Friday, September 23, 2016

What constitutes huntable land?

© By Othmar Vohringer

It doesn’t matter if you have permission to hunt on private land or if you hunt on public land. There are places that hold deer while others are not or just a few. For example here in the southern interior of British Columbia there are places that you can look for days and count your blessings if you see one or two deer per square mile, while just a few miles in another direction you will encounter deer practically at every step. Why is that so?

In this segment of Whitetail Deer Passion I would like to explain to you what to look for to find a huntable area. With “huntable area” I mean places that hold good deer populations. Huntable areas, or deer magnets as I call it, fulfill the same requirements no matter where you hunt. These requirements are the four basic needs that all animals need to survive and prosper. These basic needs are; food, water, cover and shelter. That’s it, not more and not less. The closer together and plentiful these basic needs are together the more deer will congregate in that area. If the four basic needs are spread further apart or not readily available the fewer deer the area will hold. Any other areas that do not satisfy the basic needs will be void of any deer.

How to find a huntable area

For some it can be a daunting task finding places that are deer magnets. This is a task that can be learned on the internet from the comfort of your home. Even I can’t tell you where you find them. I only can tell what to look for. It takes work and time studying aerial maps and driving around. Granted it can be a daunting task trying to locate these places deer frequent in large numbers. Especially in heavily urbanized areas, heavy hunting competition or where public land is in limited supply it quickly can seem impossible to find good deer populations. But let there be no doubt, it can be accomplished. I developed a system for myself when I look for deer magnets, and it will work for you too.

My system begins with studying aerial maps of any given area I want to hunt. Thanks to Google Earth looking over aerial maps is no problem anymore and can be done by anyone with a computer. The birds-eye view Google provides lets you see land features very clearly. By zooming in on any given area particular features you are looking for can be inspected. I use the zoom feature to find the four basic needs deer need. Once I find them my next task is to find out if that area is public hunting land or private land. If it is private land I will visit the land owner and ask for permission to trespass the property. (Tip; don’t ask right away for permission to hunt. Ask for permission to look around first.)

If the identified area is on public land it’s time to put the hiking boots on your feet and start diligently scouting with binoculars, aerial map (Google Earth printout), note pad and GPS. On private land you obviously have to wait with scouting until you get permission from the landowner to do so. NEVER trespass on private land without expressed permission from the landowner.

Finding good hunting land is never easy and never has been. But with a bit of effort and learning about the requirements deer need, plus a good dose of Whitetail Deer Passion, it can be done by anyone.

 This is what I consider a poor hunting area. While it has lots of cover and shelter the area lacks quality food sources and above all water. Such land has very few deer and they have to travel far to fulfill their requirements.

This is a good hunting area. Here deer find all their basic needs in relative close proximity. Land like this has all the ingredients (food, water, cover and shelter) to support a large deer population.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Picking The Perfect Tree For Your Stand

© By Othmar Vohringer

Once you have found the area you want to hunt you have to find a tree to hang the stand. Not just any tree mind you, but the perfect tree. Some hunters make the mistake to look for the easiest tree to hang a stand but that is seldom the perfect tree to set up a deer ambush.

Setting up on the right spot and choosing the right tree to hang your stand is one of the most crucial ingredients for hunting success.

Here are a few tips on what makes the perfect tree for your stand.

Exit and entry routes

How many hunters consider the importance of carefully choosing an entry and exit route to and from the stand? Unfortunately not too many. Many good hot-spots have been ruined before the hunter arrived on the stand because the access route has not been carefully chosen. Choosing a good access/departure route not only takes the prevailing winds and thermals under considerations but also deer movement patterns.

When choosing entry and exit routes I look at aerial maps. These maps are great for finding ways to and from stands that do not intersect possible deer holding areas and travel patterns. Quite often I find that I have to make D-tours to get to my stand as to not contaminate the area where I think deer will travel to and from a feeding area. Pay attention to entry and exit routes and you are less likely to alert deer to your presence or contaminate deer travel routes.

