover, food, or water, but some places will cost a lot less in order to transform them.

Once you’ve planned where you want things you’ll want to work first on whichever takes the longest to get into shape or work first on which ever can be done in the season that you are currently in. Tree planting is probably more difficult in the winter, etc.

Clearing an area for food plots may require removing some trees or stumps. Trees can be felled quickly, but stumps are best removed by someone with a bulldozer several years after the tree was cut. Without a lot of digging, or explosives, a fresh stump will remain firmly attached by its extensive root system. A few years after the tree has been cut the smaller roots will rot and the whole stump can be moved out of the way with a bulldozer. You could use a stump grinder to take the height of the stump down to the ground but the stump will remain a constant irritant whenever you do anything like till that ground. It is best to go around it until you can have it bulldozed. It’s a good idea to have all of your stumps removed in one bulldozing session; having the excavator come to your property multiple times will be more expensive than having him come over only once.

Growing food will not be particularly effective in your first season either. It will often take a few years to improve your soil to its peak, and it will take several years for fruit trees to begin bearing fruit. If you want fruit trees, then you had better plant them early in your property improvement.

Creating your water source(s) will not take as long. A professional pond maker can create one in a few days or weeks, so long as you can afford to pay for it.

Cover is where the deer will live. It is where they go to sleep and where they go to get away from danger. If you don’t have cover, then the deer will spend most of their time on someone else’s property. Your property may already have lots of cover and you may not need to add any. Are there large areas on your property where you have great difficulty walking through? Can you see through those places? You want a large percentage of your property to be nearly impenetrable by yourself or your eyes. If it isn’t food or water, then it might as well be cover. The thickest, most impenetrable, out of the way places would be my bet for where the biggest bucks around live.

How you create, or improve, your property’s cover will depend on what you have already, and what your property is like. A wide open space will have no cover; you’ll need to plant brushy plants and/ or trees. Here in central Wisconsin white pines grow at around one foot each year starting the year after they are planted. Several rows of coniferous trees are good cover from when they reach a few feet high until they grow too tall to have any low branches. Buy coniferous trees by the thousand and plant them around eight feet apart. It will cost a few hundred dollars for a few thousand trees. Buy trees from your local tree farm.

You might have a situation where you cover is in one place, your food is in another place and there is a large clearing in between. You might like this situation because you can cover the whole clearing with a rifle, but the deer are likely to wait until after dark to walk across the opening; deer don’t like being far from cover during the day. With this situation, a good idea would be to plant two or three rows of coniferous trees in a line from the food to the cover. The deer will prefer to walk along this thin line of cover rather than across the open space during daylight. This will work well because the deer will come out earlier, in order to hit the food just before dark, and because you’ll know that the rows of trees is where the deer will be when they travel between the food and cover.

A property that has lots of mature trees does not have any cover. It may seem wrong to cut down most of those mature trees but doing so will provide more benefits than having those trees remain standing. Mature trees may provide some food in the form of nuts, but little else. When those trees are cut new plant growth is encouraged. New plant growth provides cover in the form of brush and food in the form of browse. “Browse,” or fresh plant growth, is a large part of a deer’s diet.

When you hire loggers to cut down your trees they will pay you for the wood. The amount of money that you get will depend on the quality of your wood and how much you want to cut. You’ll probably get several thousands of dollars for your wood. If you don’t, then you either have a very small property, or you did not cut enough.

You may want to plan your property so that you cut different sections every ten years. The first year or two after you cut will leave you without trees or much cover. After a few years the new growth will reach a larger size and become great deer cover. But after many years the brush will become another mature forest with limited cover and limited food.

Be sure to clearly mark a few trees for the loggers. You’ll want to leave some trees for future tree stands. A tree will take 20-30 years before it is big enough for a stand, and you won’t want to wait that long.

Fruit and nut trees are a good way to add some food, but deer will get most of their food from natural browse, which you created by clear cutting. It takes several years for trees to grow big and produce their mast (fruit, nuts, etc). The longer that you wait to plant, the longer it will be before you see any results from them.

Apple, crabapple, pear, and chestnut trees will all provide food for deer. You’ll need to fence these trees in, or deer, and other animals, will eat the fresh tree growth and the tree will not get bigger. Wrapping the bottom of the trees may be necessary to prevent rabbits from chewing off all of the lower bark too. You need to plant more than one type of apple tree in order for them to pollinate. It is good to check when each species ripens. Ideally, some of your apple trees will drop apples in August, some in September, and some in October (or similar, depending on where you are). Having your trees ripen at different times of the year will mean that deer will return to that area for the ripening of each of the apples, rather than only visiting the trees for only one time period. It is also recommended to plant a variety of apple, crabapple, and pear trees in your apple orchard.

