When pursuing mature bucks in areas receiving heavy consequential hunting pressure (HCHP), security cover needs should always be considered before choosing and preparing any location…
Why? Because all the mature buck sign in the world at any location is meaningless if being made during the security of darkness, which at most locations in HCHP areas, is typically the case.
Although rarely seen or written about by the hunting media, in HCHP areas, what little daytime mature buck activity that takes place is almost always within very close proximity to quick exit security cover as well as tied to secure transition cover routes.
What is HCHP? A heavy consequential hunting pressure area is where there are 10 to 25 or more bowhunters and close to twice that number of gun hunters per square mile (640 acres) and most of those hunters are targeting any legal antlered buck. The few bucks surviving beyond their first set of antlers and oftentimes beyond their first set of button’s, have Master’s degrees in avoiding hunters and 2 ½ year olds are not only rare, they are far more difficult to kill than 4 ½ year old and older bucks in lightly hunted and managed areas.
HCHP areas should not be confused with managed areas with hunter engagement criteria’s. That would be non-consequential hunter presence. No matter the amount of hunters, when there are no consequences for daytime hunter encounters until bucks reach the properties kill criteria, the buck’s vulnerable daytime movement habits remain intact until the kill criteria is met.
In managed areas; a much higher percentage of bucks grow to maturity, they have a level of tolerance of human intrusions and human odor, and they move more during daylight hours than like aged bucks in HCHP areas. All these factors make taking a mature buck much easier once they reach the kill criteria.
Killing mature bucks in HCHP areas requires work. Just walking down a two-track and setting up a tree along a short crop field or in mature timber with no understudy as seen on TV and in video’s, doesn’t cut it.
Because of the security cover needs for a mature buck in an HCHP area to feel comfortable moving through or lingering at during daylight hours, clearing shooting lanes, preparing the tree, and making and marking entry and exit routes at a single location can take many hours. With the proper tools it has taken me as many as nine hours to properly prepare a location.
Zoomed in aerial photo of the area, sturdy backpack with well-padded, comfortable shoulder straps, leather gloves, rubber boots, extendable pole saw at least 14 feet long, long bladed sheathed camp saw (this will be used more than any other saw), folding handsaw, hatchet with belt holster, ratchet pruners, tree steps or climbing sticks, multi-pocketed fanny pack if using tree steps, safety climbing belt, 35 foot rope for bringing stand or extension saw up the tree, bow rope to leave in the tree, reflective tacks and ties, water, toilet paper, screw in bow holders, laser rangefinder, compass, and for large tracts of public ground you may want a hand held GPS for navigating and marking locations.
Items to have in vehicle in case needed are: chainsaw, hip boots or chest waders, raingear, and if the location requires it, a canoe.
Pay attention to detail, and take the time to make your location as perfect as possible, anything other should be unacceptable.
The type of hunting pressure an area receives has a direct influence on choosing the proper tree and how the location is prepared and I’m going to assume you’re in an HCHP area. Any proper set up for an HCHP area will work in any other area.
While I have exclusively hunted from an arborist style harness system since 1981, I still have opinions on conventional stands and personally feel climbers are cumbersome, noisy, and limit tree options to trees devoid of branches. In HCHP areas, an exposed body profile will be easily picked by mature deer that actually scour treetops in search of us as predators.
Once at a location, begin the tree selection process by slowly walking or crawling down every runway with the area. While doing so look at every suitable tree and choose the tree that offers the best concealment and background cover and most shot opportunities at the surrounding sign and runways. Choosing the right tree may take as long as 30 minutes.
Never pick a tree directly over where you expect a shot opportunity. Doing so will cause; severe downward shot angles, narrow target area, and no chance of a double-lung hit. There will also be a much higher probability of getting picked as deer will be coming directly at you.
The time of season you plan on hunting a location should factor into the type of tree you choose, and how high you set-up in it. For early season hunting, most trees will offer concealment and background cover, allowing you to set-up lower. For rut phase hunting and beyond, if available, choose trees such as conifers that hold their needles year round, or oaks because they typically hold their leaves longer into the season and offer crotches and bigger branches as cover. If the tree doesn’t offer adequate cover, you’ll need to go higher up the tree. Additional height will aid in keeping you out of their peripheral vision and allow you to get away with minor movements during the shot process.
If no adequate tree is available and the location is awesome, a well concealed ground blind made from natural surroundings such as deadfalls and brush may be required.
