Are you having trouble making the shot when the opportunity presents itself? Does it seem like some little thing goes wrong every time? Hey, don't give up. I've been there. I've missed and just plain blew a bunch of opportunities at whitetail deer. And I know from my own experience that these tips will make you a more deadly treestand hunter.
I'm going to assume that you have good equipment, which fits you well and that your bow is finely tuned. I'm further going to assume that you spend enough time practicing so that you can keep all of your arrows (with broadheads) in a paper plate at whatever you consider to be your maximum range. If this is not the case then you are wasting your time reading this article because what I have to share here will only help if you already are competent with your equipment. With that said, here are my tips for better shooting from treestands.
On the second (and I hope the last) incident, the belt cinched up under my gut and knocked the wind out of me just as slick as when that ornery Holstein kicked me in the belly back on the farm. Safety belts are better than nothing, but a safety harness is the best of all. I wear harnesses by both Fall Woods and Rutherford Outdoors and much to the delight of my constantly amazed neighbors I have proven that both will keep this 225 pound Irishman upright with all wind intact even after an intentional leap from a short step ladder in my backyard.
Cinched up in my safety harness I do not hesitate to step out on the edge of my stand, lean over and shoot from awkward angles when I have to. Coming from someone who has a thing about heights despite hanging and sitting in treestands for 60 days to 80 days each season, that says something about the security factor of a safety harness.
If you step out on the edge of your stand platform to position yourself for an approaching deer and the stand shifts under your feet, what happens to your concentration? Even if you try to ignore it, the human brain does not automatically spit out what it has interpreted as a danger signal. While you may be whispering "pick a spot, pick a spot," to yourself as you draw on the deer, your brain is saying "man I hope this thing does not collapse."
Noisy stands are nearly as bad. I can't begin to count the number of times I have sat in stands, which had an annoying squeak to them. Invariably when a deer did arrive, instead of focusing all of my attention on drawing undetected and making a good release, in the back of my mind was that little voice screaming, "man I hope this damn thing doesn't squeak now! I don't know about you, but I tend to lose focus when that little voice is carrying on.
Most of my stands are set at around 20 feet off of the ground. This is a height at which I have found deer do not easily pick me off in my stand and yet I am not so high that the target area on the animal noticeably shrinks.
Background cover is what allows you and I to get by with movement while in a treestand. Without background cover such as leafy branches, tree trunks, vines or the tops of other trees, deer with their motion-orientated sight would easily pick us off regardless of the camouflage pattern we wore. If background cover is skimpy, I will often hang my stand on the backside of the tree so that I can keep the trunk of the tree between me and where I expect the deer to come from. Background cover is what allows us to slowly shuffle our feet on the stand and position our bodies to line up for the shot.
Advance warning, as I call it, simply means that whenever possible, I position my stand so that I can see deer approaching at a distance. The longer the advance warning, the more time I have to prepare for the shot and the better shot I am likely to make.
Screening cover is cover off to the side and sometimes in front of your stand, which prevents the deer from seeing you. I use screening cover to make my draw. Screening cover might be a leafy branch in the tree in which you are sitting or a branch on a neighboring tree. Often screening cover is something on the ground such as a blowdown, a ditch or a big tree trunk -- anything that blocks the animal's line of sight to you. Without screening cover drawing is difficult.
Comfort is the last factor I consider in a stand placement, but if you often sit in a stand all day like I do, comfort is important to getting the shot and making the shot. If, for example, there is a branch stub or big knot right between my shoulder blades, I am going to be uncomfortable all day. Odds are good that because I am uncomfortable, I am going to fidget and fuss more than normal and will likely spook a few deer in the process. Also, being forced to stand or sit in an uncomfortable position for long periods puts strain on muscles and nerves, the same muscles and nerves, which you and I rely upon to make a good shot.
Please read more in Part 2, including tips on cutting shooting lanes, how to stop a moving deer, use of deer scents, use of decoys, how to practice shooting from a treestand, and how a rangefinder can be helpful.
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Gary Clancy writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.