Bowhunting Whitetail: 5 Great Stand Spots

early season bowhunting stand

Here are 5 great spots to set your tree stand or blind based on my 30 years of observing the movements of mature bucks in varied habitats across America.

These are places where you might slip in and have a good chance of seeing and quite possibly getting a shot at a big deer, even if you’ve not had a lot of time to scout this summer.

Search for these terrains and structures on an aerial map; if you’ve hunted a ground for several years, think back to where a few of these spots are located.

Ditch It

One morning in Montana, I froze as an 8-pointer trotted toward me through the woods. He was moving fast, trying to get back to his bed along the Milk River before the sun got too high. Something flashed behind him—a 10-pointer pushing 150 was bringing up the rear!

The woods were flat as a pool table and pretty open, but I wasn’t too worried, even though I was eyeballing the impressive pair from ground zero. The bucks stepped into the ditch in front of me and disappeared. I drew my bow and stepped out from behind my hiding tree. When the 8-pointer popped out on my side, I ran an arrow through his lungs at 16 steps. Why didn’t I wait for the 10-point giant you ask? Well, the 8-pointer was a P&Y buck, and I never pass a bow shot at a P&Y buck.

Since that day, a good-sized ditch, old creek bed or dry irrigation canal that runs through a woodlot is one of my favorite bow setups. Many times I have watched bucks get down in the trenches and maneuver though the woods.

You might get a shot by hunting on either end of the runway. If you walk and scout the entire length of a ditch you will find at least 2 points where trails come together and funnel across it, and those are also killer spots for a set. I actually like the crossings better than the ends on days when the wind is right.

End Runs

Loggers bulldoze windrows of trees and logs alongside new access roads and clear-cuts in the woods. Clearing pastures, farmers often pile logs or brush along edges of the timber. These are linear structures that you should look for. Deer can’t walk through the barriers, so they skirt them on either end. Check the ends for trails curling around, like you would do with the ditches we talked about. Set up where the sign is good and the wind is right.

Ah, but once in a while deer can walk through a wind row. Scout along a line of piled-up trees or brush and look for a hole or gap in the middle of it. If deer are sneaking though there, you’ll see their tracks. My friend and TV star Mark Drury killed one of his biggest bow bucks ever—190 class—by hunting near a brush-row chute like this.

Point of Timber

One of the easiest spots to find on an aerial map is a good-size point of timber tucked in the “S Curve” of a snaking river or large stream. I hunted such a spot on the Mouse River in North Dakota once, and while I didn’t kill a buck, I spent a week watching deer use this habitat. I was close two times, but never could get a shot.

If there’s good cover in the point of timber and little pressure in the area, you can bet some bucks will bed deep in there by the water and filter in and out on several trails. It’s a gamble on which trail to hang a stand, though as a rule I usually choose one where a buck moves to or from the cover with the daily wind in his nose. Set stands or blinds at least 300 yards from the water curve so as not to pressure the bedding area. Hunt for a buck coming out in the evening or going in at dawn.

On Edge

I love to bowhunt in woods tangled with brush and dotted with pines or cedars, because that is where the old boys hang out. But I never hang a tree stand where it’s too tight, where I can see only 30 yards or so in the cover. If your setup is too constricted, a 10-pointer is apt to pop up in arrow range without your seeing or hearing him. You might make a wrong move…he might look up and bust you…you might come unglued and shoot quickly and miss or hit him poorly…

So, scout the heaviest cover in the timber and set a tree stand on a linear edge of it (there’s that word again, bucks naturally travel linear structure) where you can see a big deer coming for maybe 100 yards. That way, you can ease up your bow and make all the right moves as he closes in. What makes this setup so sweet is that since bucks travel an edge like this so much, you’ll find lots of major trails and fresh rubs and scrape lines to key on.

Field Post

A gnarly, grown-up pasture might be 60 acres, or a sprawling CRP field of 500 acres in the Midwest. Either habitat is a fantastic spot to hunt, especially in the rut when bucks cruise for does and drag the willing ones out there to breed. If you were rifle hunting, you’d just sit on a rise or in a tree stand where you could watch the cover for 300 yards or more (actually do that if you gun hunt later in the season). But with a bow, you naturally have to narrow it down.

Get on a hill and glass a weed field for a wide swale running through it. I guarantee you bucks will travel that low ground, which hides them as they cut from one point of timber to the other, or from woods to a crop field. Go down in there and look for a major trail and see where and how it runs across the field. Hang a stand on either edge of the woods where the trail dumps in, or look for a little ambush spot along a trail out in the waist-high cover. There are often a lot of cedar trees in this type habitat. Back into the low-growing branches and set up with the tree to your back for an awesome natural blind. Sometimes, if the cedar or pine trees are large, you can hack out a spot for a stand 15 or so feet up—great because you can watch pretty much the whole field and whack any buck that slinks by on the trail.

Good luck.


Deer Season 2016: What Kind of Year Do You Predict in Your State?

trail camera bucks alberta

My friend sent me this fascinating photo from his farm in Canada. He’s been watching the buck on the right all summer, and the 6×6 on the left just showed up. “Good sign,” he texted, “cause the really big ones up here generally don’t show up until late October.”