Wind and thermals

The wind is not your friend, the wind your enemy. That is how I look at winds and thermals. I need to get them figured out in order to make it work to my advantage. When I talk or write about the importance of wind and thermals invariably there will some hunters saying something like; “I wear scent control clothing.” If you’re one of them let me tell you a little truth about scent control clothing. It doesn’t matter. Deer will detect your scent and it doesn’t matter if they get a nose full or just a faint whiff of human scent to draw their own conclusions.

Because of that it is very important to be constantly aware of wind directions and the movement of thermals when you walk to and from your stand and of course during the entire time you’re in the stand. Because of that I often set up two stands, one for each wind direction. Always keep the wind and thermals in mind when hunting.

Treestand height

I am sure you’re aware of the endless discussions held about treestand height. There are still hunters believing in the higher is better mantra. Not true! The height of the treestand is dictated by cover. If you hang a stand higher than the available cover deer will see you. I once entered a public land area and immediately spotted a treestand about 40 feet up a tree. The reason I spotted that stand was because it was placed above the surrounding foliage, I am sure every deer in the area has seen that stand too. Never place a stand in such a way that you’re sky lighted. Always use the surrounding foliage above, behind and to either side as cover to hide from the deer. If that is at 8 or 10 feet off the ground then that is the height your stand should be and not higher. In all my years of hunting almost exclusively from treestands I found that there is never a need to climb higher than 12 to 15 feet off the ground, often even lower. There is another issue arising when going high into a tree. Shooting angles become very steep and that creates another set of challenges that I have discussed in previous articles.

Less is more

Be careful with trimming shooting lanes and don't trim to much. When cutting branches for my shooting lanes I never cut off more than I absolutely need. I keep my shooting lanes as small as I possibly, without sacrificing shooting opportunities (see image for what I consider a perfectly concealed treestand). Some hunters trim every branch below them and to their sides, believing that wearing camouflage will be enough to disguise their outline. While that is true as long as you sit motionless it changes when you move. You have to disguise necessary movement to draw the bow or shoulder the rifle. Leaving enough branches around the stand hanging will go a long way to enhance your cover and conceal movement.


I hope that these tips will assist you in finding the perfect tree to hunt from versus the perfect tree to make for an easy stand set up. As a final note: Please always remember treestand safety. Regardless of what your hunting ambitions are, your main ambition should always be to return home to your family in one piece.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Barometric Pressure And Deer Movement

© By Othmar Vohringer

In an email a hunter asked me if barometric pressure influences deer movement, and if so how?

If you have been following me then you know that I am an avid weather watcher and time my hunts around the weather forecast. With that said, the short answer to the question is; yes barometric pressure does affect deer movement.

For past 20 plus years I make careful notes of all observations in the deer woods, particularly about deer movement patterns at different times of the day and under various weather conditions. Analyzing the notes shows that there is no question that cold, snow, rain, warm and hot weather greatly influence deer movement patterns. Cold, hot, rain and snow are the things we can see and feel. What we can’t see is the biggest deer movement factor of all; barometric pressure. Barometric pressure is difficult to judge, unless you own an instrument, check daily weather forecasts on the Internet or download the Scout Look Weather app onto your smartphone.

In my office, right above the desk, hangs a weather station that shows me current weather conditions and estimated weather condition for the next 24 hours. The gizmo also shows me falling and rising barometric pressures. This weather station is one of the most important hunting investments I have made because it shows me in real time when the best times to go hunting long before it occurs. Forget about moon phase charts. Bring on barometric pressure to determine deer travel activity.

But there is more. While comparing my field notes I noticed that there seems to be an ideal barometric pressure that triggers deer movement which is between 30.00 and 40.00 on the barometric scale. I also found that more deer movement takes place on a rising barometric pressure versus a falling pressure. The best time to see lots of deer moving seems to be exactly at the peak of the barometric pressure.

