The 7 Best Ways to Access Your Treestand

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One of the remarkable truths I have discovered after hunting across much of the country is that no matter how much land a person owns or an outfitter leases, at some time during your hunt, you will still wind up on a stand within eyesight of a property line—sometimes, you’ll even wind up right next to it. Such was the case during one Pike County, Ill., hunt where I was set up along a natural funnel between two mucky low areas off the back of a large pond. A fence of barbed wire ran between the pond and my stand.

And of course, as my guide dropped me off, pointing the stand out in the distance, he casually noted, “Oh yeah, don’t shoot across the fence by the stand. That’s not our property.” When I got to the stand, the fence was little more than 40 yards away. If a shooter came from that direction, he was definitely going to have to cross to my side, and cross close for a legal shot. Somehow I sensed the inevitable.

About an hour and a half after sitting in the afternoon stand, just as deer were beginning to move, I watched as a lone orange-clad figure rolled up in the distance on a rumbling ATV. He then parked it and proceeded to march right into the wood lot opposite the pond. Shortly after he disappeared into the trees, I watched as four or five does bounded from the woodlot, slowing by the edge of the pond and feeding out across from me. Soon followed a gagger 10-point, loping casually along and looking back over his shoulder.

It was then that I noticed the wind was blowing right into the woodlot from the direction the hunter had approached. As if the noise of his nearby ATV hadn’t been enough to send an alert, the casting of his scent into the trees was confirmation of danger to every whitetail in the area. The guy clearly never even considered that and probably never even knew what he scared out of the area.

The 10-point was a clear shooter and would ultimately be the biggest buck I saw on the hunt. Did I get him? Of course not. Despite treading at the edge of my slug gun’s range, he never crossed the fence. Instead, he lingered with the does before moving off parallel to where I sat. Even my grunts went unheralded. Such is deer hunting.

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Lessons Learned
While I was bummed not to fill my tag on my trip to America's big-buck epicenter, the observation of that hunter underscored something I realize with a number of hunters I spend time in the field with…they spend plenty of time pondering how their hunts should play out once on stand and not nearly enough on how they should play things before they ever get to the stand. Don't be that guy or gal.

1. Wind is Everything
Show me a deer hunter who doesn't worry about wind direction when hunting, and I'll show you a hunter who isn't very successful. While it can certainly carry less concern for a gun hunter than a bowhunter, just because you can launch shots out to 300 yards doesn't mean you can forego the concern. I've had mule deer bust from a canyon more than 150 yards away when swirling winds carried my scent and that of my outfitter right into the chute. And while you may have spent hundreds on the latest scent-control clothing or sprayed yourself down with enough cover-scent or scent-killing spray to mask a hog in a church, don't believe for a second that these products will make you completely invisible. They may certainly help, but you still need to play the odds and assume that your body is always generating some scent that can escape and waft around. Always note which way the wind is blowing and enter stands and hunt areas by walking into the wind. And remember, a lot of hunters think about where the wind will blow their scent from their stand, only to walk into the stand from a direction where the wind blows their scent where nearby deer are bedded. Think it through and if your access and your stand isn't right with the wind, hunt somewhere else that day.

2. Time Your Arrival
Running late? Don't wreck trying to get to your property, but don't blindly go rushing into your stand either. This is a particular concern when hunting evening stands. Most hunters are guilty of arriving to a spot after the deer have already begun to move, only to blow deer out of a field they plan to hunt. This can kill the hunt for the evening. Even if the bruiser you hoped to catch before dark won't be there for another hour, he will notice that the other deer usually there are not around and know something is awry. Instead, make a Plan B for a spot you can slip into after first surveying whether deer are present or not. In a worst-case scenario, hang back, call it a scouting evening and plan to return another day.

3. Delay That Exit
Likewise, when leaving your stand in the evening. Don't get down if you have a half dozen deer milling around the area below you. Wait until dark and you're less visible then maybe rustle around a little or simply try slipping out as quietly and in the opposite direction of where the deer are standing. The least amount of disturbance you can create the better. Deer have better sight than we do at night, but they're not bionic. I've quietly slipped out of a stand, and ambled off bent over so I look less man-like. If they can't smell you and they can't tell exactly where they are, they may just slip off or they may even just nervously hang out until you're are gone. If you know you have to leave right in the middle of prime time, hunt another spot you can slip out of with minimal disturbance. Only hunt your best spots when the timing and conditions are right.

4. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Don't grab every branch you pass as you walk to your stand. Everywhere you touch is a spot that you are potentially leaving a trace of presence-alerting scent. Famed outdoorsman Eddie Salter says to imagine if you had wet paint on your hands and body and imagine what it would look like if you were walking through the woods rubbing against and grabbing every tree you passed. You get the picture. It's the same with scent. Wear rubber boots, which tend not to hold and transfer scent, and keep your hands to yourself as much as you can as you approach your stand.

5. Clear a Path
Prior to the season or hunting a particular stand, slip in during midday and quietly cut hanging limbs and small saplings to create an open path to your stands. As the leaves start falling, I've even gone in and raked a clear path so it didn't sound like I was walking on potato chips every time I approached a stand. Of course, if the season is already in and you have a stand set up tight to a bedding area where you suspect a bruiser to be hiding, don't risk the added disturbance. Just do your best to keep quiet when it's time to hunt the stand.

6. Up the Middle
When accessing field stands through a field, walk in the middle of the field. But doesn't that increase your risk of being seen by deer? If you're walking in the field at all, the odds of nearby deer seeing you is already high. By walking up the middle, you keep your scent trail away from the edge of the woods so deer won't hit it until they are well into the field—and in the open—themselves. By the time they hit your scent, it may well be too late for them.

7. Get Organized
Place needed gear in a suitable pack and organize before heading off for your stand so as soon as you get there, you can set up or access scents, calls, whatever, quietly and with minimal movement.