Now the hardest physical work of the entire year begins and if you’re out of shape, get approval from your doctor before this process begins.
For knock on door for free permission hunters like myself, make sure you know exactly what the property owner allows concerning trimming trees, clearing shooting lanes, and making and marking entry and exit routes. You’ve visually chosen the tree and where in the tree you’re going to set-up. Before setting it up, the process for choosing shooting lanes begins.
Walk or crawl down the farthest runways from the tree that are within shooting distance and if you’re going to alter a slightly out of range runway to within shooting distance, move down where that runway alteration will be.
While moving down each runway look for the area between you and the tree where the least amount of brush and small tree clearing will be required for a shooting lane. The less visual alterations you make from being in a deer’s living room perspective, the better. Clearing shooting lanes to the farthest runways will automatically put runways between it and your tree into play, eliminating the need for unneeded additional lanes.
In each shooting lane everything must go that is between a deer’s chest height and where you will be holding your bow at full draw. This includes tall stick-weeds in front of each runway that could deflect an arrow.
Cut trees, brush, sapling, and stick weeds tight to the ground. This will make it more difficult for other hunters to notice your location. Some lanes in need of major cutting might require a chainsaw, while others may only need some minor trimming.
If at an isolated destination location such as a mast or fruit tree or a primary scrape area, concentrate most of your efforts on the lane to the destination site as that is where the surrounding runways lead to.
Old brushy apple trees will likely require some major trimming to open up shot opportunities to their opposite side.
Unlike does and subordinate bucks that casually wander while feeding under mast and fruit trees, mature bucks typically come in from the side offering the most security cover and only eat within a small zone under the tree before exiting back into the same security cover and direction he came in from. You need that shot opportunity and may have to trim part of the tree to get it.
At some destination areas such as an isolated apple tree, white oak, or small primary scrape area location, a decent sized single shooting lane may be all you need.
At locations within bedding areas it is common for there to be runways everywhere around the tree and you may need as many as four or five shooting lanes. Shooting lanes should be a minimum of six feet wide so you have room to stop a buck if he’s pursuing a hot doe, and get off a shot. Having a great location and hunting it perfectly is a waste of time if you can’t get off a shot when an opportunity presents itself because you didn’t cut enough shooting lanes or they were inadequate.
If a runway is slightly out of range, with the cuttings from clearing lanes, strategically block it and then trim out a new runway to bring it within shooting distance.
Pick out the side of the tree that appears easiest to climb. If it has any lean, go up the side leaning away from you as if climbing a ladder. This will make it much easier and safer to ascend and descend in the dark.
Put on your safety climbing harness and on your pants belt attach the long sheathed saw and the hatchet (if in a rough barked tree). If using steps, put them, a couple bow holders, and your bow rope in the fanny pack and put it on.
If alone, at the saw end, tie the rope onto your pole saw and tie the other end to a belt loop. Lean the saw upward against the side of the tree and neatly roll the rope up at the bottom so it can unroll as you ascend and prepare the tree.
I haven’t used a tree stand since 1981 and almost forgot what it was like to do so. If you use a treestand, tie it to the rope instead of the saw as you will need to hang it once up the tree. You’ll have to get the saw on another trip up the tree.
With safety harness attached, begin placing sticks or steps.
When using steps use your knee and waist to judge where the next two steps go. Typically between feet and knee and knee and waist are about 18 inches each and that spacing will make the tree easy to climb. Once placed, climb up, place the next two steps and continue the process until at desired height. I personally space steps at 24 inches apart to cut down on the amount.
During the process, cut any dead or small live branches that might be mistaken as steps when ascending or especially descending in the dark. With boots, your feet can’t feel the difference between a small branch and a step and removing branches will remove the possibility of it and you falling.
If it’s a rough barked tree and is within close proximity to where deer might be when ascending or descending, using the hatchet or camp saw, trim the area around each step before placing it.
Once at the desired location, pull your stand up and position it in a manner where the least amount of body movements will be required to shoot at the most sign. Securely hang your stand and step into it and make sure your safety climbing strap is always attached.
Move into position as if you’re going to take a shot in each shooting lane. If any branches encumber your body movements or impede a shot, cut them off with your long sheathed saw. Also trim any rough bark from areas your upper body may rub against. If needed, using the extension pole saw, in each shooting lane cut the chutes and branches in the tree that you couldn’t reach from the ground, and there will usually be some.
