How to ensure a successful whitetail hunt from up on high
Last September, I bowhunted antelope, stalking or decoying worthy bucks as I travelled from herd to herd. It was non-stop action, day after day. Once October arrived and I climbed into my treestand to bowhunt white-tailed deer, however, I couldn’t help but notice how it lacked the same constant intensity as my pronghorn hunts.
Yes, you’ll certainly spend many more hours watching leaves change colour when you’re in a treestand. But if you have what it takes to make it through the lulls, bowhunting safely in a properly scouted and placed treestand, wearing and using the proper gear and employing proven tactics can produce excellent results, year after year.
No one likes to reveal a hunting honey hole, but when you head out, at least tell someone where you’ll park your vehicle, the trailhead you’ll use and when you plan to return. If something does wrong, that can mean the difference between spending the night injured in the bush or a timely rescue.
When choosing a tree for your stand, select one with a diameter of at least one foot; avoid dead or unhealthy trees. Do not ascend the tree without wearing a three- or five-point safety harness, and once you’re in position, attach the harness to the tree. Always use a lanyard line to haul up your bow.
A comfortable treestand is key to a successful hunt. Make sure it has a wide seat and a roomy platform for stretching out your legs. If you’re hunting in the cold during the late season, bring a seat cushion so you’re not sitting on metal. Also dress in layers to help avoid hypothermia. Merino wool garments are preferable, as they keep their insulating value when damp.
A bow hanger to keep your bow accessible at a moment’s notice is a must. If you’re hunting in October or November, a grunt tube and rattling antlers are also essential. The same goes for a rangefinder, which does away with the need to estimate shot distances, letting you to concentrate solely on taking the shot instead. And binoculars, strapped to your chest, enable you to field judge incoming deer well before they enter shooting range.
I hang my treestands 20 metres from the confluence of game trails, avoiding field edges as much as possible. I prefer large coniferous trees, as they’ll conceal my presence all season long, especially once the leaves fall.
Once I’m safely in place and haul up my bow, I immediately nock an arrow and draw back to anchor, ensuring everything is in working order. I then hang the bow on my left side, close to my bow-holding hand. I also detach my quiver and half-remove an arrow—second shots are few and far between in bowhunting, but they happen, so it’s best to have another arrow at the ready. Finally, I keep my rangefinder in my right pocket so I can hold the bow in one hand and use it with the other if needed.
During the early season, ambushing is my favourite tactic. I climb into the stand three hours before last light and wait for the deer to head toward their nighttime feeding area. I’ll hunt until last legal shooting light. In October, I prefer to hunt on damp, drizzly evenings, rattling only once or twice during the last hour to lure in mature bucks. In November, on the other hand, I hunt all day regardless of weather, rattling aggressively every hour.
Throughout the season, I first range in objects around my treestand at 25 metres, then in 10-metre increments beyond that. That way, I’ll have a reference for the distance when a buck arrives, helping me make the shot.
While bowhunting, I frequently visualize a deer stepping into range at a certain spot and guess how far away it is, then confirm the distance with my rangefinder. This helps prepare me to shoot when an actual deer does arrive. It also helps pass the time, as does practising standing and drawing in all my shooting lanes to check for, and eliminate, unwanted noises.
Sitting stationary hour after hour, day after day, and seeing nothing can be mentally exhausting, but putting in your time in likely areas will often produce shooting opportunities. Just stick with it, stay focused and do not give up—good things come to those who wait. And to those who are well prepared.
Alberta writer Gord Nuttall is an avid big-game bowhunter.