Finding the best spot for a tree stand isn’t just luck

Finding the best place to locate your tree stand in a particular area depends on a handful of factors. Here’s how to put them in order.

Selecting the best place to locate a tree stand is as much a process of elimination as it is dedicated selection.  

Barry Wenzel, one of the best-known archers in the country, tries to make sure he selects “just the right tree” for each specific location. Being a traditional bowhunter, Wenzel tries to limit his shots to 15 yards or closer, so his selection process may differ from most hunters in that regard — the steps he takes to select “just the right tree” do not. 

Books have been written on this subject, and it can be an involved conversation. To simplify, it’s divide and conquer. Basically, there are two approaches to selecting the proper tree for hunting: stands for bowhunters and stands for gun hunters. While there may be some similarities, there are key differences.  Selecting the best tree-stand location is as much a process of elimination as it is dedicated selection.

Being able to approach and get into your stand without detection is important, to the point that you may want to quietly clear a trail of leaves and undergrowth. (Photo by Pete Rogers)

Archery Stands

Nothing influences deer movement more than topography. Even the slightest change in topography will draw deer to an area. Whether it is a steep ridge or a slight rise in the ground, a topographical feature will cause deer to move through a particular corridor. Identify areas of topography that influence deer to use over other areas, and you are in the right area. 

Deer are edge creatures, meaning they prefer to walk along edges. An edge is relative to your area. The easiest edge to identify is the edge of an agriculture field or even a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) field. Just inside the woods will be trails that parallel the field, as well as trails that are perpendicular to the field. Where these trails intersect is a good area to focus on for a stand locations. Other edges could be where pine plantations meet hardwoods or where two different types of terrain intersect. Anything that has a longitudinal change is an edge.

Funnels, pinch points or whatever you choose to call them, are key points on which to focus. These are highlighted by how the terrain narrows into an hourglass shape. By focusing on these funnels or pinch points, you will soon find areas where the terrain gets relatively narrow around a bend, creek, river or drainage. In big woods, look for where the topography changes drastically and pushes wildlife along its edge. Find the center of this funnel and hang a stand. 

A change in habitat types is a great place to look for deer movements and set up a stand to wait for a big buck to pass. (Photo by Pete Rogers)

One of my favorite places to hunt with a bow is along a rub line. Bucks will mark territory by rubbing their antlers on trees. These can be random, but by spending some time walking your property preseason, you will most certainly find specific areas where bucks tend to spend more time and mark more and more trees. Where there is a line of rubs, I hang a stand because I know the buck will be patrolling this area regularly. Placing a bow stand 20 to 25 yards from a rub line will put me in a great location. 

But a great place to set up is only half the battle.

“If there is one thing, I want to say, it is if I can’t get to the stand without spooking deer, it is not a good location,” Wenzel said. “Regardless of how wonderful the funnel, bench or trail may be, if I can’t get there without every deer in the area knowing I am there, it is useless.”  

Access to the stand is arguably the most-important aspect of selecting the best stand location for bow season. Once you have located your area, study the access carefully. Wenzel’s point is crucial. I have abandoned some great stand locations because I knew I could not get there without alerting deer. 

I go to the extreme and use a backpack blower and rake to remove debris from the ground to keep my egress and ingress as quiet as possible. Use as direct an approach as possible. When I can, I only approach from behind. Never approach your stand from the area or direction from which you expect deer to be coming. 

Try to locate a gun stand where you can cover as much ground as possible, but be around 100 yards from where you expect deer to appear. (Photo by Pete Rogers)

Gun Stands

I realize that I may be different in this regard, but my gun stands are very different from my bow stands. I set them a lot farther away from my intended target zone. That being the case, I set my stands accordingly. 

In setting up gun stands, I look for completely different, yet similar things. Early season has me focused on food and travel corridors. If access to agriculture fields is available, set up looking east so the sun sets behind you, and study the edges. Try to place your stand a minimum of 100 yards from where you see deer entering and exiting a field. 

In areas of cutovers — some of my favorite places to hunt —  get as high as you can and cover as much country as you can. Personally, I do not like to climb high. While I am not afraid of heights, I find my hearing and distance judging is difficult at heights over 25 feet. I look for rises in the terrain and set a stand at the highest point to look over a clearcut. 

In thick, wooded areas, I still want to cover as much ground as I can. After scouting and determining that the area is worth hunting, I look for where I can see the most country and set a stand there. 

Gun-hunting can easily be done from stand sites that are used when bowhunting. Nothing says you must take long shots with a gun. Some of the biggest deer I’ve taken with rifles were at ranges inside of 20 yards. But the gun gives you options the bow does not, and the biggest is the advantage of range. 

One thing I consider when selecting all my stand locations is wind direction. While scent and other factors are not as critical when you are hunting deer that are 200 or more yards away, the direction of the wind is still one of the most important elements. 

“You will never see the deer that smell you,” Wenzel said.

When you set your stand, sit in it with a compass and log the direction it faces. Make note of the wind directions that occur in the location. By knowing this, you are less likely to hunt a stand on the wrong wind and ruin a hunt. Each time a buck smells you in an area, it becomes less likely you will ever see him. 

Selecting the right stand site is a process that often takes years to develop, but using these tips will help you make the right selection this season.

(Photo by Pete Rogers)

There’s an app for that

Using technology to help scout for stand locations is one of the best uses of your time. Today’s satellite images are so accurate that finding funnels, topographic features and edges are easier than ever. 

Google Earth and apps like OnX, Hunt-stand and others allow you to identify locations and stand sites, know boundaries and even weather patterns in your area. Topographical layers can be added to learn the topography and how the deer move across the landscape, all helping you to identify key areas on which to focus your scouting.

Any time you are looking at moving stands or hunting a new location, use one of these apps to help you spend your time in the right areas when you’re in the field looking for the best stand site.

About Pete Rogers 163 Articles
Pete Rogers of Taylors, S.C., is employed with the USDA Wildlife Services and has been a sporting writer and photographer for over a decade. He has a real passion for trapping and enjoys sharing his outdoors experiences with his wife and five children.

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