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Whitetail Deer, The All-Important Approach
Here are some tips on how to get into the woods and on your deer stand without alerting every buck in the vicinity!

Articles published about deer hunting, turkey hunting and more... Nice shot as this hunter takes down a white tail deer.

By Gerald Almy
Posted Monday, September 6, 2004

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Easing along in the glow of moonlight, I tried to move both quietly and swiftly as I made for the stand on the next ridge over. That wasn't an easy proposition, though. Brittle leaves crunched under foot; twigs cracked. And then I stumbled briefly, an unseen log tripping me up in my progress.

A loud snort suddenly startled me into an alert position. Then stomping hooves could be heard.

Although I couldn't see it in the darkness, there was no mistaking it - I'd spooked a whitetail. Seconds later the deer trotted away, fully alarmed.

First off, consider approach when you choose your stand or ground blind location. With small properties, physical constraints or geographical features and the habits of the local deer herd may make a particular site all but impossible to get to, or approachable only during the morning or possibly the evening.

It was too late to head somewhere else and get there before daylight, so I continued on my course, trying to be a bit more circumspect in my movements. But as I passed the next hollow, I realized (with a flush of anger at my own stupidity) that the wind was pushing down toward the planted food plot where I thought the deer would be feeding in the predawn.

More snorting - and more stomping hooves! They may not have heard me, but these deer were clearly alerted by my scent.

By now I was rattled, and rushed even faster toward the stand. Another deer spooked. This one was upwind of my location, but it seemed to sense that this fast-moving creature, which didn't pause or check for danger occasionally, could only be one thing - a human. And that couldn't be good!

Finally, sweaty from rushing and from wearing too many clothes on the hike in, I climbed up into the stand and settled down to watch. I saw exactly two squirrels and one raccoon before I became chilled from all that perspiring on the hike in. I grew discouraged, sensing that I'd spooked every deer in the area. I was forced to call it quits for the morning after just a few hours on stand with no deer sighted.

On that fiasco of an outing early in my hunting career, I did do at least one thing right: I'd picked a good stand location that in a deer-rich area. Unfortunately, like all too many hunters, I'd wasted the pre-season scouting effort, the topo study and the hard decision-making by not paying enough attention to the final, crucial ingredient for a successful hunt: planning how to approach my stand.

We spend long hours, even days, searching for the best ambush sites and carefully erecting stands or ground blinds, but sometimes fail to pay enough attention to how we can get to those locations without spooking the quarry and ruining the hunt before it even starts. I learned a lot from that early failed hunt and a few others like it. Here are some of the things I've discovered over the years that will help you succeed with this final step for a successful hunt - getting into the stand without spooking your prey out of the area.

First off, consider approach when you choose your stand or ground blind location. With small properties, physical constraints or geographical features and the habits of the local deer herd may make a particular site all but impossible to get to, or approachable only during the morning or possibly the evening.

An example: If you have a fairly narrow property with camp in the middle, and deer feed at night on one side of it, you may not be able to approach a stand before light on the other side of those deer. In other cases, the prevailing wind may blow toward the deer from the only direction you could approach a particular stand. Another area may simply be too thick and noisy to enter before dawn without spooking nearby deer. On the other hand, it might be OK for an afternoon hunt, when you can quietly pick your way through the dense cover in full light.

In situations where it would be almost impossible to reach the stand without spooking your quarry, don't even erect one; if you do, you'll be tempted to use it, and could spook the best bucks off your hunting grounds. In scenarios that are less unpromising, be sure to use the stand only during times that it can be approached without blowing the bucks out of the area.

Stands on the edges of fields work for evening watches, but they're typically hard to get sufficiently close to before dawn, when seeing the field well enough to avoid scaring off animals already in it is an issue. Such stands are best reserved for afternoon hunts. Even at this time, though, care must be taken in drawing near fields. I've seen monster bucks out in the middle of clover, oat and alfalfa fields when I approached during midday - a time one would assume to be "safe."

Always ease slowly up to a field, basically still-hunting toward it. And be sure to come in from the downwind side, so your scent won't blow toward the quarry or any deer that might be bedded on the edges of the field. Also, keep your stand back a ways from the actual edge of the open area, but close enough so that you can see animals as they come into it. This way, you can approach it through woods or brush and not alarm any animals that might be back in the cover, watching the field itself before pouring out to feed in it.

Often, a stand in the woods or in brushy country is best gotten into in a less-than-direct fashion, particularly if the deer are likely to be between your camp or parking spot and the site you plan to hunt. In these cases, even though it takes a bit more time and energy, it might be wisest to circle carefully in to the stand - which is what I should have done in the incident described earlier. It's often the best way to approach an ambush spot if there's even a slight chance deer might be feeding, traveling or milling about on a direct route to the stand.

It should be pointed out that spooking one or several deer as you approach your stand doesn't always ruin the entire hunt. Other deer could move past your stand - ones that weren't in the area earlier when those others spooked and ran away. But it's always preferable to subject your quarry to a minimal amount of disturbance.

Taking a circular or looping route in to a stand requires setting the alarm clock a bit earlier and missing a little more sleep. It also means hiking farther, perhaps up steep terrain or over hills you could avoid by walking straight in. But if the tactic pays off with a mature, heavy-antlered buck, it's certainly worth expending that extra effort.

Getting up early is a good idea anyway, to make sure that you're not at all rushed. If you feel pressed for time, you might forget some crucial piece of equipment or preparatory step such as applying scent-control spray or putting on your carbon-impregnated suit. If you're in a hurry, you'll also tend to charge toward the stand, making it more likely that you'll alarm and scatter your targets.

Only humans walk through the woods in an erect posture without stopping occasionally and listening and watching. You want to be able to take a few steps, pause, and take a few more, gradually working your way to the ambush site.

