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When you head out before daylight on the morning of your deer hunt, you know where you’re going. Your destination is the stand you put up after scouting out the perfect location. You set out on a direct course for the spot, but somehow you don’t wind up where you’re supposed to be. All trees look alike in the dark.

The extra walking and the anxiety of not being able to locate your stand quickly begin to take their toll in the darkness. You start to perspire. Aimless wandering spreads your scent throughout your hunting territory and foils a silent approach because you’re walking over dry leaves and broken branches. What a klutz.

Time is ticking away. You hoped to get into your stand early, quickly and quietly. A prompt arrival would have let the woods settle down long before legal shooting time, but the first light in the eastern sky is already showing.

Thanks to your disappearing stand, this hunt’s a bust, but there are ways to guarantee it won’t happen again.

GET FAMILIAR Note landmarks on the way to your stand that will be easy to spot even during a pre-dawn entrance: fallen or forked trees, boulders, streams, large bushes and clearings. It’s wise to stay away from the area in the days before you hunt, to keep your scent absent, so try to scout the area and familiarize yourself with it well before the season.

RAKE A PATH Select a location on the way to your stand that you know you can easily find in the dark. It might be several dozen yards away from the stand. That is your starting point. Using a heavy-duty rake, start sweeping aside leaves, branches and small rocks. Carry pruning clippers to trim interfering branches and roots. Other leaves will fall on the path, but probably not enough to make you lose your way.


Use surveyor’s flagging tape or reflective tacks and wire ties designed to show the way after dark [see sidebar]. Even strips of toilet paper will work in a pinch, but they should be removed when you leave or when you replace them with better markers.

To set up a trail-marker system, stick reflective tacks into tree trunks. The tacks will reflect the light of a flashlight as you make your way to or from the stand. Use a single tack on trees going toward the stand and two tacks on the opposite side of the same trees to mark the exit route.

Reflective wire ties are easy to use in areas where there are a lot of twiggy branches or shrubs that are too small to support tacks. Just twist a tie around a twig or clump of leaves.

GPS CAN HELP Hand-held GPS units made by companies such as Garmin and Magellan have found favor with hunters, and not just those who hunt wilderness areas. Map a programmed route to a stand by punching in waypoints along the route. Once stored, the coordinates can be called up any time.

Light the Way Reflective trail markers that help you find your way to and from your stand in the dark are inexpensive and come in the form of thumbtacks, pushpins and wire ties. Reflective Trail Tacks reflect a flashlight beam from up to 200 yards away. (BuckWing Products; 610-264-1122; Bright Eyes are highly reflective 3M tape attached to heads of various shapes (shown). They reflect light for up to 300 yards. Night & Day Pins are pushpins that provide nighttime reflection and daytime visibility. (Lewis Hunting Accessories; 715-886-5720; Limb Lights are 4 11/42-inch reflective twist ties to attach to saplings or limbs. (Hunter’s Specialties; 319-395-0326;