With all that said there is another truth to be considered. The only time you’re able to shoot a buck is the time you’re out hunting. The more time you spend hunting the higher chances are that you will be successful, regardless of weather and times. In other words, go hunting every time you can.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Treestand Safety – Don’t Become An Accident Statics

© By Othmar Vohringer

Image Copyright Heidi Koehler Photography
Hunting season is just around the corner. This means for many last minute season preparations are in full swing. Countless days and hours are spent to prepare for this big moment we all have been impatiently waiting for. For months we have carefully scouted to find the right hunting spot and honed our bow and firearm shooting skill at the range. But if we look at the hunting accident statics it seems that there are still many hunters that give little, if any consideration, to the safe use and careful maintenance of treestands. The number of treestand accidents is higher than all other hunting accidents combined. There are many different reasons why treestand accidents occur but all of them have one thing in common…Lack of paying attention to basic safety procedures.

For me the biggest concern of every hunt is not bringing a big buck home but to return home safe and uninjured after every day in the field. To my mind I owe that to myself, my family and friends. September is “Treestand Safety Awareness” month. To that end I would like to pass along a few tips and remind you all how important it is to ALWAYS read, re-read and follow treestand safety guidelines.

Checking and maintaining treestands

I never leave treestands hanging at the end of the hunting season. All stands are pulled and taken home. Each stand is thoroughly checked over for any damage and worn parts before it is stored away to be used next hunting season again. If a stand shows any sign of damage or worn parts I set it aside in the “don’t use” pile until it is repaired and, or the worn/damaged parts are replaced.  I only use manufacturer recommended replacement parts.

Rusty spots will be cleaned and repainted to prevent further rust buildup and all the moving parts are lubricated. I also pay close attention to the conditions of the various climbing devices, safety harness and safety lines. My health and life depends on it that all treestands and related equipment is good good working order and safe to use. I simply will not hunt from a stand, or use any equipment, that shows any signs of excessive wear or damages, no matter how minor they appear. The cost of repairs and replacement parts, or even purchasing a new stand to replace an old one, is peanuts compared to my life.

When the time comes to hang the stands I check them and related equipment, again BEFORE they are set up. I also check stands and steps each time when I move them to a different location during the hunting season.

Always use a safety harness and equipment haul line.

More than 20 years ago I lost a good friend to a treestand accident. On a cold November day during a rut hunt he slipped on an icy tree step as climbed up to his stand. My friend only fell four feet but that was enough to break his neck. The sad irony is that he used to make jokes about me wearing a lineman type climbing harness attached to the tree trunk the very moment I took the first step off the ground. The simple fact is that every time we set out to leave terra firma we are liable of falling, be that from a ladder, a house roof or while ascending/descending and staying in our treestand. Because of that I ALWAYS use a lineman type climbing harness when I climb up or down a tree and of course remain attached to the tree the entire time while I am in a treestand. With all the safety equipment available today for safe treestand hunting there is no excuse not to use them. It was a slightly different story 10 or even 20 years ago. All we had then was safety belts, often just a rope tied around the waist with a line attached to the tree trunk. But still even back then with a little thought and searching we would find lineman safety harnesses. Statistics show that most treestand accidents occur while ascending and descending a tree.

The newest product on the market are “Lifelines” that ensure that the hunter is connected to the tree at all times from the moment he leaves the ground until he is back on the ground. A lifeline is a simple solution that will save lives and prevent serious injuries in case of an accident. Most lifelines sell for 40 to 50 dollars and are worth every penny if you ask me.

All my treestands are equipped with a equipment haul line on which I pull the bow/rifle and whatever else I carry with me up to the stand ones I am situation and safe in the treestand. It is dangerous to carry you bow/rifle and backpack on your body up or down a tree.

Pay close attention to detail when hanging a treestand.