Nut trees, like chestnuts, will also need to be fenced and wrapped just like apple trees.

Growing fields of deer food is another type of food source that you can create. Fields of deer food are known as “food plots.” Food plots are just fields, or small areas, of clover, or soybeans, or turnips, or whatever. We will look at them in the next chapter.

Baiting is a third way to add food to your property. Baiting often has all sorts of laws and restrictions associated with it. Check your local laws.

Deer bait might be: corn, soybeans, sugar beets, carrots, apples, or you might go to a farm supply store and buy horse feed, or horse treats. The deer in your area may prefer one kind, or another. And some deer will take some time before learning that new, for them, things are good to eat.

There are also salt licks, mineral licks, and flavored sugar goo. There is merit to the argument that deer need minerals to grow and you should therefore add mineral licks. You may, or may not, notice a difference if you do add mineral licks. These are not used as bait, but they may be considered so legally, because they will not attract deer during the hunting season. Deer prefer these minerals during other times of the year. Minerals will have the most impact on antler size when they are eaten by the deer when the new season’s antlers are growing. Put minerals out, if you are legally able to during the spring and summer. The sugar goo, or powder, like Deer Cane or C’Mere Deer, may be useful during the hunting season, because it is food, and not minerals.

One of the most well known deer licks is Trophy Rock. It is just a rock of salt. I wonder how the deer know to lick a Trophy Rock. Do the deer just wander around licking rocks until one tastes good? But they find them and they lick them.

Feeders are often used for bait. One reason is to keep the food off of the ground. When food is spread on the ground it will eventually become mixed in with their excrement. That is unhealthy.

I have not had much experience with deer feeders, but they are big business in some parts of the country. My personal preference would be towards feeders that are gravity operated. Electronically operated feeders are more expensive and more likely to break, and require batteries.

Baiting works best when there is little other food around. A pile of corn is easier to access than food that is buried beneath snow, for example.

Baiting is frowned upon by many people. These people may not like adding artificial food sources, or they may not like the convergence of many deer to one place, which they claim results in faster spreading of diseases.

Baiting is also expensive and labor intensive. A food plot or tree will provide food without you once they are planted, but bait will need to be physically carried out each time that you want it out.

When celebrity hunters get busted for breaking a law, it is often because they were breaking baiting laws. One way that I’ve heard that the authorities find out about such things is by noticing many deer trails in the snow all leading to one place. Apparently the trails look like a wagon wheel.

Baiting has lots of downsides but many people still do it. They do it because it works.

Water is another essential for deer survival. Deer get water from all sorts of places. They get it from streams, lakes, and rivers. They also get it from puddles, leaves, and anywhere else that holds water.

If I hunted somewhere where it is hot, then water would be my first land improvement priority. All deer need water, but that is especially true where it is hot.

The thing to do to add water is to hire a local excavator to bulldoze a pond. You may need to add a pump, or you may not. Ground tarps and other things may also be necessary to keep the water in.

Adding a pond can improve your hunting a lot but it will cost several thousand dollars. Hire your excavator and then do what he says. He’s the expert and he knows more than you or me.

Having a long term property plan is good. It is also good to think about where you want your ponds and food plots when you can afford to pay for them.

After clear cutting, and planting more trees, you should think about where your property, and the surrounding area, is weakest in terms of food, water, and cover. Improve whichever is weakest, and then move to the next.

Madison Deer & Turkey Expo

I went to the Madison Deer & Turkey Expo this past weekend.

Some thoughts:

Whitetail antlers that score more than 170 net are very big and not uncommonly killed in southwestern Wisconsin.

The Muddy treestands, that I thought were the best, if you ignore the price, have bad seats.

It would seem that Gorilla makes the best treestands.

Small tractors, used primarily for food plots can sell for more than $20,000.

There isn’t a whole lot of new hunting stuff to see.

Who buys all of the clothes with all of the logos on it?

I felt left out because I did not have deer related window stickers on my truck.

Several bucks scoring better than 200 were shot during last year’s deer firearm season in southwest Wisconsin.

A lot of stuff gets sold at those shows. I wonder if I’d want a fixed rate or a percentage if I ran the expo.

The Best Rifle Cartridge for Deer

I recently read an article in a hunting magazine about what the best deer cartridge is.

