It’s All Worth The Effort…

Belted 30 feet up in an oak tree I reached out to cut down one last problem branch. I was nearly done preparing my hunting locations for the upcoming season. This is when all the hard work and post season scouting comes down to one specific tree.

Cutting shooting lanes is not something to be taken lightly for bow hunters. Preparing hunting stands for the upcoming season has far more weight on your success than the actual hunt. But remember to be smart and safe. There is not a deer in the woods worth your life, so hang them right!

Destination Hunting

Many consider me crazy for lugging a backpack full of equipment into the woods. But each tool in my pack is invaluable: Safety harnesses, pole trimmer, hand saw ratchet clippers, tow rope, leather gloves, orange vest, GPS/compass, rangefinder, and reflective tacks

When heading to the woods to cut stands always have a destination picked out before stepping into the woods. Since my scouting is done, I’ve already found the best tree. By scouting and cutting stands together, you’re more likely to set up on an inferior location. This is often because you don’t understand the big picture. It is so tempting to set up on a big rub. But you need to find out if that big rub is part of a rub line. And is it in the best ambush location? For this reason, I separate my scouting and tree preparation efforts into two trips.

I often hunt alone and therefore I set up many stands alone. Hunting buddies can make preparation much easier. Needless to say it takes a lot of work to prepare a location to hunt. I’ve become efficient by carrying specialized tools needed but still spend 2+ hours in each location.

Safety First

Each year several reports of hunting accidents rivet the hunting community. The moment you leave the ground use a climbing belt with a full body safety harness. A study conducted by Deer and Deer Hunter Magazine proved stepping in and out of your treestand is when most accidents occur. While cutting limbs and hanging treestands, you will rely heavily on a secure climbing belt.

When placing screw-in steps, it’s better to only place them 2ft apart. During frosty mornings with bulky clothes, I’d rather avoid stretching. Even if tree branches are available, place a step just above the branch. Tree steps are designed to grip your foot. Tree limbs can be slick because of morning dew or ice. Any small or dead limb should be cut away so you don’t mistakenly step on it in the dark. When arriving at your treestand, make sure to have your steps extend higher than the base of your stand. This will allow you to step down on the stand and over any cables. Adding a step on the backside of the tree just above my chain gives me a handle when stepping into the stand.

When using a climbing belt, you’ll need to unhook to get around your treestand or large limbs. In these cases, I immediately reconnect before moving again. A three point system works the best; keep three points connected. Either two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. It sounds simple but is very secure.

The Stand Details

I peaked around the tree to see a cautious doe moving through the grass. I never heard her but only noticed her in the tall grass field because I was facing that general direction. Facing the general direction I expect to see deer allows me notice small glimpses of animals with minimal movement. By the same token, I’ll place my stand at a 90 degree angle from the major trails. I want the deer walking past my left side for the easiest bow shot with little movement (right handed shooter.) In recent years, I’ve started using the TrophyLine Tree Saddle. A saddle actually places you behind the tree until the last possible moment. Because of the versatility, I have started using this setup for 95% of my locations.

In many of my post season scouting ventures, I find wide cut down shooting lanes. These are obvious signs of other hunters which are obvious to deer. If I moved your living room chair, wouldn’t you notice? Deer are the same way. If you cut out large paths, right before season, they will notice. And if the mowed down paths aren’t a concern to you the huge amounts of human odor are detrimental. Instead cut concise lanes. I hunt in heavily pressured southern Michigan public land and prefer that others do not know my hunting locations.

The use of a pole trimmer, hand clipper and hand saw is all vital. Cut small trees down at ground level and cover the base of the tree with leaves. Clip branches where they naturally break from a tree. Instead of piling branches, stand them up in a nearby cover or use them as a roadblock to tighten a funnel.

Keep enough cover to hide your silhouette and movement but clear anything that will get in the way. A tree crotch or just above large branches are great hiding spots. Draw an imaginary line between your bow and the deer trail. Only cut those branches in the way. Don’t cut down every tree between you and the deer trail. A pole trimmer is an invaluable tool for those out of reach branches. Cut to several intersecting trails and 2-3 lanes on each trail.

Having several shooting opportunities gives you a chance to get ready regardless of the direction the deer is traveling. A rangefinder will ensure all lanes are within your comfortable shooting distance.

If you’re cutting stands alone, hang a bright vest at chest height in the tree. A visual sighting gives you the ability to only cut those branches needed. This allows you to leave enough cover to hide behind while clearing problem branches. Without a vest (line of sight,) I’ve spent many hours cutting lanes either too big or incorrectly.


The most opportune time to cut is during the late winter and spring. Of course a summer trip is needed to cut away any new growth. By doing the work in the spring you’ll be able to cut away only the branches needed while leaving enough cover to hide behind. The majority of prime hunting is done after the leaves fall; therefore preparations should also be done at this time. In past years, I’ve sat in many great locations and felt naked because of the lack of cover.

Although I have many stand locations ready for the season we all have a few killer locations. My confidence in those places is tenfold. Whenever possible I like to set up multiple stands for different wind directions. North/south or east/west wind currents can be accomplished by sitting on both sides of the deer trails.

Final Touches

For some final touches, I scrape off any loose bark from the tree. This makes unwanted noise that can ruin a hunt when deer are archery close. If you’re using a climber make sure to mark the tree to know the exact height to place the stand. You can either cut a notch in the bark or push a tack into the tree. It makes no sense to spend hours cutting away branches to sit several feet higher and out of your shooting lanes.

As a final step you need to make sure your tow rope has a clear path and it won’t hang up on any branches or steps. Metal banging against metal in the morning can ruin a hunt.

Lastly, clear out an easy entry and exit path and mark with reflective tacks. In the dark of the night, you want to have a clear path to avoid spreading your scent around the woods. With everything perfect for a close encounter don’t let a wise buck bust your setup because you mistakenly touched some brush in the cover of darkness.


Preparing stands takes an enormous amount of work. Each year I spend hours preparing each location. While sweating to death, I often think to myself “is it worth it?” But then each fall when the trees are naked, I stay hidden among the branches while deer scamper around completely unaware of my presence. This is when I know it’s all worth the effort. There is no better feeling than completely fooling a big whitetail in the great state of Michigan.