The surest way to fill your deer tag is by sitting on your butt.
While Americans are generally good at this, I’m a master. When somebody says, “Be a man and take a stand,” I sit.
My bottom-to-the-ground techniques have evolved for decades. I’ve brought books to pass the time; more recently a Kindle. I’ve even incorporated spiritual concepts originating in India. But the basics of stand hunting have not changed in my half century of experience.
Scouting and verification by sight or sign is required to find prime locations where whitetails move. These can be feeding areas, cover edges, trail crossings, travel lanes and pinch points.
Careful attention must be given to wind direction and shooting lanes – perhaps some pruning is required.
Time must be devoted for getting to the stand early, staying late, hanging out there and watching.
Do all of that and sooner or later, boom: venison in the freezer.
Just three days remain in northeastern Washington’s late buck hunting season in units 105, 108, 111, 113, 117 and 121. Here’s how to take a stand in your favor.
Strive to hunker against a tree or near a log or stump that can be used as a break against the weather, a bit of cover for your movements and a rest for the rifle when you get a shooting opportunity. Shooting sticks can be a helpful addition.
The perfect stand is situated with the wind in your face, or at least not at your back.
From there, the key is to be comfortable, quiet and still. Movement gives the edge to the wily bucks. If they detect you before you notice them, it’s usually game over.
By taking a stand, a hunter increases the odds that a deer will be the first to reveal itself by snapping a twig, turning a head or slipping into view.
Wearing hunter orange as required by Washington law is not a handicap. This was confirmed to me – again – recently as I hunted elk in the Blue Mountains.
I was sitting by a big Douglas fir in a canyon with good open views overlooking a series of contouring game trails.
Movement below and to the right of me prompted an ultraslow raising of the rifle to my shoulder. As I braced rock-solid against the tree, the first of several cow and calf elk came into view – just 15 yards away.
The elk’s head filled my scope at 4X. She paused and raised her nose in the air as if sensing something was awry, but seemed to reassure herself.
The elk walked past me within 10 yards and stopped again. I was in full view wearing my camo-hunter-orange jacket and cap. She looked my direction again and then slowly continued walking away as others followed below, undisturbed.
Fluorescent orange camo clothing is not a deterrent to success. The keys to being undetected on a ground stand include breaking your silhouette with a tree, brush or blind, avoiding a shining face against the sun and remaining quiet, still and downwind.
In the two hours after shooting time in the morning and again before shooting time ends, be at full alert. No distractions. No checking for cellphone signal. This is prime time for game movement.
My head moves back and forth like an oscillating desk fan in ultraslow motion.
Of course, a buck can show up any time of day. It might be spooked by another hunter or chasing a doe during the rutting activity that should be peaking this week.
Sometimes a hunter can benefit by moving to different sittings spots to address deer movements that vary during the course of a day as well as to get the blood flowing and stay warm. But generally, less movement is better.
That’s ground stand hunting 101.
Master-level skills include techniques to cope with the discomfort and boredom of sitting.
Bring something to read, but nothing too absorbing. I read at a pace of a few sentences before a brief pause to look for game. Repeat.
Nature watching can be entertaining, especially if squirrels or woodpeckers are working the area. I’ve had boredom busters such as wild turkeys, coyotes, black bears and moose stroll by my deer stands without noticing a hint of danger.
Nibbling is helpful. Challenge yourself to make a sliver of beef jerky last as long as possible. Avoid crunchy snacks. From the extreme quiet of a deer stand, nuts or chips are distracting – like a buck busting through the brush of our brain.
Make lists. Opportunities for long stretches of quiet thinking time are rare in a modern world. I always carry a notebook and pen to take advantage of the sit-down time to jot down thoughts, such as “Things to do after the hunt: waterproof boots, buy new scope cover, pay property tax, write column on deer stand hunting, replace outdated (2004) Clif bar in hunting daypack …”
Stretching and isometrics are other productive uses of your free time in a stand. Think of it as Deer Stand Yoga and make the exercise a physical, mental and spiritual practice, or whatever.
You’ll have to modify yoga positions to accommodate calf-high boots with Vibram soles and two layers of long johns you might be wearing under rain-shedding, micro fleece-lined pants.
In other words, you don’t have a prayer of assuming the Full Lotus Position. If you’re like me me, you probably wouldn’t come close if you tried it fabric-free and buck naked in a hot tub. So lower the bar.
For starters, perched on the 2- by 2-foot insulating sitting pad that every stand hunter should pack, try to touch your toes. If you find you’re as limber as day-old roadkill, just try to grab your knees.
It’s the state of mind you’re seeking – while keeping an eye out for deer.
Slowly move into a sitting stretch in perfect harmony with the environment and basics of deer stand hunting. Feel he burn. Hold it.
Remain perfectly still as you unwind those hamstrings, suck the candy coating off an M&M and scan ahead for movement until a chickadee assumes you’re a stump and lands on your cap.
Ummmm. You’ve attained enlightenment, and a fine-tuned recipe for tagging a buck.
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