How to Sit and Wait: Bob Robb's Guide to Hunting Whitetail Deer from a Tree Stand or Ground Blind

Get to Your Stand Undetected

This is critical, and it starts with site selection. If leaf cover is sparse, look for a cluster of trees rather than a single one that will make you stand out as a black blob in the sky. Deer do look up.

If you can't go to and from the stand without crossing key game trails or contaminating a crucial piece of cover with human scent, find another spot. Try to set your stand or blind well ahead of the season. You can then trim away brush and remove much of the noisy ground cover along the route. Use a creek, which will cover your noise and scent, to approach the stand if possible. Don't touch any brush with bare skin, and douse yourself thoroughly with a scent-eliminating spray before coming and going. Always walk slowly, looking and listening for game. Mark the route with reflective tacks or ribbon so you can find it easily in the dark.

Build a Ground Blind

Find an area that is slightly elevated above where you expect game to appear. If you're too low, it may be difficult to spot deer as they approach. But watch that you won't be skylined or right in the middle of a primary game trail. Once you have the general area, look for a piece of natural cover to construct your blind around. It can be a large rock or boulder, a fallen tree, or a stump. At the very least, you want a tree at your back because it's important to have cover behind you. It's also nice to be able to lean against a comfortable trunk. Next, gather dead-fall, leaves, and brush, and build it into a wall around where you will sit. Drive sticks into the ground if necessary for support. Your main goal is to shield your hands and lower body and to break up your outline. Don't make it so high that it obstructs your view, and give yourself adequate shooting lanes and plenty of room to move your gun or bow.

Shoot From a Tree Stand

Everyone knows that you should shoot a rifle off a rest, but in a tree stand that can be more complicated than it sounds. There are models that come equipped with a bar that wraps around a seated hunter. If yours does, great. It makes a superb gun rest. Improve it by padding it with a piece of foam pipe insulation to reduce noise. If yours doesn't have a bar like that, buy one of the commercially made monopods designed to support a firearm; some are intended specifically for use in a tree stand. Add a piece of old carpet to the stand's platform to support the monopod and you're in business.

Silence Your Stand

What sounds like a squeak at home becomes a piercing shriek in the woods. First, give your stand a preseason makeover: replace worn parts, tighten loose screws and bolts, and lubricate all joints and movable parts with grease. Cover the seat (and your seat cushion) with fleece material (old hunting clothes work perfectly).Top the platform with an outdoor carpet that will keep your boots from scraping across bare metal. Wrap exposed chains and cables with an old hose or foam pipe insulation.

Sit All Day

Deer move all day, so keep a day-long vigil by making sure your stand is comfortable. Bring enough food and water. A paperback book or a notebook to jot down thoughts will help pass the time. Finally, if you need a quick break, climb down and stretch. In a few minutes you'll be refreshed and focused.

Hang a Tree Stand

Every fall, a few hunters who were not careful are found where they fell. Their troubles are over. Job One here is not to join these people. Even if you've recently used the stand, always do a "preflight" check to be certain that it's working properly and that there are no frayed straps or missing parts.

  1. 1 Clear away any rocks or potential hazards from the base of the tree. Put on a climbing harness, strap it to the tree, and only then start attaching the steps or climbing sticks.

  2. 2 Keep steps just a foot or so apart at a 90-degree angle from one another. When climbing, you want your feet to find the next step naturally. Check each step twice to make sure it can bear your weight.

  3. 3 Once you reach the proper height (15 to 20 feet is plenty), trim away branches that will be in your way, then haul the stand up the tree using a heavy pull rope. Never carry it while you climb. Set it so that you can step down onto the platform, not up.

  4. 4 Once you've attached the stand per the manufacturer's instructions, get onto it with your safety belt still fastened to the tree to confirm that it can support you completely. Forcing your weight down onto the platform will help set the stand securely against the trunk. Sit and stand, trimming away any branches that will impair your ability to enter and exit safely.

TRICK PLAY #2 SEEING SUCCESS

It is entirely possible that after zero activity for seven hours, a buck with a bone chandelier on his head will offer you a standing broadside shot at 12 yards for three seconds before vanishing forever. If, at this moment, you are trying to see how much of your bow release will fit into a single nostril or are reading the ingredients of your Hershey's chocolate bar and wondering what, exactly, an "emulsifier" does, you will not shoot this buck. So how do you stay ready? Try this mental exercise. Imagine your paycheck as it wafts out of its envelope onto a flat surface. Now picture a sharp knife cutting it into thirds. One third bursts into flame and turns to ash. That is the part that goes to the government. Another third does the same. That is your mortgage or rent. The remaining third begins to smolder and to slowly consume itself. There goes your vehicle payment, groceries, and beer. That leaves (let's add it up) nothing. In fact, you are so far in debt that you could work for the rest of your life and die owing money. And on the day of your funeral (cremation, actually, since the state is footing the bill) you will receive three notices congratulating you on your eligibility for new credit cards.

Your whole consciousness changes as you realize that killing a deer means survival: You will need the meat to live through the winter. You will tan the hide using the animal's brain and your own urine as softeners, and fashion a shirt, breeches, and moccasins from the leather. From the antlers you will make buttons and simple tools. The hooves will be boiled down to make glue to seal the envelope informing the collection agency and the government that you are no longer responsible for debts incurred in your name. Something has shifted. You no longer measure time in hours and minutes. You are like the Inuit who sits tirelessly with his spear raised by the seal's breathing hole in the ice, knowing that everything depends on one split second. It is not even difficult. It is simply necessary. --Bill Heavey