If you’re a deer hunter who can manage to free up a day or two over the next few weeks to roam your favorite hunt area, your goal should be more than hunting sheds or cataloging last fall’s still-visible deer sign. Of course, both of those endeavors are more than worthwhile, but now is also prime time for yet another productive project: Creating new, and decidedly shooter-friendly, treestand sets. Why more sets? Because we can all use more options for changing winds, and staying a few steps ahead of fickle whitetails.

Here are a few proven ways to improve on setups Mother Nature has previously provided.

Prune Like You Mean It
One of the most-frustrating foibles for any dedicated bowhunter is to have a trophy buck pass within bow range of your occupied treestand without offering a shot. I’ve had this happen several times while hunting with outfitters, but very rarely while hunting my own stands. The primary differences? When I set my own stands, I not only can pick the tree and stand height/angle, but also (where legal) perform the necessary pruning to make the set as deadly as it can be. And it’s really that simple. Or difficult, I guess, depending on your motivation and mindset.

Remember that creating those necessary shooting lanes can be every bit as critical as picking the right tree. And once you start, don’t be timid. The incredible advantage to creating even the most massive, forest-scarring pruning jobs now, in late winter/early spring, is huge. By summer, new vegetation will have had time to completely “camouflage” your handiwork. If you prune correctly (this takes some practice but common sense rules), come fall you will have a series of nice and wide shooting lanes extending out from your stand tree, offering near-360-degree opportunities. And these lanes will appear not only to be naturally occurring, but as near-virgin, untouched wilderness. Don’t laugh; taking the extra time (and effort) of pruning saplings all the way down to ground level, and removing all cuttings from the immediate area, is the difference between creating an obvious man-made stand site that fellow hunters can recognize easily, and one not even the resident deer know exist.

It’s important to note that you can’t create these idyllic-and-deadly treestand sets merely by pruning from ground level. Doing it right means hauling around a portable climber, or hang-on stand and climbing sticks, so you can also consider hanging branches from surrounding trees—or even branches from your chosen stand tree. I don’t have to tell avid treestanders that things look a whole lot differently 18 or 20 feet up, especially in thicker woods. Another consideration, especially dealing with conifers, is precipitation. If you climb up to stand height in sunny, dry conditions and believe you have “just enough” room to weasel a shot under an overhanging conifer branch, you’ll have no shot when that branch is soaked with rain, sleet, or covered in sticky snow. When in doubt, prune it. You might be very glad you did.

Blocking Trails Can Pay Off Big
One last and very satisfying “finishing touch” to a well-prepped stand site centers on improving the “natural funneling” of your chosen site. How? By using brush, sticks, and/or fallen logs to literally funnel passing deer within range of your stand. This tactic can take many forms, from simply “blocking off” a nearby, major trail to give deer one less travel option and make the trails near your stand more attractive, to a somewhat more “drastic” execution of, say, using terrain, vegetation, and positioning fallen logs in a large “V” configuration on either side of your stand. I’ve seen these “artificial” funneling techniques work amazingly well, and I’ve also seen deer ignore some of my best efforts. But they do seem to work more than not.

Once I’ve taken the extra time to enhance an already well-chosen stand site—and do it five or six months before the season—my confidence in the spot is sky-high. And that means, invariably, that once it comes time to hunt, I’ll take extra time to ensure I access the site correctly, and hunt longer and harder while I’m on stand. And if I do those things, there’s no question all the effort will have been well worth it. Because those critical ingredients can’t help but lead to more encounters, and more hunting success.