If there was ever a hunt where I questioned the purpose of being in a stand, it came on my last sit of the 2017 bow hunting season.
The outside temperature in the truck read negative-13 degrees when I got to the field on Dec. 31. The wind-chill factor was going to make this all the more unbearable, but time was ticking. Three hours was all the season I had left, so I set out for one last shot.
My Sitka Gear kept me in the stand until last light. I watched about a dozen deer move through the woods. A few bucks were still chasing does, but nothing close enough to get my hopes up.
That last half an hour after sunset tested my will. I hunted hard all season and had plenty of opportunities. It was a memorable run. Maybe I should just slip out of the stand early.
Before I could make that decision, my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of something breaking through the snow to my right. I looked up, and here was a flock of turkeys coming my way. All of them Toms. About 20 of them, and I was in their desired bed room for the night.
The lead bird got right below my stand, looked up at his surroundings and flew onto a tree limb 15 feet away. We were at eye level with each other when I raised my hand and gave him a wave. He looked at me quizzically, bobbed his head a few times and dropped back to the ground. My mind shifted from the cold to appreciation of all the awesome things we see by simply being in the woods. I hate knowing it could be months until I will be here again.
This year, I am determined to spend more time in the woods during the winter months.
Snow makes it easy to find sign, and temperatures in the mid-40s this past weekend provided a great opportunity to get out there.
Here are a few things that were on the top of my priority list that hunters can do right now to prepare for next season and cure the urge to get back in the woods.
Improve those stand locations
Ever since I had a big buck slip through my fingers on the afternoon of Dec. 16, I have been thinking of ways to lessen the likelihood of it happening again.
The location where I had this encounter is as much of a funnel as I am going to find on this property. My Millennium stand sits just inside the trees on a ridge that gradually declines about 50 yards before dropping straight down to a creek bottom. The primary trail is about 10 yards from my stand, but deer like to walk further down the ridge to stick to thicker cover.
That’s exactly what that buck did. I piqued his interest by using a doe-in-estrus can to call him in, but he was going to investigate with caution. A fallen tree sits vertically in front of my stand about 30 yards away, and it gave that buck a choice.
He could come on my side of the tree, which would have given me a shot. Or he could use the back side of the tree and slip through the small opening before it dropped down to the creek.
He chose the latter of those routes, but it immediately got me thinking. I bet I could position brush behind that dead tree so that back route is not an inviting option anymore.
I went in this past Saturday and did just that, moving branches and fallen trees up against the drop off in hopes of bringing deer closer to my stand. Doing this work now gives the deer eight months to get accustomed to these changes.
Prepare shooting lanes
Another buck that slipped away from me on Nov. 5 did so because it was my first time sitting in a new location, and I had hung that stand in August.
The woods are an entirely different world at that time. I thought I had things cleared out well enough without changing the setting too much.
My first sit in that spot was the first weekend in November and things looked completely different. Leaves had dropped, all the green had died off and some brush kept me from getting an arrow through when an eight-pointer stopped broadside to me.
I want to see the woods as I am going to hunt them when trimming shooting lanes. That is a spot I am not going to touch until late in the fall, so I went in on Saturday and did some trimming.
It does not take much at this time of year. Just a few dropped branches, and I have openings that will allow me to take every shot I could get in that location.
Scout, scout, scout
Scouting is another thing I want to do more of this winter, but I want to be smart about scouting in late winter.
I don’t want to bother the deer much during the coldest months as they try to conserve energy. Winters have not been as tough on them lately, and this year is playing out that way again.
Days above freezing like we had this past weekend are a great chance to walk the land again and really scout. It’s easy to think we know everything about a piece of property after hunting it a few years. I look at the land I have access to and feel like there is so much I still need to learn. Finding bedding areas, rubs and scrapes can all be beneficial when it comes to game planning for next fall.