When I scout on public land I often come across a dead or badly damaged tree that still shows evidence of a treestand hanging on it during hunting season. Treestand safety begins with selecting a healthy tree with no damage, such as lightening scares or splits from heavy wind storms. Before you hang your stand on a tree make sure it is a healthy tree. Look for any sign that could indicate that the tree is dying, such as bark peeling loose, bare branches in the tree crown at a time when others trees are still green, fungus growing on the tree trunk are all telling signs that this tree is not healthy.
When you hang the stand make sure you do not hang it higher than you feel comfortable. Yes, there are still some hunters who believe in the myth that higher is better even if they are scared of heights. If 15 feet above ground is your comfort zone then that is the height you should hang your stand, not 40 feet because someone told you that is the height a stand has to be. Always make sure that your stand hangs well below the top rung of the tree ladder or your last screw-in tree step. You have to have enough room to climb above the stand platform and step down on it. Never step up to a platform as this can, and often will, dislodge the stand from the tree trunk.

Another treestand hanging safety issue I’ve come across in my life are treestands that hang on a tree that is either too small or too large for the stand. Always read the manual that comes with your stand to learn about the treestand manufacturer’s recommendations of what tree diameter the stand is suitable. NEVER hang the stand on a tree that has too small or too large a diameter as the one recommended.

Let others know where you hunt.

I always tell my wife where I am hunting and when she can expect me to be back home. I also tell her in what stand I am going to be in the morning and in the afternoon. All my stand locations coordinates are stored on my GPS and marked with a pin on Google maps to which my wife has access. If something would happen to me I could be quickly found by emergency responders. The friend I mentioned earlier didn’t tell anyone where he was hunting or when he can be expected back home. Because of that it took emergency responders a night and day to find him. When my friend finally was found he was still alive and could tell what happen but died that day in hospital from hypothermia and the injuries he sustained. He left a loving wife and three young children behind.

I hope you all have a successful hunting season season this coming fall and be able to fulfill your dreams. But above all I hope you have a safe hunting season and remember that hunting safety always comes before everything else. Accident can occur at any time but they never should be the result of carelessness or pure ignorance.

Image courtesy of Treestand Safety Awareness Organization

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Practise To Bowhunt – Archery Is Not Like Bowhunting

© By Othmar Vohringer

You tuned your bow and practiced shooting your bow, hopefully, all year long. You’re ready to go bowhunting. Are you?
You will be… if you follow these tips. Many bowhunters practice shooting their bows at the archery range and maybe take part in one or two 3-D archery tournaments. That makes them good archers but not necessarily good bowehunters. Archery and bowhunting are two very different pair of shoes.

Leave it alone.

Bowhunters, me included, love to tinker with their equipment. If there is any new product on the market that promises more accuracy or more arrow speed, we will try it out. Nothing wrong with that. However, ones your bow is tuned and ready to go hunting leave it alone. Do not make any changes or modifications a week or, worse, a few days before the bowhunting season opens. If you do you just opened yourself up to all sorts of things that can and will go wrong. If you want to make changes to your current setup, even just changing to a different broadhead, make them well in advance of hunting season to give you enough time to address any issues that these modifications may cause.

Practice shooting like you hunt.

As mentioned bowhunting is different from archery. For starters in most hunting situations you will not be given the opportunity to take your sweet time to aim, relax and breathe. In addition, targets are seldom stationary for longer than a few seconds. When you hunt you will be sitting in a treestand or ground blind, hunker down behind a large rock, tree stump or other natural cover. You may stand on uneven ground or have to twist your upper body to either side or even backwards to get a shot at the deer. In short, the situations under which you have to shoot are seldom perfect, never mind letting you take a perfect archers stance. To become a proficient and confident bowhunter you have to practice like you hunt or you will be limited to taking only the shots that provide you with the best archery scenario. Such perfect shooting situations rarely if ever happened in a hunting scenario.
Once my bow is tuned and sighted in I’ll never return to the archery range again. Instead all of my bow shooting sessions will commence in simulated hunting scenarios that apply to my style of hunting. This type of practice gives me the confidence in myself and the equipment I need to take any clean shot at a deer no matter the situation I find myself in.

