Photo by Donald M. Jones
Bucks gravitate to benches—for several reasons. Benches littered with blowdowns make prime bedding areas; hillside oak flats provide hidden food sources; and long, narrow flats make covert travel corridors, especially when bucks cruise for hot does during the rut. Fickle winds and shifting thermals, however, make setting up a successful bow stand tricky. Here are three setups that account for the breezes on three different types of hillside flats.
The best sidehill sanctuaries provide good cover, of course, but they also overlook prime feeding areas. Rising morning thermals allow you to slip down onto the bench from above to ambush a buck returning to bed after a night’s feeding on the lowland groceries. However, be careful not to place your stand too close to trails leading onto the bench from below. If deer get past you, they’ll likely catch your scent. Instead, set up toward the high end and off to one side of the bench, just within shooting range of the best sign. You may need to grunt a buck into bow range. Get into this stand early and leave as soon as winds start to swirl.
An oak flat situated on a sidehill can be a hotspot throughout fall, and particularly as hunter pressure in the lowlands pushes deer into the hills. Set up just off the downhill lip of the bench to ambush high-bedding bucks that move down to the flat to feed or check on feeding does in the evening. Approach from below and off to one side of the bench, then wait until the thermals start to fall before sneaking up into your stand. If you don’t see deer, wait until full dark before leaving.
Long and narrow, these benches run the length of a hillside, giving bucks a hidden lane from which to scent-check for hot does on rising or falling thermals over a large area. You’ll often find cruising corridors studded with hot scrapes. Look for a place where a hillside highway is intersected by a draw, ridge, fenceline, or other funnel; this X marks the spot for a great site to sit at any time of day. Hang one stand on the high side for morning hunts and another on the low side for the evening. If the wind gets squirrelly, bail out. Otherwise, sit as long as you can; eventually a bruiser is bound to cruise by.