Some folks spend Labor Day weekend on the lake fishing and skiing. Others make a final run to the beach for their “last hurrah” of summer and some stay close to home and play golf. But, hunters?
For us, Labor Day weekend has two important events. First would be the dove season opener, widely celebrated as the first hunting season of fall followed by the traditional “work day” carried on by many hunt clubs as they prepare for the coming deer season.
This “work day” typically consists of preparing fall food plots, cleaning out and repairing old permanent stand sites and placing new ones. If you were to fly over our rural areas you’d see hundreds of these stands placed on the edges of these planted food plots where folks have hopes of enticing the deer, granting a shot opportunity.
But, is it really that simple? Just plant the plot, climb into the stand and sit in it when the season opens? Well, not if you really want success on the big boys.
Sure, many hunters take deer in this manner every year but this approach is more like playing the lottery. You may get lucky but, more often than not, you’ll miss out on the real “wallhanger.”
The best opportunity for harvesting that big buck doesn’t involve sitting over a food plot. With a little extra time and effort, greater success can be found.
The home of a deer is much like our own. We have kitchens and bedrooms. Sure, there’s a living room somewhere in between but when you break down all of the hours of our day, you’ll see that we tend to travel between the kitchen (our food source) and our bedroom. We also tend to use that kitchen in the early morning hours and early evening and, for deer, it’s no different.
Deer typically rest in bedding areas of thick brush and woods that provide a sense of safety and security. When prompted to move, it’s usually because it’s time for them to make a run to their food source, which you’re providing in the food plot. Knowing just that, it does make it sound as if sitting somewhere on that food plot would be the perfect place to sit, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
These are extremely cautious animals. They have to be considering the likelihood that, at all times, there’s something in those woods that’s out to get ‘em. This impacts the way they move and live their lives and this is what makes the odds of harvesting a good deer in a wide open food plot so tough.
Consider this scenario. Let’s say your house is nestled in a nice, thick patch of woods but there’s a 50-yard stretch of open land between those woods and your mailbox. Now, what if you were forced to retrieve your mail naked? How would you do it with the least chance of being seen?
Odds are, you’d make your way slowly through those woods but, when the space widened, you would gravitate toward the inside edges of the vegetation that provide some cover. Only at the last second would you step into the clear and take any chance at all.
Deer and people are a lot alike. We can even take this scenario a step further by making one slight change. Let’s say you reach that open area a few minutes before dark. You would do the exact same thing that those smart old bucks do. You’d wait for the cover of darkness so that you could prance your naked self right on out to that mailbox with much less worry of being spotted.
In hunting, that area just inside the woods from that wide open food plot is known as the “staging area.” The deer, having made their way from the bedding area to the food source, are going to wait there for the cover of darkness to provide that security. Sure, you will get lucky from time to time but you can count on the fact that the biggest and best deer are always “waiting in the wings.”
The only time that you can toss all of this out the window is during the rut. Without a doubt, bucks tend to throw caution to the wind when chasing does for mating but does it make much sense to plan an entire deer season around that two weeks?
In reality, the best spot for placing your stand lies somewhere in the deer’s transition area. That would be the space between the bedding area and the food source.
Your first move is to prepare just as if you were actually hunting. Pull on a good pair of rubber boots and spray down with a scent eliminating product.
Next, back off the food plot and into the woods. Look for active deer trails leading to and from it. To determine whether or not it’s an active trail, look for signs such as fresh rubs on trees and deer droppings. Often, hunters make the mistake of concentrating their search on deer scrapes but it’s a bit early for that at this point of the season.
Once located, an active trail will lead you directly to the bedding area but, whatever you do, don’t enter it. Double back and start looking for the perfect spot to put your stand along that trail.
Remember to keep wind in mind when hanging that stand. Take a compass and make a note of the direction that your stand is pointing and the direction that the trail is following. Never, ever hunt that stand when the wind is carrying your scent toward the deer and you’ll be amazed at the numbers that you’ll now see.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors