4 Tips for Picking the Killing Tree

by Eric Hall

At this time of year, our thoughts are in fast forward; looking ahead to the 2018 whitetail season.  Call it cabin fever or whitetail OCD, it really doesn’t matter.  Our minds are dreaming of that cool, November morning; frost on the ground and we are sitting up high in our best spot.  Our eyes and ears on high alert, seeking confirmation that the buck of a lifetime is about to step into our shooting lane.  It is the perfect scenario in the perfect spot.  But making that happen takes a lot more than simply hanging a stand over the hot sign.  There are a lot of factors to consider when hanging the perfect set in the perfect tree.

Wind
Whitetail hunters know the wind is the number one consideration to tip the scales in our favor.  On the surface it is a simple concept; if they smell you, you are done!  Some folks say they can beat the wind and a deer’s nose through their scent control and stand choice.  I cannot argue that point as their success is well documented.  For the rest of us, playing the wind is an important key to success.  Knowing the prevailing wind direction helps to determine how you pick your killing tree.  Setting up your stand perpendicular and downwind to the direction of the animals travel is commonplace in the whitetail woods.

Terrain also impacts your stand choice when it comes to the wind.  I have personally made the mistake of hanging the “perfect” stand only to find that the terrain has changed the wind pattern 30 yards downwind and it is now blowing where I absolutely do not want it to go.  Abrupt changes in the landscape can play havoc with the wind.  Valleys, ridges, and saddles all impact the wind direction and can make or break your hunt.  I carry a wind checking device when hanging new sets.  I prefer a floater that I can see moving downwind for a long distance.  I deploy these and watch how the terrain impacts their flight on the prevailing wind from my stand location.  I do this at each tree I would like to hunt in order to get the best setup possible.  Knowing the wind patterns in these areas when hanging a set will help you understand how to hunt them in the fall.

Access
You can have the perfect location, perfect tree and setup on the perfect wind and ruin it all by bumping deer on the way in or on the way out.  Access in and out of the stand is an often overlooked part of the setup process.

A friend and I hung a ladder stand on a ridge adjacent to a waterline easement separating two blocks of thick timber.  After placing the stand, he asked me how I planned to access the stand.  I was taken aback because I had not considered access prior to that question.  We moved down off the ridge and followed an ATV path back out.  This path provided the perfect access.  I would walk inside the thin timber along the field edge to the path, follow it through some cover, cross a small creek and pop up the ridge to the stand.  It was silent and I was hidden from the deer.  Needless to say, access became a priority from that day forward.

Avoid open fields and bedding cover when entering and exiting the stand.  If you have ditches or creeks nearby, these are great ways to access your location.  I hunt a location with one access point in and out.  I use the cover on the property – fence rows, conifers and thick brush around a pond – to hide my entrance and exit.  I walk the tree line to the first fence row and follow the fence row until I am behind the pond.  I then use the swale in the field to drop down to the pond and follow it around to the timber entrance.  It is not perfect, but it is what I have to work with and it has been successful in covering my entrance and exit from the stand.

Plan your access when picking your stand.

Cover
The perfect tree provides enough cover to conceal you from the watchful eyes of whitetail deer.  I learned this lesson many times over and continue to be reminded of it as my whitetail hunting evolves.  I use a lot of ladder stands, and finding the right tree with enough cover is critical.  I like a wide tree that I can barely get my arms around with multiple limbs to break up my outline.  I kneel down and look up at the tree to determine the backdrop and to ensure that I am not sky-lined.  This is best done in the winter when the trees are bare.

One of my favorite stands is hung where three trees are growing together.  Hanging in the middle tree, the side trees trunks and branches hide the stand.  There are grapevines growing up the trees on the side providing even more cover.  Because the middle tree is set back slightly, it creates shadows allowing movement to be concealed in the darkness.  I have only encountered two deer from this stand, but both were mature bucks.

Take the time to look for cover in the tree.  If there’s no cover available then move on.

Distance
Look for a tree that is 15 to 30 yards off of the sign.  This is the perfect setup when you are a bow hunter.  Shooting from an elevated position creates challenges at short distances to get an arrow through both lungs. When you are too close, the shot angle changes drastically and impacts your ability for an ethical kill especially with archery tackle.  Fifteen yards and out, the trajectory of the arrow will allow both lungs to be hit and end with a clean harvest.

In late October, a few years back, I had to pass a mature buck because the shot was not there.  I had just grunted and the buck appeared on the side of the ridge behind me.  He made a beeline for my tree.  He never offered a shot on the way in and ended up three feet in front of my stand.  The angle was such that all I could see was his back, hence no shot.  He hit my scent below the stand and bounded away 40 yards into thick brush, stopping to peer back in my direction.  It was frustrating to have a 140-150 class whitetail that close and not be able to take him.  The close shot angle made it impossible.  I had planned on a 20 yard shot from that stand, but he re-wrote the script.

Many archers are competent beyond the 30-yard mark; while this shot is possible, it is not an optimal situation when choosing your tree stand sight.  Plan for 30 yards and in when hanging your stand but practice at further distances, just in case the situation arises.  Remember the closer they are, the less likely they will have time to completely load up and duck the shot.  The dream scenario is that buck of a lifetime quartering away at 20 yards.

Hanging a stand is a simple process.  Picking the right tree to take a mature deer is complex with many factors to be considered.  Following the tips above, will help you along that path to harvesting the buck you have been looking for.


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Author: Eric Hall

Afflicted with Whitetail OCD, I have been addicted to the Whitetail Deer since the late 1980s. It is an all-consuming and never-ending passion to learn about and ultimately preserve the heritage of whitetail deer hunting. Now I feed that addiction with the Whitetail OCD blog.

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