Move for More Whitetail Success

To home in on whitetail movement, remain flexible with your deer stand placement, and don’t be afraid to move at a moment’s notice.

Move for More Whitetail Success

The crisp, fall air stung my face as I swung my portable treestand and pack to my back and adjusted its straps. A cold front was moving in and brought a steady wind at 15 mph. My excitement rose with each step as I started the half-mile walk to a new area I had discovered on the map. The wind gave the perfect amount of cover for my movement and noise, as I slipped along a transition line of overgrown field and a brushy cottonwood draw. A river, about 40 yards wide, divided the bedding area and food source. The field transitioned into thick cedars on one side and row crop and alfalfa fields on the other. The plan was to set up along the cottonwood draw that separated the field from the cedars in hopes of catching a cruising buck on his feet a little early, checking for does on his way to the destination, the ag fields on the other side of the river.

I followed the course on the map app on my phone as I continued up the edge of the cottonwood draw. Having never hunted the area before, I wanted to find the highest concentration of travel and assess options for a stand setup. Once I reached the halfway point in the draw, two well-used trails funneled from each side and met at that point, forming a “Y.” I carefully scanned ahead and determined this was a good spot to intercept deer travel. I didn’t want to push further right off the bat for fear of getting too close to the thick cover, possibly bumping bedded deer. The buck sign was good, and there was a good tree to hang in, so I started setting up.

Move or Sit Tight?

From the moment my feet hit the platform of my treestand, does and fawns started moving from the thick cedars heading toward the river. Over the next hour, I watched two different groups use the same trail to cross through the finger of cottonwoods I was set up in, roughly 60 yards ahead. My mind wandered; I started analyzing.

It could be coincidence that both groups used the same trail. Just because the does and fawns crossed there doesn’t mean a mature buck will. Although, it doesn’t mean a mature buck won’t either. The draw gradually slopes down directly to my setup where two heavily used trails intersect; this is a natural funnel. Are five deer doing the same thing enough to justify a drastic move? As the list of pros and cons raced through my head, another doe and fawn moved through on the same trail as the others. This time, a 2-year-old 4x4 followed about 30 yards behind.

At this instant, I remembered something I’ve had to remind myself of before: Don’t get caught up in what should be happening or where it should be happening. I told myself to take a breath and process what is actually happening. I can always move, I am mobile. There wasn’t some invisible anchor or lock on my feet, keeping me in one place because it was the first spot I hung my stand. I knew what I had to do; it was time to make a move.

As I waited for the young buck, doe and fawn to get far enough away, clearing a small rise where they would drop down out of sight, I started looking for another tree. I had a 3- to 5-minute window to plan how I was going to attempt this move. I spent years overthinking and second-guessing decisions in the whitetail woods, but I finally came to the realization some years ago that committing to your strategic decisions, and doing so with confidence, is pivotal in the process of staying mobile. Of course, we are all free-thinking and capable of reasoning, so adapting to any situation or plan is an option, but by committing to my decision to act, I was also committing to learning. Success and failure are up to every hunter to decide for themselves. I was going to have an experience, and I was going to learn something with or without a shot opportunity.

When the author finds himself in a less than ideal stand, he doesn’t hesitate to make the move to a better location.
When the author finds himself in a less than ideal stand, he doesn’t hesitate to make the move to a better location.

Making the Move

The process of moving locations starts before I take a single step. Looking ahead and planning a route before moving has been an essential strategy for me. It does require slowing down and taking a little more time, but easing into an area — being efficient with each movement and quietly progressing — can pay off greatly. I try to plan as far ahead as I can, in 10-yard increments at minimum. I scan for movement, careful not to bump anything that may be headed toward me. Then I try to pick trees, vegetation or anything else that can act as a visual shield for my movement. Lastly, I’m careful to avoid any sticks or debris that could make excess noise. 

Since the landscape was reasonably open, I could see ahead a long distance. I knew I wanted to be in range of the trail the deer came through. I chose a small cottonwood with a slight bend in a cluster of young Russian olives 65 yards ahead. My route was to swing to the east edge of the draw and walk up the transition line to avoid sticks and a couple blowdowns that would cause extra noise and added movement to navigate.

With my route mapped out in my head, I began my descent down the tree. The goal was to get my bow, stand, sticks and myself down in one trip. I started by using my bow rope to lower my bow and pack together to the base of the tree. After attaching my lineman’s belt, I stepped off the stand and climbed down to the top of the second highest stick. This allowed me to loosen and remove my stand from the tree and swing it around to my back, utilizing the backpack straps attached to the platform of the stand. Then I took each climbing stick down one by one by holding the strap fully extended and gently lowering the stick until it was on the ground, dropping the strap. I repeated the process until all sticks were off the tree and I was on the ground.

As I moved toward the new spot, I visualized the route in my head. Doing this mentally is key to keeping this process as efficient and low-impact as possible. Sure, I want to get where I’m going quickly, but that doesn’t mean recklessly. This thought process helps keep me alert and aware of what’s happening around me.

Upon reaching the tree I picked out from my previous location, I assess the area to confirm it is in fact where I want to be. The well-worn trail that I had seen the deer use just 15 minutes prior was about 10 yards away. My anticipation and excitement rose once I noticed three large, fresh scrapes just off the trail under two clusters of Russian olives. Not wanting to spend any more time on the ground than necessary, it was clear that this was an ideal location to set up as it held more, active buck sign than my original spot.

