The Fish Sniffer - Treestand Blacktails: Part 2
Treestand Blacktails: Part 2

Written By: Cal Kellogg, July 11, 2014
Species: N/A
Location: N/A,

Treestand Blacktails: Part 2

Cal Kellogg kicked off this discussion of treestand blacktail tactics in the last issue of The Fish Sniffer. Here is the conclusion-Editor.

Lower elevation feeding areas tend to be more varied. Ridges with acorn production are always good. So are areas that have recently burned, especially after a rain, when such areas are rich with forbs and mushrooms, both blacktails favorites. I’ve located good bucks feeding on blackberries and wild grapes. Pasture and agriculture field edges are also productive if your can gain access.

In one of the areas I hunt, a great many abandoned ranches support a lot of feeding activity during early fall. You would never know that they existed at all if it weren’t for the old foundations and fruit trees planted around them. These areas amount to small clearings with a highly desirable food source within them. It’s perfect for stand-hunting. The fruit also attracts bears. I’ve had the opportunity to see several.

A few years ago I located an old ranch site that was just ideal. It consisted of about 30 pear trees and a half-acre of grapes along with an old spring fed stock pond. The first morning I hunted the spot, I killed a forkhorn within 30 mutes of climbing the tree.

The next spring the local mountain bike club ruined the spot when they put a trial right through it and built a wooden bridge across the spring above the pond. To each his own…I just wish they hadn’t chosen my honey hole for their trail.

Once potential feeding areas are located, glassing can begin. My strategy is to glass various feeding areas at first light until I find an area being used by bucks. I then note the route they use to exit the feeding area as they move off to bed. Blacktails that have settled into a routine are fairly easy to pattern and quite consistent in their actions when undisturbed.

Generally a buck will bed in an area of heavy vegetation or timber within a quarter-mile of his feeding area. After identifying the deer’s preferred travel corridor, all that’s left to do is the hanging of your stand. This is best done during the midday hours when deer are bedded and you run the lowest risk of being busted.

Place the stand on the downwind side of the their trail about halfway between the bedding and feeding areas, and you’re ready to hunt. To make this strategy pay off, it is critical that your get into the stand well before sunrise, and with as little commotion as possible.

Migratory deer on the summer rang are especially susceptible to this technique. By late August and September when bow and rifle seasons open, the deer will have strongly established feeding and bedding areas.

Many times I’ve packed lightweight tree stands up to four miles into wilderness areas a full two weeks before the season. This way I can place the stand and leave it, allowing all scent to dissipate. The day before the season, I backpack into the area and camp a good distance from the stand.

At about 4 a.m., I sneak to the treed and settle in for a long wait. If all goes according to plan, a buck will work past my stand around midmorning. This type of stand hunting is extremely physically demanding when it comes time to pack out your stand, equipment and boned meat, but believe me, the experience and the felling of accomplishment are well worth the effort.

A lot of avid blacktail hunters feel that the best time to pursue their quarry is during stormy weather. Blacktails are migratory in many regions across their range. This means that they spend the summer up in the high country and move lower when wither strikes. It usually takes the first snow of autumn to trigger the migration, sending the deer to lower elevations. When blacktails migrate, they become highly vulnerable to tree stand hunters.

The deer will be concentrated and on the move below the snowline, through terrain that is not all that familiar. During late-season hunts it is common for the runt to coincide with the migration, adding to the excitement and greatly increasing the potential of spotting a buck of trophy proportions.

Year after year, migrating deer follow the same major drainages to the low country unless there are significant changes in the habitat. When scouting migrations stands, the focus is on the terrain rather than on food sources or fresh trails.

The first step is determining the location of the herd’s summer and winter ranges. This information can be obtained from a biologist or warden in the region. In most areas the winger range is probably privately owned. If you can get access through a club or personal contact, that’s great. If you can’t, don’t despair, because you still have a great shot at the deer as they cross the transition zones between summer and winger range, zones that lie largely on public lands.

A blacktail’s summer range often sits between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, while private property generally encompasses anything below 3,500 feet. For this reason, I concentrate my scouting in areas that fall between 3,500 and 5,000 feet. The goal of migrating deer is to get to lower, warmer elevations as soon as possible; there fore the deer tend to take the easiest route available.

I always set up toward the top of main drainage ridges. The areas I target are marked by a feature that serves to modify or concentrate deer movement. Examples of these are saddles in side ridges extending off of the main ridge, main ridge saddles used by deer crossing between canyons, and any area that boarders a natural barrier such as heavy brush, rock formations, rock slides or even areas of human habitation.

Timing is everything when migration hunting. I cannot over emphasize the speed at which a herd can move. Once herd I hunt moves more than 20 miles in a period of eight to 24 hours depending on the severity of the storm they’re fleeing. This means that to tap into this great migration hunting, you have to be in your stand the morning after a major storm front hits. I’ve played hooky more than a few times when the first snow of autumn arrived midweek.

This type of hunting requires good rain gear and the metal toughness to stay in the stand all day, as migrating deer can appear at any time. I’ve taken more than my share of migrating bucks at lunchtime, when a lot of hunters are in camp getting dry.

When my family began stand hunting back in the late 1970s, we constructed permanent stands in promising locations, and we killed plenty of deer that way. Today we rely almost exclusively on portable stands.

Permanent stands have several drawbacks. They aren’t ecologically friendly, and in some areas they are illegal. Permanent stands are difficult to construct and lack mobility. Portable stands do not harm the environment, are easy to carry, assemble and use and can be moved at the drop of a hat.

There is an almost endless selection of portable stands on the market. Cabela’s alone lists more than 50 models in its catalog. Three basic types of stand are available: climbing stands that requires a tree with a straight limbless trunk, hang on stands that are light but require screw-in steps and ladder stands that are heavy.

I favor a hang-on stand constructed of lightweight aluminum. These units weigh about 10 pounds or less and can be easily carried backpack style. Hang-on stands can be used on virtually any tree as long as it is big enough to hold your weight. Remember to purchase plenty of steps. Steps should be placed nor more than 18 inches apart for safety and ease of climbing.

“A full body harness that converts into a lineman’s type climbing belt is a must for any tree-stand hunter,” says Larry D. Jones. “You must be secured to the tree the entire time your are off the ground.”

A good harness will run between $60 and $100. This is a wise investment that will keep your from becoming a statistic.

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