Seven hours. That is what stood between me and sundown; seven lingering, solitary hours in a cold, lifeless treestand. Could I do it? Could I handle the physical as well as the mental strain? Could I stay for the long haul? I hoped so. After all, I was counting on something big taking place. Seven hours. That is what stood between me and a potential date with destiny; if I could just stay.
Now, I could go on and describe every hour of the hunt in great detail; outlining exactly how difficult my ambitious tactic was. How the minutes seemed to move by like tree sap on a cold November morning. How, at times, I wanted nothing more than to simply go home and see my wife and kids. Perhaps I could illustrate just how miserable I really was; enduring elements that would surely break the will of even the toughest mountain man. I could tell you how I struggled like a turtle on its back, just to stay focused. I could even tell you that at the end of the day I went home dejected and empty handed. I could tell you all of that, and more. But you know what? It would be a lie. The truth? The truth is that waiting for my date with destiny….could not have been easier.
Perhaps the single biggest mistake bowhunters make when deciding to tackle the chore of sitting in a treestand for an extended amount of time is….timing. What I mean is that many decide to “give it a try” during the wrong phase of the whitetail season. Consequently, their motivation and fervor quickly dissipates. For example, planning an all day sit early in the season, a time when most mature bucks restrict their daytime movement, is an exercise in futility. True, anything is possible and maybe you will get lucky during this part of the year and fill your tag. However, over the long haul, the odds will be stacked against you when compared to all other phases of the season.
While the start of the season may bring about a feeling of excitement and motivation for an all day stint in the timber, save that enthusiasm for when it will really pay off. You risk burning yourself out and educating your quarry by hunting “all day” too early in the season.
So, when is the best time to attempt the decathlon of treestand perching? If I had to pick one time frame for an all-day outing it would be the hard pre-rut or the chase phase. During this stage every buck in the woods will be on his feet, throughout all hours of the day, searching for a hot doe. Obviously, this type of behavior is very conducive for an all-day sit. In contrast, waiting until after the bucks are holed-up and actually engaged in breeding the does, can prove for some very uneventful times on stand. During the hard “pre-rut”, when hormone levels are rising faster than the tension between the Dallas Cowboys, a big buck will be at his most vulnerable; he will also make himself more visible than any other time of the year as he roams about, looking for love. Encounters can come at any moment. Therefore, maximize your opportunities by occupying your stand for as long as possible during this short time frame.
Anyone looking to open a new business establishment realizes the importance of location. No matter what you’re selling or what type of service you are providing, the three most important things to consider are location, location, and location! Pick the wrong one and the odds are good you won’t be in business very long. The same holds true for the aspiring whitetail hunter. If tagging big bucks, or any buck for that matter, is your enterprise, then you likely understand the importance of location. True, there are countless other facets at play that will contribute to your overall success, but when preparing yourself for a triumphant all-day stake-out, “zip code” means everything.
While you may be tempted to hang your “marathon” stand near an abundance of buck sign, resist the urge. Odds are good that most of it was made sporadically and under the cover of night. Neither quality favors a buck encounter during daylight hours; no matter how long you sit in one spot.
When considering location, think about where the bucks are going to be. You can forget about hunting rub-lines or scrapes. Those may have been great spots during the early part of the pre-rut, but as the chase phase draws near, just before actual breeding takes place, the bucks are busy doing one thing….searching for does. Likewise, you should be doing the same. I believe the one location that is going to provide the greatest amount of doe sightings, which will ultimately lead to more buck sightings….is bedding areas. Think about it. The bucks are on the prowl; chasing potential partners all through the night. As day begins to break, the does start their journey back to the bedding area. And guess who’s tagging along? Obviously, if you are situated in a high traffic area (somewhere in the bedding neighborhood), your chances of seeing a doe with a buck in hot pursuit are substantially higher.
You’re basically trying to intercept the does as they return to bed during the early morning hours as well as later in the day when they get up to browse or just stretch their legs. Also, consider that if you’re still in your stand when the sun starts to go down, you can conceivably encounter them one last time as they head back to the main food source. They may not always have a buck in-tow, but during this stage of the game you want to be sure to surround yourself with as many does as possible. There is no better attractant.
In addition, understand that a buck doesn’t have to be right on the heels of his obsession in order for you to take advantage of hunting near a doe bedding location. For example, a buck passing through the same area, several hours after a hot doe has made her way back to bed, can still pick up the scent and track her. Hopefully, her steps took her right by your stand; eventually causing “old tangle horns” to do the same. Realize as well, that several different bucks could also pick up her scent and easily make their way to you; which leads to my next point.
Throughout the day, bucks will be busy scent-checking bedding areas for any sign that a doe has indeed come into estrus. By setting up on the downwind side of a known bedding area, you could possibly hammer a rut-crazed buck as he attempts to “sniff out” a companion from afar. Also, if a buck happens to enter the bedding area to roust up an unwilling doe, and you are set up along a likely travel route somewhere nearby, your odds of success only get better.
Regardless of what area you choose to hang your stand, be sure and pick a spot that is going to provide plenty of doe encounters. For me, that location is bedding areas.
Now that you have decided on a doe “hot-spot”, let’s tweak your location. When trying to determine the best spot to place your stand there is much to consider. However, perhaps the most important element is…terrain.
