By Mark Kenyon
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
If you’re interested in becoming better at hunting mature bucks, you’d be wise to take Abe Lincoln’s infamous quote to heart. In most endeavors, whether it’s building a house, winning a race, or killing a buck – the more time you spend up front preparing, the more likely you’ll get the result you want in the end.
When applied to hunting, this concept can manifest itself in many forms – stand prep, scouting, food plot work, etc. Today though, I want to discuss one aspect of “axe sharpening” that should be considered when hunting new properties.
I got thinking about this topic when “The Freelance Bowhunter”, a book focused on DIY strategies for the whitetail hunter, by Bernie Barringer arrived in my mailbox today. While paging through, I saw a short section on using “observation stands” at the beginning of hunts on new properties. It’s a tactic I’ve had success with, and one that I think is well worth adding to your whitetail tool box as well.
In “The Freelance Bowhunter”, Bernie explains, “I rarely hunt the first day I arrive at a new location. I usually try to find a vantage point where I can observe activity through binoculars during the evening hours. There is so much more information to be gathered by observation than by getting in a tree that first day…Even when I do put up a stand, it’s likely to be what I call an “observation stand”, meaning that it is in a location where I can see a distance …. I like to start with one near an area where I can see visible feeding activity. I want to know where the does are spending more of their time on any rut hunt. In many cases that stand will be on the edge of a field or food plot. The observations from this stand will usually lead me to move it to an entry trail, a staging area, or a trail that parallels the edge of the field where bucks will work inside the woods to scent check does.”
By taking a day to observe the area before diving in, you better prepare yourself to attack the right areas, rather than charging in blind and potentially educating local deer before ever getting a good first chance at them. As Bernie mentioned, this kind of long-distance scouting can help you identify preferred feeding areas, entry trails, bedding areas and much more. And while this kind of information is helpful no matter what time of year you’re hunting, I’ve found it to be particularly important in the early or late season. During these two timeframes, deer are mostly on heavy feeding patterns – and most successful hunts revolve around a feeding area. That said, if you head in to hunt a new area and try hunting a food source without knowing exactly where deer are entering – you’ve got a very high chance of picking the wrong spot and potentially spooking deer as you enter or exit your stand. In my opinion, it’s a much better bet to observe from a distance, and then move in once you know the most likely location to intercept a mature deer.
I personally benefited from this tactic early last October, on my first hunt on a new property in Ohio. For that first evening I decided to hang a stand at the end of a timbered finger that extended out into a soybean field with the goal of just observing and learning. From this stand I could see across the larger field to the my left, and then down into a narrow cove of beans that cut into the timber. That night I ended seeing numerous does, a few young bucks and a 150 class giant. From just this one sit, I gathered information regarding where these deer were bedding, how they used the small cove of food, and where deer most often entered the area. This intel led me to adjust stand locations and eventually got me a shot opportunity at a nice buck later that season. As tempting as it was to head right into the core of the property and start hunting, my patience to hold on and watch from the edges paid off.
This fall, if you intend to hunt new properties – consider spending a night or two at an observation stand before diving in too deep. A watchful eye from a distance and a sharp axe can kill more deer than you might think.