BTW, since I received this picture smack in the middle of the Rio Olympics, I caption it:

Whitetail Olympics, Synchronized Feeding, the Canada bucks take the gold!

I am heartened to see the nice bucks up North, where the 2015 winter was relatively mild. After some lean times, I think this could be the best rack season in years in western Canada.

How about where you live and hunt? What kind of rack year do you expect? What predictions are you hearing from your state’s wildlife agency? What kind of bucks are showing up on you and your friends’ trail cameras?

Please let me know below because I’ll be putting together a pre-season prediction blog on the upcoming 2016 season, and your specific info will help me out.

(Hint: From what I’m seeing and hearing early, this has the potential to be the best buck season across America since 2010.)

Deer Racks: What Causes a Weak-Side Antler?

md dan uneven rackOur friend Danny from Maryland sent this picture and asked this question:

Is there any chance this deer’s antlers will eventually even out? Or will he most likely always have an uneven rack based off his genes? He doesn’t appear to have suffered any injury to cause this.

The vast majority of whitetail bucks grow even or largely symmetrical and typical antlers. Although the buck in this picture may not appear hurt now, there is a strong likelihood that he sustained some injury earlier this year.

“I think the buck in the picture was injured,” says QDMA biologist Kip Adams. “His left antler looks normal, just minus a brow tine.  His right antler has a good-sized brow and then 3 stubby points, which are very common from an injury.  I’m guessing the injury was to his antler but it could have been to the body.”

Kips notes that the pedicle, or base, of the weak side antler looks fine “so I’m guessing the injury was to his antler, and that suggests if he survives to next year he will not carry the injury with him. He’ll be easy to follow this fall with his unique rack. Good luck in the woods.–Kip


Can a Whitetail Buck Learn You Are Hunting Him?

sd sioux falls buck 2008Mike, love your blog and TV show. Question, I’ve heard that a big buck can learn you are hunting him, and then move around to avoid your tree stands. Do you think that’s true? Joe, Arkansas

Joe, I do not believe a buck can reason that you are in the woods trying to hunt him down, trying to kill him. But a buck, especially one 4 1/2 years or older, is a survivalist that most certainly feels your presence and disturbance, perceives you as a possible threat and tries to avoid you at all costs.

Science backs that up. Tracking and charting 37 GPS-collared adult bucks over three years on a 6,000-acre hunting property in South Carolina with 100 elevated stands, researchers found that as the days and weeks went by in hunting season, the bucks moved an average of 55 yards farther away from the tree stands than they did earlier in the fall. Having seen, smelled and sensed humans in and around those stands over the weeks, the bucks began to skirt those stands right out of bow range.

The study also found that if a hunter sat in a tree stand for just one day, bucks would avoid that stand, on average, the next three full days, whether or not the hunter shot or not. Just a human’s mere presence in a stand (along with the walk in and out I believe) was enough to make a big deer alter his movements so that he did not walk close to a tree stand until four days later.

Here’s what it means for Joe and the rest of us as we begin the hunt shortly.

early season bowhunting standFor most of the season it is best not to over-hunt your tree stands. After hunting a stand one day, rest it for a few days while hunting a second or third stand that you pre-set in the area. As you keep rotating in your stands, you keep bucks guessing where a possible threat is. One day a big deer is apt to slip up and walk 20 yards from one of those stands.

My one exception to this rule is when you’re hunting during the latter days of the prerut, those one or two magical days (early November most places) when the testosterone-addled bucks travel far and wide on pattern in search of the first estrus does but before they start chasing them. When I know bucks are in this pattern and moving hard in an area in daylight, I’ll hunt a favorite stand two or even tree days in a row because the thought of finding and breeding does makes the bucks drop their guard a bit.

Deer Hunt Lesson #1: See a Big Buck, Take Him

Read between the lines of every big deer shot by a hunter, and you’ll find lessons—lessons that might help you shoot a dream buck. This is the first in a series of key hunting tips for the 2016 season.


Rob from Arkansas told me about the massive whitetail he shot in Alberta years ago.

It was November 29, and it was cold, around 0. Rob’s guide (Americans must by law hire an outfitter in Canada) took him to a secret spot that hadn’t been hunted all season. Trail cam pictures had shown several good bucks in the area.

Thirty minutes after daylight Rob caught a flash of hide, and then a big chunk of antler bone. He knew the second he saw it that this was a big-bodied shooter.

All he could see was a patch of front shoulder. Rob fired a bullet at that spot and the buck never moved.

Rob’s buck only had a 14″ inside spread, but he made up for it up with an incredible 50 plus inches of mass. The animal had 21 points and scored around 220 NT. The brute weighed 300 pounds.

Two lessons here:

–You already know this but I reiterate—any time you can hunt a new spot where nobody else has been hunting your odds of seeing a big deer moving in daylight go way, way up.

–Most importantly, Rob got that giant because he didn’t fool around and wait for the whole animal to pop out of the cover so he could marvel at it. The second you confirm your target as a deer…a buck…a big buck, and the instant you have a safe, open shot at the vitals, pull the trigger or trip the release.

If you are indecisive and fool around, looking at a buck too long and trying to better size him up, he’ll get away. That is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in all these years of deer hunting. You’ve got to be doubly sure of your target and backdrop–safety first of course–but once you’ve checked those off the list, take him!