Lastly, while on stand, go through your shot process motions imagining there is a shooter buck standing on the farthest runway in each shooting lane. If you missed something in the tree, cut it out.
Now comes the reason for clearing shooting lanes before preparing the tree. It’s extremely common while in the tree to notice stuff in shooting lanes that you missed cutting while on the ground.
If alone, mentally note what you missed in each lane or if someone’s with you, have them cut it while you dictate.
For pulling up and lowering your bow in the dark, make sure to clear a straight shot to the ground and tie off your bow rope. Bring up the stand or extension saw will give you a good idea if the trough is clear enough. Pulling a bow through branches in the dark is not a good plan.
Lastly, using your rangefinder check the distance to each runway and eventually write them on a notepad for future reference. If your first hunt will be in the morning and a buck comes through at the crack of dawn before a rangefinder might work, you’ll know the distance.
In HCHP areas theft is rampant, so if concerned pull your steps, sticks, and stand and make sure to arrive early enough to re-set them. Theft is one of the umpteen reasons I exclusively hunt from an arborist style harness system.
Once on the ground finish your shooting lanes. In low light conditions small branches, saplings and sticks weeds become invisible and when given the opportunity they love to reach out and slap arrows off course.
When shooting lanes are finished the only thing left between you in the tree and each runway should be air. Clear leaves and debris from you’re standing area at the base of the tree and where your bow will lay once tied to your rope. Drag all cut stuff as far away from the location as possible and put them cut side down into the heaviest cover available without blocking any runways. This will aid in other hunters not finding your location as they will just look like dead trees.
During winters with heavy snow and strong winds it is common for runways through brushy areas to get blocked with deadfalls and broken brush. Go down every runway feeding your location and clean them up, keeping in mind that a good buck requires a wider runway for headgear.
The final leg is making entry and exit routes, and oftentimes one route will work for both. Routes must be made so as not to spook any more deer than possible. Routes are determined by the locations relationship to feeding and bedding areas, and whether they will be hunted mornings or evenings. You don’t want to enter through a crop field where deer are feeding for a morning hunt, yet it would be an excellent exit route after the mornings hunt or entry route for an evening hunt. You wouldn’t want to enter through an area where deer might be bedded for an evening hunt, yet you might exit that way after dark.
In agricultural areas the best entry and exit routes are; along weed field edges, standing corn edges, through open timber, down shallow creeks, and along edges of swamps. Basically, wherever deer are least likely to be prior to daybreak or after dark.
In big timber areas where deer tend to wander and bed at will, it may take a few hunts to nail down the least invasive routes.
If a route goes through timber remove as much dead branches and twigs as possible. It’s typically dead quiet on morning entries, and a snapped twig can be heard from a long distance.
Whether along a runway or not, when finished clearing entry and exit routes, you should be able to walk the last 100 yards to your tree without touching any brush or tall weeds. The only thing touching anything should be the bottom of your boots.
Typically the last 100 yards of your cleared routes will end up being used by deer as runways, and you don’t want to leave any human odor on vegetation for them to smell.
When walking down an entry route during a hunt, if a branch brushes your head area, turn around, and while wearing carbon gloves, cut it off and throw it well off to the side.
Unless you know the property like the back of your hand, after some new growth, your routes may look much different than when you prepared them and be very difficult to follow in the dark.
Nothing’s worse than struggling in the dark to locate your stand. It creates anxiety, makes you sweat, leaves scent on brush because you’re not on your clean route, you make more noise, and ticks you off all at the same time.
In the dark you want to follow an exact route and not take one step outside it. I use HME’s white and brown reflective tacks for trees and HS’s white reflective twist ties on brush and stick weeds to mark routes.
At home, test the reflection distance of whatever tacks and ties you use with your flashlight to assure spacing will be adequate. On public land brown tacks are used because they blend in with the bark making them difficult for other hunters to see
during daylight. In other areas
white tacks are used because their reflection can be seen from farther distances.
While marking routes, whenever a sharp turn is required, put two tacks in the tree, this will let you know to search right or left for the next marker. Make sure to cut back branches, new buds, and other vegetation that would otherwise grow or leaf out during summer and block the view of the tacks or ties.
John Eberhart is an accomplished bow-hunter that specializes in heavy consequential hunting pressure areas with 25 bucks listed in CBM’s record book from 10 different counties. John produced a three volume instructional DVD series titled “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and co-authored the books, “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails,” “Precision Bowhunting,” and “Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way.” They are available at: www.deer-john.net