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.
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.
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.
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.
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.