Deer, for the most part, are lazy and will choose the path of least resistance when given a choice. Naturally, when moving in and around an area or when traversing from point A to point B, this characteristic will surface and ultimately influence their travel route. It should also influence your decision on stand placement.
A good stand site can always be made into a better stand site. Always be thinking in terms of “fine tuning” your location. Pay close attention to how deer are moving through your section of woods and then move to the one spot that “pinches” this movement into the smallest area.
Keep an eye out for terrain features that funnel deer movement into a natural “pinch point”, because that is where you want to “set-up shop”. Such areas include: ridge-top saddles, bottlenecks, deep erosion ditches, low spots along a fence line, shallow creek crossings, bench flats in steep terrain, and old logging roads. Stands hunted in these locations during the hard pre-rut or chase phase have the greater likelihood of producing action throughout the day; especially if they happen to be located near a doe bedding area.
Exception to the Rule
As with any proposed rule, there are exceptions. As stated before, I feel that hunting all day during the early season is a “low odds” method and can test even the most committed bowhunter. However, I will say there is one situation that could warrant an early season “marathon” sit….Big buck bedding areas. If you happen to know the exact whereabouts of a big bucks bedroom, you could potentially have a shot at him during the early season; if the conditions are right.
You can pretty much expect not to beat him back to his bed; unless you arrive several hours before first light. Knowing that, the next best approach is to wait until an hour or so after sunup and then head for your stand.
However, since you will be approaching his sacred hideout, the last thing you want to do is alert him to your intentions. Therefore, it would be best to wait until the forest floor is damp, and the wind is right before making your move. With the wind in your face and the damp leaves muffling your every step, you can conceivably sneak right in without him becoming none the wiser. Then you wait.
After enduring 6 ½ hours in the stand, I finally got a crack at this bruiser. Location and time of season both played a major role in the eventual outcome.
While its true most mature bucks are seldom seen outside the rut, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they remain bedded throughout the entire day. Many will get up, stretch, and browse a little during the afternoon hours before bedding back down again; all within the confines of their security zone. If you happen to be waiting patiently somewhere along the fringes of that zone, you might get the shot you’ve been waiting your whole life for.
Now that we know the when, where, and why concerning long hours on stand, we need to discuss the gear that is ultimately going to help make your stay more enjoyable and effective. Let’s face it, if you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to have the fortitude to make it through the long haul.
Way back when, before we had access to the awesome gear available today, being cold and miserable while on stand was often just part of the experience. Thankfully, those days are gone. No longer do we have to endure conditions that would make a wooly mammoth cringe.
Clothing: You’ve got to start with a good foundation if you want to “dress for success”. Begin with a quality base layer. Remember those red “long johns” from back in the day. You know, the ones that were supposed to keep you warm as toast….but never did. The reason they failed was because the cotton soaked up all the sweat and then rested against your skin; making it cold and clammy. Not the most ideal condition for retaining body heat.
Today’s base layers effectively lift the moisture away from your body and provide warmth by keeping your skin dry. Some styles even incorporate a layer of scent blocking material to help conceal unwanted game-spooking odors. Regardless of what type of outerwear you choose, don’t skimp on the base layers. They are the most important piece in the “total garment” system.
Comfortable Stand: There is nothing more difficult than trying to remain in the stand when your back and butt ache. When selecting a stand, pay close attention to the seat. After all, that is where you are going to be spending most of your time. Make sure the padding is thick and also consider a model that has some type of back support as well. 6-8 hours of continuously standing and sitting while in a treestand, requires that your back and buttocks receive plenty of pampering. Comfort is the key to longevity.
Lone Wolf stands are my absolute favorite. I have been using them for well over 10 years. Not only do they provide all-day comfort, they are light, easy to set up and deadly quite.
On top of comfort, also consider how quiet a stand is. I cringe at the thought of sitting all day, waiting on that one special buck to come along, and then spooking him at the last moment because of a noisy stand. Choose a model that has a reputation for being dead silent. Mature bucks usually won’t tolerate foreign sounds; especially those emanating from a loud ambush platform. Stealth is a major key to closing the deal.
Even under the best circumstances it is hard to sit in a treestand for more than 5 hours at a time. One reason is that by nature we are social creatures. Staying in the timber when you know everyone else is back at camp, discussing the morning’s events, eating lunch, or taking a nap, is a tough thing to handle mentally; regardless of your devotion. Consequently, in order to fight off the urge to “get down”, you’ve got to have a pretty good reason for “staying put”. This is where scouting cameras really shine.
When you have “proof” that a big buck is in the area, sitting all day in a cold treestand doesn’t seem all that bad.
Aside from the wealth of knowledge they provide, perhaps their greatest contribution to your efforts is mental toughness; which translates into “staying power”. Simply put, if you know a big buck is in your area, and you’ve got the pictures to prove it, you’re more likely to remain on stand when the going gets tough. Without a doubt, a picture is worth a thousand words; and perhaps even a couple more hours on stand.
Sometimes the hunt ends in a matter of minutes; just long enough to get settled in and “thump!” it’s all over. Often times though, many long hours must be spent in a treestand before the shot materializes. Punching the clock and putting in a long day at “the office” is often the approach that must be taken in order to put some horn on the ground. However, when armed with the proper “know-how” and “reasoning” behind such an ambitious tactic, it’s actually quite easy.