The stand just had to be hot. A lush alfalfa field lay 50 yards behind me. Beyond that, to the southwest, the sun was angling across a clear sky. My perch faced east, toward a thick river bottom, watching a deer trail you could drive a one-ton down. The northeast wind was perfect and the barometer was high and holding steady. I was sure deer would move early.
Six does passed my stand 90 minutes before sundown. Then I picked up glitter on the trail. Sun rays on willow limbs…or was it a rack? The glitter moved and a big deer materialized.
The buck strolled along the trail like a shopper on Main Street on a fine October afternoon. When he stepped into the shooting lane, I let fly.
I bagged that 140-incher for two reasons. First, I ignored everything I had ever heard about mature bucks being light-averse. Second, I set up with the sun behind me. Hidden 20 feet up in the shadows, that buck didn’t have a chance of spotting me. If I had placed my stand on the western side of the field, as many hunters do to take advantage of the shady side, I might never have gotten a shot at that buck.
Whitetails have eyes that are geared toward low light-they have relatively large pupils and few pigments to block ultraviolet rays. Despite this fact, I believe deer see and move much better when it is bright than some hunters maintain. I’ve seen as many mature bucks cruising around on clear, high-pressure days as I have when it’s dingy and overcast. This flies in the face of what you have probably read before, but I’m sticking to my guns. It holds true not only during the rut, but also early and late in the season.
While bucks don’t shy from sunlight, they do use shade to their advantage. Years ago whitetail guru Barry Wensel told me, “Watch a big deer. He’ll often pause in the shade, scan the sunny woods and then make a quick dash to the next shady spot.” Well, I started watching, and I saw a bunch of deer doing just that. I also started paying more attention to the daily movement and angles of the sun. Now I hang a lot of my stands so they’ll be in shady strips.
I try to face a morning stand west. If I’m going to sit deep into the midmorning, I set up pointing north to keep the sun out of my eyes. I hang an afternoon stand so I’ll be looking east. This way I’ll be hidden in shadows. With the sun behind me, my binocular will pick up clean light, with no sunspots or glare.
I’ve also watched a lot of deer filter into the shady side of a food plot or crop field, especially early in the season. I set up there…sometimes. But as I mentioned, I’ve observed many big deer strolling along sunlit trails. As a result, I don’t sacrifice everything to be in the shady spot. After taking the wind direction into consideration, I hang a tree stand along the trail with the hottest sign; if it’s also on the shady side of an opening, great.