You can hunt a beautiful ridge that’s close to cover and littered with acorns and never see a deer, or you can hop a mile over to an overgrown field and watch whitetails move all day. There’s no escaping it: Some stands are just hot; others are not. We scoured the country and came up with five sizzling spots that produce mega bucks year in and year out. Pay close attention to the nuts and bolts of each setup. You’ll learn some great tree-stand tricks.
1 The Cottonwood Near Saco, Montana
THE SETUP The heavily limbed, bushy-topped tree (providing awesome concealment) sits in the corner of a big alfalfa field about 200 yards from cover along a river to the east.
HOW TO HUNT IT Creep up the edge of the field and climb the tree. Once you’re settled, glass over the grassy transition zone and into the cover. When the first deer gets up and steps toward the grain around 4 p.m., you’ll be ready. You can’t miss the big trails that twist through the grass and converge smack below the tree. Any time you can corner deer, do it.
THE PAYOFF: Hanback Michael Waddell of the television show Realtree Roadtrips and I hung this stand one afternoon six years ago. Later that evening he climbed up and shot a 148-incher. I nailed a big nine-pointer there 22 hours later. At least one Pope and Young trophy has been shot from The Cottonwood every season since.
WHY IT WORKS The steep-banked river blocks deer from moving deeper into the woods to bed. Since plenty of whitetails lie up close to the feed, this is a no-brainer spot to hunt in the afternoon. Any stand is only as good as its access. Here access is excellent from the south on a north wind.
2 The Crossing Western Kentucky
THE SETUP In November, David Hale and Harold Knight leave the woods and head for a clear-cut field overgrown with weeds and brambles.
HOW TO HUNT IT Hang a lock-on just inside the block of trees that juts into the huge grass field. Approach from the woods. A 2-foot-wide doe trail runs in front of the perch, cuts across the field and enters another patch of timber 150 yards to the west. “I can see bucks upwind of the trail, running on it or coming in from downwind to scent-check it for does,” says Knight. “All of them are within an easy rifle shot.”
WHY IT WORKS “During the rut bucks like to walk around in that stuff where they can see does and be seen by the gals,” says Hale. “The deer think they’re hidden, but when you’re up in a stand and looking down into the brush, they’re easy to see.”
The pair’s best rut stand gives them a commanding view of a point-to-point crossing, where bucks will move back and forth while searching for does.
THE PAYOFF: Knight Harold Knight (pictured) and David Hale can’t recall how many bucks have been killed at The Crossing, but the biggest one scored 160.
3 Heartbreak Ridge Southwestern Illinois
HOW TO HUNT IT The narrow travel corridor between three food sources creates the ideal environment for up-close shots of deer with a bow. Dan Perez, who works for PSE Archery, hikes in the dark toward the black walnut where his stand is, climbs 20 feet up and hunts all day. He munches on protein bars and sips water to keep going.
THE SETUP It’s a long walk along a hardwood ridge to Dan Perez’s favorite rut stand, but it’s well worth it. Far from where other hunters roam, the stand provides an ideal view of big bucks moving along the ridge’s well-worn deer trails.
WHY IT WORKS In addition to being hidden and secluded, the stand is on a narrow ridge flanked by row crops to the west, CRP to the southeast and a food plot to the north. The layout “pinches” moving deer into position. Take note of this trend and adapt it to your woods and stand sets.
THE PAYOFF: Perez Dan Perez has shot some fine bucks here over the years, but the stand got its name from the ones that got away. One afternoon he saw a doe run by, followed by 18 bucks! Perez could have shot a 150-incher, but he drew and waited for the 195-inch giant in the rear. The beast raced by too fast for a clean shot. Just before dark the doe panted back with the bucks still behind. Again Perez had no shot. “Sometimes it’s not the deer you kill, but the wild things you see from a stand that make it special,” he says.
4 Booner Tree Southern Iowa
HOW TO HUNT IT Videographer Don Kisky accesses the stand along an old railroad right-of-way. A high bank near the tracks hides him on the hike in, and a south wind blows his scent away. In the 10 years he’s hunted the stand he’s never been busted. “I literally have to climb the tree before I can see over the rise and out into the pasture,” he says.
THE SETUP The stand is in a big white oak on a fencerow that borders a pasture overgrown with grass, weeds and 6-foot-tall locust trees.
THE PAYOFF: Hale The Booner Tree has lived up to its name. Don Kisky and friends have shot two Boone and Crockett bruisers there over the years, as well as many 140- to 150-class deer.
WHY IT WORKS This is an unreal morning spot for the rut. The oak is 400 yards from the nearest crop field and on the edge of brushy cover where Iowa brutes cruise for does. Kisky loves to rattle there in early November. “Almost every buck that hears the horns walks to the wire fence, turns and follows it straight to my stand,” he says. “It’s wild.”
5 The Playpen Milk River, Montana
THE SETUP Out on the Western plains, whitetails roam points of timber between the rivers and the sprawling grain and hay fields nearby. Eliot Strommen once scouted such a point on his ranch and found a virtual playpen for deer.
WHY IT WORKS Deep trails wend into the woods from fields to the west and south. The spot is littered with rubs and scrapes. Strommen poked around and found the perfect ash near the nexus of the trails. It’s within sight of a natural clearing where he figured deer would gather each morning to browse before heading to a bedding area by the river. Over the years, countless deer have done just that.
THE PAYOFF: Strommen The Strommens figure some 40 bucks have been arrowed from The Playpen, three-quarters of them Pope and Young–class. Last year it saw a couple of monster encounters, one with “the Boss,” taken by Butch Courington (left), which Lucas (right) puts in the 190s. On the last day of the season papa Eliot, who hunts with a long bow, passed a marginal 30-yard shot at the “Hanback Buck.” A couple of months earlier I had missed a chip shot at the 160-inch 10-pointer that now bears my name.
HOW TO HUNT IT “This is one of our money spots early in the season and late as well,” says Lucas Strommen, who guides bowhunters on his father’s ranch. “During the rut you’ll see massive scrape and rub lines along the doe trails. All kinds of bucks work through the point while traveling up and down the river.” It’s an ideal morning spot, but with all the deer activity, a hunter has to be in his stand early.