This pace will help you avoid another negative consequence of getting a late start: becoming sweaty from a rapid hike in and then getting chilled as you sit all but motionless for a long time. The discomfort will hurt the chances of your being able to stick it out on stand for a long session and likely force you to quit early. The odor from the sweat also increases the odds of the deer in the area detecting you and taking off.

I like to wear a minimal amount of clothing for the hike in, carrying the rest either inside my pack or lashed to it and putting them on only after I've reached the stand and cooled down from the exertion of the trek. This means both less chilling and less potential for game-spooking human odor.

Another reason to start early is that, no matter how carefully you walk through the woods, creatures are going to be disturbed. After you reach your stand, it'll help if you let a bit of time lapse before daylight and let the woods settle down. Use a flashlight only if absolutely necessary to avoid tripping over logs and hitting your face against branches.

Clearing a path to the stand is a smart idea in some cases. This can mean different things in different situations. It could call for just walking to your stand in full daylight to see if there are any noisy brushpiles or logs that could potentially trip you up and then clearing anything of the sort out of the way. In some cases it may require a bit of work with anything from a saw or machete to a brush hog to blaze a less obstructed path.

Just be aware that while these steps will make it easier for you to approach your stand quietly, they may also invite use by the local whitetail herd! Deer like easy walking routes just as much as we do, but as long as they aren't on the trail at the same time at which you plan to walk into your stand, that's fine.

If, for instance, a trail you cut to the stand is used in midmorning by deer heading back to a bedding area, it may serve a twofold purpose - quiet entry for you and a way to funnel bucks right past your location! Sounds too good to be true, but I've seen it work more than once. And if the rut is in full swing, or getting there, sprinkling estrous-doe scent on boot pads or dragging a scent-laced cloth can sometimes help lead deer down the trail to your location.

The silence of water can sometimes effectively aid you with getting in position on stands that otherwise would be hard to approach unobtrusively. You can float down a stream in a canoe or johnboat, beach it, and then walk the final leg to the stand, thus avoiding tromping through an area where you expect deer might already be.

An option using streams: If the watercourse is not too deep, put on waders and sneak upstream or down to the stand. Lakes can also offer a means of approaching a stand location without coming anywhere near where the deer might be in front of the stand.

Few hunters want to put in the extra time and bother required for doing things this way - but again, if the payoff is a mature buck, it's definitely worth the work.

Assuming you opt for what's now the more conventional approach to a hunting area - driving in - make sure to park your truck or car a suitable distance from your stand. Depending on the area's topography and ambient noise level (nearby highways, machinery, etc.), it may be possible to motor in as close as a few hundred yards from your stand. Usually, though, if the setting is quiet and there aren't many hills or hollows between you and the stand, you'll want to park from a quarter-mile to a half-mile away and hoof it in to your spot from there.

Even when you do this, shut doors quietly and talk only in a low voice with your hunting partners. Some people may think this is overly cautious, but deer have very acute hearing. It's also possible that a deer near your parking place may spook if it hears you, and then run past other deer closer to your stand, thus alerting them. It's a worst-case scenario, but it could happen. Better to park a longer way off to be safe.

If ATVs figure in your hunting, keep the racket that these make in mind, too. Sure, they can get you back far from paved roads, and help carry gear in and, after you score, your animal out. But even the best all-terrain vehicles make quite a bit of noise, so park them well back from your hunting location, and then hike in the rest of the way.

If you're afield on a farm or ranch that sees regular daily vehicle traffic with work trucks, a bolder approach to the stand can sometimes pay off. If roads or smooth terrain allow a vehicle's passage, try this ploy: See if the landowner, the ranch manager or a farm worker will drop you off at your stand location, or ask to "borrow" a farm vehicle. The idea here is for the neighboring animals to hear a farm vehicle with the exact engine sound that they're accustomed to year 'round.

Have all your gear ready so that the vehicle can pull right up to your stand and simply shift into neutral for a minute without even shutting off the engine while you slip out. Often this alarms animals less than does the sight of a human form sneaking through the woods towards a stand. Used to the thrum of that particular engine, the deer don't associate it with danger, because it's a routine sound that they associate with farming or ranching chores. They hear it virtually every day and thus don't fear its bringing danger into their world.

Used in this way, a vehicle can also facilitate your post-hunt exit from the stand - also an important part of the sequence of hunting operations. Of course, it's not going to influence the success of that day's hunt, because you'll be finished at that point. But if you climb down from your stand or out of your ground blind and casually spook a bunch of deer that are feeding nearby, you'll surely mess up that location for some time.

Not only will you spook the deer, but also if they actually see you get out of the blind or down from the stand, they may remember the spot and start looking there when they feed or travel in that area again. Even worse, they may alter their travel and feeding routines simply to avoid that spot. I've seen it happen.

On the other hand, a farm vehicle driving up after dark will move animals away that were around your stand, but not really scare them. Then you can slip quickly into the rig without any conversation or door slamming and avoid making animals wary of that location.

If you don't have someone to come get you with a farm truck, it's still important to be careful getting out of your stand after the hunt. First off, don't get out of your hunting stand when it's still light out. Even if legal shooting time is over, unload the gun or put the arrow away and wait until it's fully dark (if local laws allow). Then walk out under cover of darkness.

If deer are near your stand, or you suspect they might be just before you're ready to head out and call it a day, blow on a coyote call, or make some other loud natural sound that will spook the deer and send them away from your location without alerting them to human danger. Once the deer have left, you can climb down and walk back to your camp or vehicle.

Using forethought and planning as you enter and leave your stand can make a huge difference in your success as a deer hunter. Take it from someone who's already learned the hard way!


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