Once I determined it was the right tree, I laid everything down at the base of the tree. I had about an hour of light left and started feeling anxious to get the stand hung. Even though I was losing light by the minute, I couldn’t afford to make careless mistakes, too much noise or movement. At this point in the process, I concentrated on moving carefully, but deliberately. I unwound the straps on the sticks and attached the first one to the tree. My goal was to make it up the tree, hang the stand and get set up in one trip. I used two slipknot pieces of paracord on each side of my safety harness waist strap. Before cinching a climbing stick to each slipknot, I tied my pack and bow to one end of my bow rope and the other to the waist strap of my safety harness. With my stand on my back and two climbing sticks attached to my safety harness, I attached my lineman’s belt to the tree and stepped up to the top of the first stick. As I climbed, I kept the trunk of the tree between me and the direction I expected deer to come from. That way if I got pinned to the tree and had to freeze due to an approaching deer, I could do so with the help of the tree blocking the deer’s line of sight.

Once I reached my desired height, I removed the stand from my back and hung it on the front side of the tree. I carefully rotated around the tree and into the stand. After quickly scanning the area to make sure there were no approaching deer, I pulled my pack and bow up and was ready to let the last bit of the hunt play out. The entire moving process took roughly 20 minutes.

Once on the move, the author slowly and methodically makes his way toward a new location with fresh buck sign.
Once on the move, the author slowly and methodically makes his way toward a new location with fresh buck sign.

Good Call    

Finding better buck sign certainly helped my confidence in the decision to move, but I still questioned myself as the sun continued to sink below the horizon. Did I get away with it? What if something saw me on the edge of the thicket? Suddenly, I was brought back to reality by a heavy walk and crunching leaves. I strained to see through the surrounding Russian olives, as I picked my bow up to the ready. The sound started angling to my left. Finally, his head appeared at 10 yards. I noticed a good frame, decent mass and a big split on his base. By the time I processed that it was a buck I wanted to shoot, I was at full draw. The buck was at 8 yards, perfectly broadside. I buried my top pin on his heart, exhaled and released. I watched my lighted nock disappear right behind his shoulder.

The buck whirled and ran back in the direction he came from, making it about 50 yards before piling up. I remember sitting down and actually exclaiming to myself, “Man, I’m glad I decided to move!” When my arrow connected with the buck, it was the last few minutes of shooting light. If I hadn’t moved, I would have likely never even seen the buck. The way he traversed the cottonwood draw, he would have ended up directly downwind and out of range of my original position.

Making decisions with confidence and conviction has been essential to my success and, more importantly, my growth as a bowhunter. Learning from experiences and using them to make better decisions for the future is a necessity for learning. Each of these decisions, big or small, play a role in success and failure in the woods. The best part is, I know I will learn from both.

I’m a firm believer in going with my gut. Regardless of how much deliberating I’ve done and how much information I have, they’re wild animals, and I’ll never be able to completely predict what their next move will be all the time. Honestly, if I could, what would be the point? Having the equipment and mental approach to move at a moment’s notice and adapt to any situation has helped me create more opportunities for myself than I ever thought possible.

Without risking a move, the author may have gone home from this hunt empty-handed. Instead, he took this mature buck with just a few minutes of shooting light left.
Without risking a move, the author may have gone home from this hunt empty-handed. Instead, he took this mature buck with just a few minutes of shooting light left.

Sidebar: Mobile Options

Lone Wolf Assault II and Sticks

The Assault stand and climbing stick combo from Lone Wolf have been some of my most cherished pieces of gear in my arsenal. With my style of mobile hunting, I need only one stand and one set of sticks for anything I do. They’re well made, durable and super quiet.

The stand weighs 11 pounds by itself and a four stick set weighs 10 pounds, providing a total weight of 21 pounds. It packs flat and the sticks can attach to the platform of the stand in multiple ways with some bungies and a little creativity.


Tethrd Mantis

Using a tree saddle system has exploded in popularity over the last few years for mobile hunters. A series of products new on the scene is the Tethrd Mantis System. Lightweight, versatile and functional for setting up on the fly, this new assortment of Tethrd products comes from years of product development and the desire to fill a void in the mobile hunting space. The Mantis saddle weighs 15 ounces and is available in a variety of kit options. They focused heavily on being lightweight, comfortable and easy to use for hunters of all experience levels. 


Camo on Your Back

It may sound over-simplified and silly, but the strategy of picking the right camo pattern or ghillie suit for the habitat you’re hunting and hitting the woods with no stand or blind is an incredible way to stay mobile while still being effective. It’s a minimalist strategy and does sacrifice the advantage of an elevated position, but it puts your woodsmanship to the test — to cover ground and hunt the most recent sign. Although challenging, utilizing a ground approach this way can be one of the best ways to ambush an unsuspecting buck. Whenever I set up on the ground, I try to find the right vegetation to blend into and break up my outline and well as any terrain features that will help funnel deer movement. It important for me to put sight advantage in my favor, so I try to limit the likelihood of being spotted or surprised before I have a chance to be ready. 



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