I always enjoy scouting the day after the season ends. That’s when I can barge through areas I’d normally never even tiptoe around for fear of spooking a Booner. It’s during this time that I’ll discover trails and subtle terrain features that have gone overlooked. With luck, I’ll find a big shed or a rub line—or even bump a big-bodied deer or two. Then I’m left wondering if the area is best left as a sanctuary or if I should be hunting it. On one hand, sanctuary space can keep big bucks on your property, but it can also keep you from ever killing one. With careful planning and discipline—and if you start right now—you can have your sanctuary and hunt it, too. You just have to build a stand in the spot you’ve always dreamed of hunting. Here’s how.
Find the Spot
We all know the area I’m talking about. It’s the place you’ve always believed bucks go to hide, but for some inexplicable reason, you never hunt it. Deep down, it’s probably because you have more proven spots elsewhere that are much easier to access. Maybe it’s a 50-acre copse of hardwoods way across the creek where you can’t get a vehicle. Perhaps it’s a five-acre patch of cutover in the mountain saddle you avoid because there isn’t a decent tree to hang a stand.
What all dream stands have in common is that they are secluded, rarely hunted, and oozing in buck sign. Your task for now is to make such a place huntable come fall.
Begin by finding the thickest and most secluded area on the property that has buck sign all over it. Hopefully, it has a small meadow nearby. Once you find such a spot, hang a trail cam or two and mark it on your GPS. Study Google Earth to understand the bigger picture, then get boots on the ground to learn the general direction that bucks travel to, from, and through it. Next, determine the best route to and from your spot. Consider the wind and remember that the best route will seldom be the most direct. You’ll need to get some equipment to this spot during the spring, so you’ll have to create a trail by which you can access the stand with as little noise and disturbance as possible. It’s even better if you can access it by creek or boat.
Now, in the spring when the leaves are on the trees, forge a trail to the hidden stand location. Cut as sparingly as you can. Hopefully, you have a few trail cam photos showing deer movement, so consider this intel before selecting a tree—or a ground blind—for your stand. As a final touch, make a slight curve in the trail just before reaching your stand location so your approach to your stand will be masked.
Now comes the toughest part: creating a food source deep in the woods. You have several options. First, you can build a food plot. The smaller the better, as you want to retain this area’s natural feeling of safety. If you can get a tractor back there, great, but an ATV with a small disk or a seed like Whitetail Institute’s No-Plow are even better. Just remember, you’ll need to lime, fertilize, and break the soil before planting. So now is the time to get to work clearing rocks, raking, and taking a soil sample.
Deep-woods bucks have survived all of their lives on natural food, so resist the urge to place a corn feeder near your stand of dreams, even where it’s legal. Feeders are loud, strange machines that mature bucks avoid if they haven’t already been conditioned to them. If it’s legal to bait in your area, consider using a Treehugger from Wildgame Innovations or a Moultrie Feed Station Pro. Fill it now and keep it active to get bucks used to it by fall.
The final option is to plant a chestnut tree or a few apple trees in a clearing near your new dream stand. There’s an obvious problem with this idea. Unless you can carry a near-mature tree in there, it will take a few years and major TLC to grow; plus, there is no guarantee it will produce. You can always use a combination—like planting fruit trees and baiting—to hedge your bet.
Do not hang your stand overlooking the food source itself. Place it on a nearby trail just inside the woods. Mature bucks don’t reach maturity by loitering in the open during daylight hours. But the food and cover will keep them around. Your stand location should allow you to kill bucks as they stage in cover close to the plot, but it’ll also allow you to see deer as they come into the food so you can gauge deer activity. Choose a hang-on style stand and hang it as high as possible to mitigate your scent. If you must cut a shooting lane, do so sparingly. The less you alter the natural growth, the better. And if you see another great trail, consider readying another stand location. This way you can simply hang a stand in a few minutes without making much noise if you must tweak your location during the season.
Finally, set a couple trail cams—preferably the cell-network type so you don’t have to check them and spread scent all the time—but do not hang them at ground level. Strap one to your treestand and angle it down. Bucks will be less likely to smell them, and you’ll be able to see whether you could have killed the buck from your stand location.
Once it’s completed, visit your stand of dreams as seldom as possible. When the season comes—and only when the wind is perfect—sit there a couple times in the morning and in the evening. If you see bucks accessing the plot from a different direction or if deer routinely wind you, move your stand location immediately. After a move or two, you’ll have it dialed-in, and if all goes well, you’ll have a dynamite new stand location that only you—and big bucks—will know about. That’s the deer stand of your dreams.