December 2013
Talkin' Huntin'

Listen to the Breeze

Structure, Wind and Treestand Placement

  Whitetails are always using their extremely sensitive sense of smell to their advantage and will not spend a great deal of time in an area where the air currents aren’t to their advantage. (Credit: Lynn Bystrom)

 "Pink-light" was breaking over the horizon and the timber was waking up around me. I was perched in a treestand overlooking eight huge, fresh scrapes, but I puffed my "wind-checker" and watched the particles go floating off exactly where I didn’t expect them to. I considered getting out of my set-up so as not to foul the area - but it was too late. Some dry leaves let me know "he" was headed my way. The buck appeared over the top of the ridge, but because the thermals were now warming and the air current rising the conditions had switched to being in his favor.

The big 5x5 walked in my direction until he came upon one of those scrapes about 18 yards away. With the thermal sucking my scent towards him, I thought I had better take the first opportunity that arose. I held at full draw until it felt like my arms were going to fall off, when he finally turned his hind-end around to get a better vantage to work the licking branch – now was my chance. I released and was able to watch the buck topple over after a 100-yard dash.

Out of all the avenues this buck could have taken in the middle of 2,000 acres of timber, why did he pick the route of my vantage? More importantly, why did "I" choose that spot? Many hunters have questions about treestand placement. Every situation is different and there aren’t any rules where there aren’t any exceptions. However, over the years, I’ve learned some general practices that will help in most situations when placing a treestand.

Much of choosing the proper stand site has to do with "structure." As with most animals, whitetails travel from place to place using cover and terrain to their advantage. Learning to recognize the transition areas, access points and travel corridors of whitetails is a key to stand placement.

One of the first things you should do when approaching a new spot is to obtain a satellite image, aerial photo or topographical map. The first spots to focus on are the funnels. No matter where you hunt - big timber, agricultural land or suburban lots, there are funnels in your hunting area. With a funnel their movement is confined, and wherever you can restrict their movement to a smaller zone there will be more traffic and it’s easier to position yourself to remain undetected by their "noses."

I like to use either the satellite image or aerial photo in conjunction with a topographical map. It’s often difficult to see terrain breaks on a photo taken from above, but the topographical map will point out elevations. Funnels aren’t always created by two obvious obstructions. Oftentimes they’re created by subtle terrain changes that guide or force movement one way or another, and most often these terrain changes can’t be seen on a picture taken from above so the topo map can be valuable.

When looking over an area, I like to imagine the terrain without any trees or debris first. Look for the points, terrain breaks, steeper angles, edges or turns that will force or encourage the animal to go one way over another. If you try and foretell his travel patterns this way first, when you add the trees, brush and blow-downs back to the picture it can sometimes seem obvious where he will pass.

Why not influence whitetails to travel where you want? It’s possible to create your own trails by using a pruner through brush or a weed-whacker through tall grass and weeds. Mature bucks can often be found around the thickest, nastiest cover you can find. However, when traveling through the thick cover, they will almost always, unless forced, travel the easiest route they can find - the path of least resistance. You can also fell trees to force them to go in a certain direction. Create your own "man-made" funnels.

Knowing a whitetail’s no. 1 defense is its extremely responsive sense of smell, we can experience consistent success by learning how to battle it and maybe even use it to our advantage. Aside from reducing odors on our person and cutting down on the foreign odors we leave behind, we also need to understand how whitetails use the air currents to their advantage.

Left to right, conditions are constantly changing in the wild. Use a quality system of scent elimination to protect yourself in case the circumstances aren’t what you planned on. With a wind detection tool, you can puff fine particles into the air and actually see how the air current is flowing and how smells are being carried to a deer.

Scent elimination is extremely important. We need to reduce foreign odors to a minimum. Everything I bring into the whitetail’s domain will be treated with the Scent Killer system to destroy smells at the molecular level. I really like the new Scent Killer Gold Spray because of its "Hunt Dry" technology. This can be sprayed on your hunting clothes and will work for days after drying.

Besides reducing offensive odors, we also have to learn how to play the wind and thermal currents. They are the "hallways" and "elevators" carrying smells to a deer’s nose. You have to know how to place yourself within their terrain so you can "see them" before they "smell you." Learning air current patterns is also a secret to predicting whitetail movement.

Everybody knows what the wind is, but most whitetail hunters don’t pay enough attention to thermal current. The heating and cooling of the air combined with different temperatures emanating from various sources make the air current do some strange things. In the West, because of the mountainous topography, most veteran hunters are familiar with thermals, but it’s also important in flat areas. It could be as simple as when hunting a clearing, paying attention to where the sun will rise. When the sun comes up it shines on one side of the clearing first. The sun warms the air and the current rises on that side of the clearing before it does anywhere else.

Pay particular attention around water, rocks, dark conifer trees or anything that may retain a different temperature than the air. When the temperatures differ, you’d be amazed at how the air current may be swirling around.

Many mediocre hunters lick their finger, stick it in the air and point downwind to the spot where they’ll place their stand. Here’s where they fail - often the sign they are observing has been made under totally different conditions than the wind blowing that one specific direction. A whitetail will not spend a great deal of time in an area where it can’t use its nose efficiently. A buck may never use that trail or enter that area under those specific conditions.

You can’t just set up downwind of an area and think, "Well, he won’t smell me here," and expect to have luck. My first thought about a spot is "under what conditions will a whitetail want to be in this area?" I want a buck to feel comfortable with the chosen site, but also under the conditions I want to hunt the site. You need to set up for how a whitetail plays the wind.

My best advice is to purchase some sort of wind-detection device or unscented cotton. With a "dust-puffer" you can actually see how the air current is blowing. Aside from this being a great tool to physically play the wind, when you actually see the air current it really helps to teach you some of the secrets of deer movement.

It may be advisable once you find a good spot to set up multiple-stand locations so you can play different wind directions and conditions yet hunt the same deer. At a given time, I may have as many as a dozen different stand locations to pursue one specific buck. This way you won’t burn a stand and ruin your chances at a mature buck by pushing your luck and hunting a site when the conditions aren’t in your favor, which is NEVER a good idea.

More bucks are harvested each year while hunting from treestands than by any other method. If you examine the site’s topography and structure, and then take the wind and thermal into consideration, success will come for you.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.