There are essentially infinite rifle cartridges. I think I’m right in saying that every rifle cartridge is capable of knocking a deer over. But some are more appropriate than others.

A very small cartridge, like a .22 Long Rifle or .17 HMR, can kill a deer, but you will have no room for error. One of these small cartridges will not be as able to shoot through bones like bigger cartridges can.

Great big cartridges, like a .416 Rigby and .375 H&H, are also capable of killing deer, but the recoil and weight of the rifles make them too large to be suitable animals the size of deer.

The size of the deer will play a part in deciding the best rifle cartridge. Deer in warmer climates are smaller than deer in northern climes. The ideal bullet size will vary with the size of the deer.

The amount of cover the hunting occurs in will also affect the ideal bullet size. I’m told that a flat nosed bullet will go through brush better than pointed bullets, which are liable to be deflected by brush. Long distance shooting requires a bullet that is as aerodynamic as possible, and that means pointed bullets.

A rifle cartridge can’t be both big and small and both blunt and pointed, so no cartridge can be ideal in every situation.

But a cartridge can be ideal for many situations and good in others. I think that the best deer cartridge should be big enough to work on the heavier bodied Northern deer and flat shooting enough to work at long ranges. A cartridge big enough for big deer should be big enough for small deer. And a cartridge good at a long distance should be good at short distances.

The ideal cartridge should also be widely available so that you can buy more bullets wherever you go. And not so big that its recoil is excessive.

The magazine article I read decided that the .308 Win, .30-06 Sprg., and the .300 Win Mag are the top three deer cartridges. I’ve shot deer with all three, and the .300 Win Mag is a fine cartridge, but its size means that not many cartridges will fit in a gun, and its recoil is far more than is needed for whitetail deer.

I would suggest that the .308 Win, .30-06 Sprg., and the .270 Win are the three best deer cartridges. They are good at a distance, have been around for decades, are widely available, and are a good size for any whitetail.

That article finally decided that the .30-06 Sprg. is the best deer cartridge becasue it is the most widely available of the author’s top three. There is some merit in that argument. Anywhere in North America, and probably the world, will have .30-06 Sprg. cartridges available for sale.

Hunting and Fishing in Canada

There are big deer and big fish in Canada. If you want to catch the biggest muskie of your lifetime most of the places you should fish are in Canada.

With the bad economy, and issues I’ll explain in a minute, many people are no longer traveling to Canada for hunting and fishing. Because there are fewer tourists the tourist businesses are really hurting for customers, and so you can probably get a very good deal on resorts, or similar.

But with all of the big fish, big deer, and current cheap prices there is still the Canadian laws and law enforcement to deal with.

Here are some stories that friends have experienced in Canada.

This spring a few guys went goose hunting in Ontario. When you return with geese breasts you are required to keep one wing attached with some skin connecting the pair. These guys kept the wing attached but not the skin keeping the sides together. They were each fined $2500 and the Ontario law enforcement pointed out that they were being nice, they could’ve confiscated their guns and truck.

A few guys were fishing. They had 6 beers with lunch, you are not allowed to drink while in a boat. So when the ministry of natural resources asked the guys about it, they pointed out that they drank them on shore with lunch. The ministry officials then asked them to produce all of the bottle caps. They could only find 5, and so they got a big fine for littering.

A year or two ago, while crossing the boarder, I was distracted for a second and looked away from the boarder guard while he was asking the standard “do you have guns, fireworks, etc.” questions. This, of course, resulted in a lengthy search of our truck and boat.

The speed limits are also a joy. Last year I was driving the long empty roads at about 45 mph for so long that once we got into Minnesota with 55 mph speed limits I spent an hour marveling at how fast I could go.

The good news with the speed laws, however, is that the government is only interested in your fine money; it may not go on your driving record. Some of dad’s friends budget $200 for their annual speeding ticket when they head up.

If you’ve gotten a DUI you may, or may not, get in after some lengthy form filling out.

Then there are the fishing regulations. The resort owners in Northwest Ontario sure saw a drop in their reservations when the lake trout possession limit was reduced to one.

There is also the size limits to think about. Perhaps the biggest legitimately weighed and caught muskie, caught by Martin Williamson in the Georgian Bay, was 53″ and 61 pounds. Had he caught that fish a year later it would have been undersized, because they changed the size limit to 54″.

So there are big deer and big fish but you may consider hunting and fishing somewhere that you can go without being constantly nervous of law enforcement (even if you are completely legal).