Sitting all day during the peak of the rut can be very productive, but very boring. Here are five tips to make it more bearable and improve your odds of being ready when the big one shows up.
I’m a pretty high-strung person. Sitting still for long periods has always come hard for me. Three hours is a long sit for me and a four-hour sit seems like an eternity. But I have forced myself into some long vigils because I know the payoff can be terrific. The axiom that you can’t kill them from the couch seems like a tired old saying, but it rings true when it comes to hunting mature whitetails during the rut.
There is a window of opportunity for whitetail hunters when mature bucks are on their feet during the day and constantly on the move. If you can park yourself in a high-percentage spot to contact one of these cruising bucks, you will up your odds greatly. In most of whitetail country, where the rut is a frenzy of activity during early November, the window of opportunity we want to take advantage of is during the five to seven days of peak movement before the so-called lockdown phase. These few days have bucks in a tongue-wagging, hoof-pounding fury. They are on the move, following terrain contours, checking doe bedding and feeding areas, interacting with other bucks, working scrapes, and generally carousing. It’s a wonderful time to be in a treestand—if you’re in the right spot.
Confidence is key
For me, having confidence in my spot is the most important factor in keeping me there. If I feel very strongly that I am in the right spot, and something good could happen at any moment, I can not only stay on-stand, but also stay focused and alert for much longer. Confidence is gained by knowing your surroundings.
You can’t know you are in the right spot unless you know what the other spots are like. If you don’t know what is just over that ridge 200 yards away, how can you know that you are in the right spot? You have to spend the time on foot learning the area, looking at the directions of the tracks, analyzing the terrain contours, and finding the bedding areas and the travel corridors. You don’t do that the day of the hunt, you need to do that with time for evidence of your presence to dissipate. Trail cameras can be key to this, but nothing works better than really burning the boot leather and walking it out.
Comfort is critical
Some stands are more comfortable that others and my favorites are the ones like the Millennium that you have to fight to stay awake in. If I can’t truly relax it is going to be a really long day. I like a stand that you can fold the seat up and stand for a while with plenty of room on the platform. I tend to stand up and stretch for about 10 minutes out of every hour.
It goes without saying that dressing properly is important. Dress in layers so you can take things off as the day warms up and put them back on as the day cools down in the evening. Fleece is a perfect underlayer when covered with a windproof outer layer. There are many fabrics and systems available today that make staying warm through varying daily temperatures easier than ever.
Another way to keep warm is to move. It is amazing how much an aggressive rattling sequence will warm up your arms and torso. Of course, seeing a buck come in to the rattling will make you instantly forget the cold, so the benefits are twofold.
Don’t let boredom break you down
It took me a long time before I would read on-stand. I always feared that I would get caught with a book in my hand instead of a bow when a buck appeared. But I now have a plan. I position my pack in such a way that I can carefully close the book and drop it into the open pack. Same is true for a phone or a tablet. I have a plan about how I will get my bow off the hanger and get it into position for a shot. I have gone through this plan many times in my mind so when a buck appears, I can do it without looking and without thinking about it so I can fully concentrate on the actions and demeanor of the deer.
Usually, you will have some warning—you will hear a grunt or some crunching in the leaves. Get ready before you see the deer! It’s far better to be ready to shoot with a six-pointer in front of you than to not be ready with a big one passing quickly through. Things can happen really fast, and it might be the only chance you have that day, or it might be the chance of a lifetime. Don’t blow it! Have a plan, know your plan, and practice your plan.
What’s for lunch?
Having some food along serves several purposes. Food helps you fight off the cold, food helps you stave off boredom, and food is fun. It’s nice to look forward to savoring a candy bar at some point during the day. I don’t want to overload with sugar, but it is good to have some high-carb foods which produce energy and body heat. Granola bars are a good choice, so is trail mix. Jerky is easy to pack and keep, plus it keeps you occupied for longer. There are meals that heat up with chemical heaters so you can enjoy a hot can of soup or even hot chocolate of coffee. There is nothing like a can of hot tomato soup for lunch on a cold day in the treestand. I am so grateful to the people who came up with that idea.
If you drink much you are going to have to relieve yourself. I do not believe that whitetail deer fear the smell of urine. In fact, I believe urine, especially fresh urine, is a great attractor for whitetails. I have tens of thousands of trail camera photos of deer taken over scrapes that have been anointed with my own fresh urine. Having said that, I do not want fresh urine around my treestand, but I do not believe in most cases I need to carry a bottle to hold it. I generally will quietly climb down and move off a ways to urinate. If there is a scrape nearby, it’s the perfect place to make a deposit.
So when the bucks are making tracks at all hours of the day and night, you have to be out there to make it happen. Stay comfortable, be prepared, and above all, choose a site in which you have a supreme degree of confidence. If I am in a spot where I believe there is a realistic chance that a mature buck might show up at any moment, I can sit there for a long, long time. Find a spot like that and you can too.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.