We all wish we had more time to hunt, which is exactly why this next tip is difficult for most hunters to practice, myself included. When we get the chance to be in the woods on a cool autumn evening, we want to at least think we are in the game. That at any moment the sound of crunching leaves could direct our attention to a set of approaching antlers. Bottom line is when we hunt, we expect to be in a position to kill.
What went into making the decision of where to sit during any given hunt? Was it a trail cam picture? The wind? An open scrape? Maybe it was all of the above. Nonetheless, it was probably some form of scouting that lead you to that particular stand on that particular night. So let me ask you this, have you ever sat out a night of hunting to watch from the sidelines? When you think about the amount of scouting we do before season, it seems kind of funny to abandon the scouting process of whitetails in season when we can actually hunt them. This is where the dilemma comes in because most of us feel like we need to be hunting when we have the precious time to…not scouting. Hopefully the following points will give you the confidence you need to sit back and observe before moving in.
Observation Sits Will…
…teach you new things about the property
Observation sits will often times put you in places you wouldn’t ordinarily hunt, thus you’ll see things you were probably missing while you were tucked inside the timber. You don’t necessarily need to see deer for an observation sit to be successful. In fact, sometimes not seeing any deer is the best piece of information you could get from an observation sit – it tells you where you shouldn’t be spending your time.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting to sit and observe from spots where you believe you won’t see deer, but rather just the opposite. Overlook spots you believe deer are regularly using such as ag fields, oak flats, swamp edges, etc. If you see deer, pay close attention and take notes because they will likely repeat themselves in the near future and you want to be in position the next time they do.
Sitting in treelines is a common scenario in farm country. Often these spots double as an observation area and kill area in one. Observe, learn, hunt.
One other point to emphasize is that you don’t necessarily need to be in a treestand. Observation sits can take place from any elevated position – a hillside, old farm equipment, hay bales, oil rigs, silos, etc. While you may not expect to kill anything during these sits, you should always bring your bow.
…tell you exactly where to put your stand
Tying into the previous point of paying attention and taking notes, a set of binoculars will be your most valuable tool during an observation sit. Understanding where the deer are entering, exiting, and feeding in relation to the wind is critical to success. Many hunters will sit along field edges and see a pile of deer every night, but will never be within bow range of a single deer! One simple night of glassing can help put you in perfect position on your very first sit. If you happen to be one of those hunters who sees a lot of deer, but never seems to kill one, chances are you’re already in an observation stand and you just don’t realize it. The key now is to move your stand, even if it’s only 50 yards down the edge. Far too many hunters are reluctant to move their stands once they are up.
The big gray tree in the bottom of the picture was where I observed the green alfalfa field from. With the intel I gained from that sit, we hung a stand the next day in the upper left hand corner and killed an old 10-pointer the following evening.
Observe a potential feeding area from a point where you can see the majority of the edge you intend to hunt. Once you have the entrance, exit, and feeding locations pinpointed, hang a stand or place a ground blind the very next day and wait for your trophy to follow the script from the night before. Remember, anything can happen while you are in the field, so you should still pack your bow during these “observation” sits just in case.
…tell you what your trail cam is missing
As the world of hunting continues to modernize, more and more whitetail hunters are using technology to make their hunting decisions. Trail cams are far and away the most influential tech tool hunters use to make hunting decisions. When you stop to think about it, it’s crazy how much we put into a little eye on a tree that can only shoot a picture up to 20 yards in a straight line.
Whenever I think about how many deer a trail cam potentially misses, I’m always taken back to one Iowa hunt. November 7th was the first time I scouted this 15-acre piece of private land. We had kind of written off the property because of its small size, but I decided to take the 4 wheeler back there to check things out anyways. The tract was completely timbered and had a decent ridge running through the center. Before I could barely take a step from the ATV, a doe being dogged by a fork horn came running past at a mere 10 yards, completely oblivious to me. One minute later, another bigger buck came running down the same trail. Now I was wishing I had my bow. Instead, I threw up a trail cam and got out of there. Was this flurry of action just a coincidence or was there something to this spot?
The next morning, we got in early and had bucks under the tree before my bow was even pulled up. This was the start of a crazy morning. The action was endless and by 10am we had seen eleven different bucks…this was a rutting highway! The funny thing is, had we not sat there we would have had no clue as to what the action was like if we simply relied on the trail cam. Of those eleven different bucks, not a single one passed in front for a picture. This is when I stopped putting so much faith in trail cams.
The same scenario played itself out last fall when there appeared to be very little activity on a trail cam I had placed over a scrape on the edge of an alfalfa field (pictured above). The same scrawny buck was the only one using it. After my original hunting plan got screwed up by the neighbors, I decided to sit back and watch this field during a rainy afternoon sit. Plenty of does were using the field along with a couple of scrapper bucks. Despite not seeing a shooter, I knew I needed to get a stand up in the far corner because with that many does around, eventually a big buck would show. One did a few days later. You can watch the hunt unfold here.
It’s incredibly tough to knowingly sit back away from the action during one of the few times you have to deer hunt, but the rewards are often worth it. Think of it as an effort to find out the most recent information in the deer woods. The key to observation sits is to act upon that information quickly. Observe, learn, adapt, hunt!