May 03, 2022
I know some old men who’ve hunted the same stands every November for 40 years. Their spots go by generic names: The Corner, The Shelf, The Holler. Often the hide is a box blind—maybe just some plywood panels with a sloped roof atop a single bench seat and a floor of questionable stability. Or maybe it’s a ladder stand, grown slightly into the tree’s trunk and doctored every October with a fresh ratchet strap.
They are hunters who chew tobacco and eat fried chicken in the stand. They piss right out onto the ground—deep amber, coffee-smelling stuff—and consider the wind only when a deer snorts at them. I don’t want to wax too nostalgic and say those old men know better than today’s whippersnappers toting tree saddles and mapping trail camera photos with HuntStand, but some of those guys have more Boone & Crockett bucks on the wall than the average hunter will see in a lifetime. Even if they’ve never had the damn things scored.
Some Spots Are More Equal Than Others
The truth is not all deer hunting spots are created equal, and a really good spot can make up for a whole lot of shitty hunting habits. Staying on the move to follow sign and intel can fill tags, and I love hunting that way where I have the room to do it. The problem arises because most of the places I hunt could be the archetypal Deer Hunting Farm, USA. They’re small to midsized parcels of private ground—40 to 150 acres—surrounded by other properties of similar size, many of which are hunted pretty hard and owned by people who don’t want you crossing fences.
Along with family, I own some of my hunting land, and I lease other farms for my side hustle as a part-time outfitter. I do get the chance to make habitat improvements, like food plots. On some of the farms, I can and do run bait. But leased properties come and go, so every fall I’m hunting a mix of familiar territory and new ground, trying to identify areas where a client will get a shot at a buck and maybe where I can get within range of one myself.
Generally, on a farm of, say, 75 acres, there are plenty of places to hang stands and see deer. But only a few spots are genuine kill holes that produce year after year. I’ve come to realize that for all the rubs and scrapes you see, the trail cameras you check, the food plots and feeders you place, nothing helps you zero-in on those places like fine-tuning your setup while actually out hunting. Intuition and experience will get you close, but it takes me a full season—maybe two or three—to really feel confident in a hunting plan for a small farm.
Four of the Five W’s
Those first few seasons are for learning a few things. Where are the deer, what are they doing there, when are they there, and why are they there? Also, how can you approach and exit undetected, and where can you hide and still get a shot? To learn those things, you’ll spend time watching bucks pass by on trails just out of range. You’ll hear snorting and stomping as you try to sneak carefully through the dark. You’ll learn that a virtually “bust proof” morning stand might as well have a car alarm blaring in it for all the good it does to hunt it when evening thermals settle. Some farms are excellent in September, but others need to be left alone till Halloween.
You can’t learn that stuff looking at an aerial map—or even with a conservative hunting approach. You have to get in the timber, mix it up, and make mistakes. The buck you spook this season might give you the key detail you need to kill a giant next fall.
The Mish Ridge Case Study
Ten years ago, my wife, Michelle (nicknamed “Mish”), and I bought our first farm: 33 acres of middle-aged timber in western Kentucky. We closed on the place in early spring, and I remember walking one particular oak ridge that bordered the neighbor’s clear-cut. Years’ worth of old rubs were easy to find, and I could still identify twisted licking branches and the pawings from the previous fall’s scrapes.
We hung a ladder stand against a triple-trunked pignut and got pictures of some nice bucks nearby that very first summer. We couldn’t imagine that any of the area’s deer wouldn’t be coming in and out of the neighbor’s clear-cut, and so we planned an access route that started on the blacktop road, 300 yards downhill and behind the stand. With a good north breeze, you’d have the wind in your face during the entire approach and sit.
It took two seasons to accept that most of the deer we saw didn’t come from the clear-cut. Instead, they crossed the road and walked up the ridge behind the stand. The ones that didn’t do that paralleled the clear-cut, crossing a little wash before stepping out right in front of the ladder stand. We thought we were hidden against that triple-trunked pignut, but one snorting, stomping fiasco after another proved that wasn’t the case.
Today, that ladder stand is in a white oak not 30 yards from that pignut, but on the edge of that wash, and right on the break of the ridge that spills into the road below. It’s an easy walk to get to it, straight from camp and down the edge of the clear-cut. With any sort of west wind, you almost never get busted. The stand, despite being an 18-foot Walmart special, is backdropped by a cedar tree and is nearly invisible until you get within bow range of it.
In the eight years since we moved it, Michelle has killed her three biggest bucks out of that ladder stand. The spot has proven itself enough to earn a name: “Mish Ridge.” My wife even let me kill a nice 10-pointer out of it a few seasons ago. But mostly, I just go back in there every fall to add a new ratchet strap or two.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.