By Andy May
You wait all summer for hunting season to arrive, but the big buck that you’ve been watching in the nearby field has disappeared. You’ve waited so long for this, that you have to just get that first sit in your best spot right? You never know, a big mature buck just might walk by. Does this sound familiar to you?
The scenario above plays out every year. We get this urge to go and sit in our very best spots even though we know the timing is completely wrong. Most average hunters have limited hunting time, so they conclude that the few days that they do get to hunt should be spent in their very best spots. But in my opinion, this type of thinking is wrong, as their best spots may not be the best right now.
A good percentage of my successes on big bucks have come from a strategy where I sit back, observe, and move in when the timing is right. It involves simply using observation sits in low impact areas where you can observe a better stand location or area to monitor activity. During my earlier scouting sessions I will try to prep trees in all the best ambush locations. After those are prepped and ready to go, I like to set up a secondary spot with the main purpose of simply observing the deer activity at the more sensitive stand location, but from a safe distance. When the season is rolling along and I just don’t have a strong feeling about any one particular spot, these are the stands that I will hunt. They are low impact but yield very valuable information, and when I see what I’m looking for, I dive in immediately.
Generally two things happen when you sit an observation stand:
- You sit in this type of location and observe minimal activity. Now you know it’s not quite time to jump into that more aggressive spot, thus leaving it un-tainted from human intrusion.
- You sit in your secondary/observation stand and see a flurry of deer movement including a nice buck using the area. Now you have safely gathered intel from a distance that you can go in and capitalize on the very next day.
I think most average hunters with limited time go through a period during their season where they just aren’t seeing much and don’t have a bead on what the bucks are doing. This is where these secondary/observation stands can really be helpful to you as a hunter. They keep you out of the more sensitive areas but you’re still be able to gather information from them and make the decision to move on and come back later or to move in for the kill now.
Two Examples of Success
I have had several successful hunts using this strategy, including a buck I killed last season. I had permission to hunt an eight acre parcel. The way the parcel is set up there is really only one good ambush spot as deer move through the property. The problem is access in/out of this spot is tricky and deer get educated quickly. I can get 1-2 sits maximum before deer sightings in general go way down.
So, I spent the majority of my sits on that property in a location that was easy to get in and easy to get out of where I could observe the overall deer activity. My first three sits; one early-season, one mid October, one late October, I saw nothing but antlerless deer and young bucks using the area. On my fourth sit during that first week of November I saw two three-year-old bucks using the area and both of them were within 50 to 100 yards of my other tree stand. I decided that stand was hot and I was going to sit it finally. I moved in three days later, when I had the right wind for that particular spot, and was rewarded with a great Michigan buck. Had I hunted the killing treestand for those prior four sits I would’ve educated the antlerless deer using the area and I never would have gotten a chance to experience the full potential of that particular spot.
A friend of mine shot his biggest buck this season using the same type of strategy. Michigan hunter Nick Wolf shot this buck (photo above) with no previous knowledge that he even existed. He had no pictures and no sightings at all of this particular deer. Nick being a good hunter knows that often the big bucks aren’t where you would expect them to be and you have to get out and find them, so he set up on the edge of a swamp where he had a great visual of the surrounding area. The habitat lended itself to him being able to see a long ways into some great cover. As light faded he saw a huge buck emerge from the swamp working a rub line a few hundred yards away.
The next day Nick moved in, hung a stand downwind of where he expected the deer to come out, and when he did, he made a perfect 40 yard shot. By being patient and observing, Nick was able to make the perfect calculated move instead of just going in full tilt and sitting in a spot that looks good without enough intel. Yes, Nick still could’ve gotten a crack at that buck had he dove right in. Or maybe he would’ve been set up 20 yards too far away, or crossed the trail allowing the buck to smell his track. A million things could’ve went wrong, but Nicks strategy led him to do what was exactly right and necessary to be successful on that day.
Now if you own or lease big ground, or have multiple hunting locations, maybe this tactic isn’t as valuable to you. But most of the average hunters that I know in Michigan and other high pressured states hunt heavily pressured land on small parcels and simply don’t have multiple locations to bounce around on. If your scenario sounds similar, perhaps this strategy would be beneficial to you.
I am not implying that this needs to be done for every tree stand, every hunter, and every situation. If you have limited access on small properties, like many average hunters do, sometimes it’s best to just stay back. You can still scratch that itch of being outdoors by sitting in an observation stand, all while gaining way more information then a trail camera could ever tell you. Hopefully this helps someone tag a buck this fall. It certainly has helped me connect many times.
– Andy May