Learn to shoot under stress.

Shooting at a deer that suddenly appears before you can be very stressful. The adrenaline rush will get your heart beating against the chest like a sledgehammer while a thousand thoughts simultaneously run through your brain. The result of this adrenaline rush is elevated blood pressure, wobbly knees, shaking hands, sweaty palms and heaving chest. Not the ideal situation to shoot a bow calmly and accurately. Unless…you have practiced shooting under stress. How can you do that? A good way I found to simulate such a stress situation is to run ones or twice around the block to get my heart and lungs pumping. Without pause or try to catch my breath I take up the bow and shoot an arrow at the target. It will take a few tries until your brain learns to ignore the body and do what you want it to do…getting an arrow in the middle of the target.

Unknown distances.

If I am hunting from a treestand or ground blind or any other stationary set up where I wait on deer I know the distances of every shooting lane. When I set up a stand or blind I measure the distances from the setup to the where I expect the deer of each shooting lane and mark it with a tack on a tree. It’s a very different story when you stalk deer or still-hunt. Encounters are often so fleeting that there is no time to get the rangefinder out of the pocket and measure the distance from you to the deer. In these cases I relay on estimating the distance. This is not a skill that comes naturally, it has to be learned and constantly practiced. In hill country distances look always closer than they are. Conversely, on flat land distances often look longer than they are. If you’re in a treestand the actual distance is further to the deer then if you were on the ground.

How can you learn estimating distances? I learn it by estimating distances all the time, even today, although I am pretty good at it. This is a skill that needs to be repeatedly sharpened. I estimate a distance and then measure with the rangefinder. Eventually your brain will tune in to any given landscape and changes, letting you estimate distances quite accurately to within one or two feet.

Shooting up and down.

If you hunt from a treestand the distance to the target is longer then if you would shoot at the same target from the bottom of the tree. The same is true if you shoot at a deer that stands on a higher elevation than you do. There are exact mathematical calculations to figure out how much longer the distance is for each degree of height difference and distance from you to the target. Some years ago a company published a calculation sheet that showed what distance you had to aim from a treestand at different heights and distances to the target. But you probably guessed what I am going to say. There is never time to consult a calculation sheet or a calculator in a hunting situation. The good news is with practice it becomes very quickly second nature to estimate the shooting angle and where to aim at. Practice from a treestand at different distances to learn where you have to aim to make the shot count. You also can practice from the roof of your carport, garage or even from the balcony. Just make sure it is safe.


I am sure sometimes the neighbors question my sanity when they see me in the heat of the summer dressed in a bulky, insulated camouflage parka, mittens, face mask and woolly hat flinging arrows at the target in my garden. I don’t care what they think because I have to practice shooting my bow under winter conditions. It is one thing to shoot a bow in the summer wearing a T-shirt. It is totally different shooting a bow in the winter wearing bulky clothing. So much so that you actually have to hold the bow slightly different in the winter then you would in the summer with lighter clothing. A bow also feels different holding it with bare hands versus thick mittens. In order to know how to hold your bow different and draw the string you need to practice that regularly too, like everything else I explained in this topic.

Final thoughts.

You do not have to practice every single scenario I discussed in this column, but what you need to do is to practice what applies to your method of hunting. If you hunt from a treestand then that is what you need to practice regularly and not just a few days before bowhunting season opens. Shooting your bow under simulated hunting conditions will not only make you a better shot but also give you the confidence you need to make every shoot you take count. It is my belief that the biggest detriment to shooting accuracy occurs when nagging questions and doubts enter your brain at a time when all it should be occupied with is to make that one important shot.
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