I like options during hunting season. I set up several stands in a variety of locations, all of which factor in deer movement, wind direction, and possible competition in the area. Ideally, I have at least a couple stands to choose from on any given morning. But when is the best time to put up those treestands? Ask five hunters that question and you’ll likely get five different answers. However, here are a few things to consider before lugging those stands out into the woods.
First, if you’re hunting any of Pennsylvania’s vast public lands, then you have a much shorter window for preseason preparation. On the state forests and game lands that I typically hunt, regulations state that “placement of portable hunting blinds or stands may not occur sooner than 2 weeks prior to the opening of the first deer season.”
This year, if you’re hunting public lands in a WMU with a September 18th archery opener, the earliest you can legally set a stand is September 4th. In WMUs where the archery opener is October 2nd, your target date to start setting up stands is September 18th.
Many big-name whitetail hunters around the country would frown at waiting until two weeks before the season to hang a treestand, but over the years, I’ve come to appreciate not jumping the gun and getting everything settled months ahead of time. It’s caused me to be more thorough with my scouting. So much happens on public land that isn’t necessarily an issue on private property, and being able to make last minute adjustments is an advantage. You can locate where the deer are right now, not where they were a month ago.
Hunting pressure is the main consideration. Deer that live in areas where hunting pressure has been historically heavy know when hunting season is near. Increased human activity doesn’t go unnoticed, and it has a profound effect on deer patterns and movement. Too much pressure can cause a mature buck to shift his core area. I’ve seen this happen numerous times, and I’ve often scratched my head the first week or two of the season wondering where all the deer went that I’d been seeing all summer.
Last year, I kept tabs on a nice pair of 8-points that were regulars on my trail camera until the week before the season, and then they disappeared. Around that same time, I encountered several guys who’d heard about some good bucks in the area. A couple of them had actually seen the deer cross the road at night, while others knew somebody who’d seen them. That’s the nature of public lands. It’s hard to keep the location of a good bucks a secret.
Hunting familiar territory can help you predict how deer patterns will shift once the season starts, but if you’re new to an area, there are a few indicators that might help you figure things out. One is finding rubs from previous years. Assuming that nothing drastic has happened, such as changing food sources or extreme logging, you can count on that area getting hot again once bucks start thinking about breeding.
That was actually a major key to relocating the two bucks I just mentioned. I found a corner in an older cut that had old rubs on every tree. Sure, all of the fresh rubs were where the bucks had first appeared on my trail camera, but I had no doubt that this corner would eventually see action, so I put a stand there. I encountered one of the 8-points in mid-October but couldn’t seal the deal. That corner, which seemed dead in the weeks prior to the season, ended up being a hot spot for staging bucks.
Another guideline I follow before setting up a stand is that I absolutely have to know where the food sources are located. This is huge. I’ve listened to many hunters rattle off about acorns and white oak, but when asked, very few of them truly know where all of those oak stands are located. Spend time actually walking the property to find the obvious and not-so-obvious food sources. Sometimes it’s those little, out of the way stands of only a handful of oak trees that deer will prefer over all others. Find those oak stands with the most deer droppings around them and set a stand. The deer will be there.
Knowing where deer bed is also important before committing to a stand. I’m always more concerned with doe bedding areas simply because they are easier to find, and does seem to be more consistent in their bedding habits. Also, as the rut approaches, where the bucks bed becomes practically irrelevant as they start seeking out the does anyway.
Once I have a good grasp of where the deer are bedding and where they’re feeding, I look for funnels and pinch-points along travel routes to and from those areas. As soon as those locations are nailed down, it’s time to put up a stand.
When is the best time to start hanging treestands? The answer is simple: after you’ve scouted the area thoroughly, or have past experience there, and know the best location to hang it.
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