The old moose stand didn't look like much—a triangular platform constructed of weathered boards nailed to three aspen trees. But as I reclined behind the 4-foot burlap barrier stretched in front of me, I marveled at how perfect the setup really was.
True, I had no stool or chair to sit on, but I did have a foam pad for my posterior and a tree trunk to lean against as I read my book. My bow hung within easy reach, arrow nocked and ready, and my quiver was also close to provide a quick backup shot.
It was late May and I was bowhunting black bears—not moose.
Twenty-two yards away and steeply downhill, a bait barrel stood at the edge of a logging clear-cut. The site was tattooed by 6-inch bear tracks, indicating a large, old male. As the New Brunswick sun dipped lower, I found myself reading less and watching more intently through the loosely woven fabric. I had that special feeling in my bones.
Perfect bow stands vary as much as terrain, foliage, type of critter hunted and the imagination of the bowhunters who set them up. What makes a stand perfect is one simple thing—your ability to get a clean, accurate shot at the animal you desire.
Here are six essential steps to achieving this result.
STEP 1: KEY ON ANIMAL ACTIVITY
Consider my spring bear stand as an example. The first necessity of a perfect stand was certainly met because the bait barrel was inside solid bow range with lots of bear sign around. This was easy. My guide and I simply dragged the barrel 40 yards closer to the existing platform with certain knowledge that the bears would instantly adjust.
When hunting most big game species, you cannot so easily control animal movement. You must scout for trails and tracks, or actually observe critters on the move. Many archers set up treestands or ground blinds without finding concentrations of sign or actual game activity to key on. These hunters end up waiting for the remote chance that an animal will appear.
For best stand-hunting results on game like deer, elk, pronghorns and bears, you must scout hard and set up near high-use animal areas.
Baited bears are easiest, and pronghorns at waterholes are almost as surefire. Less predictable species like elk and whitetails require more scouting time and stand-placement planning.
You are better off hunting fewer days in a well-placed stand than quickly erecting an ambush in a mediocre spot. Scout thoroughly and be sure that you get Step No. 1 right.
STEP 2: KNOW THE WIND
Animals have incredibly keen noses. Modern activated-carbon suits, scent-eliminating sprays and cover scents can certainly help when vagrant breezes shift. But prevailing winds must be in your favor to completely fool game. Always monitor wind direction and set up downwind from where the animals are likely to be.
As I reclined on my New Brunswick bear platform, I considered the fine job that my guide had done playing the wind. The evening breeze was blowing strongly in my face from the southeast, exactly the way that he said it would. Unless a bear walked directly downhill behind me, it could not smell me.
STEP 3: PLAN YOUR APPROACH
A perfect stand can be approached without much possibility of scaring game. Animals like white-tailed deer and black bears are often within earshot of feeding, watering or rutting zones suitable for a stand.
Such critters can also smell human scent left on tall grass or thick brush where you must walk. Be sure to choose stand sites with quiet, low-scent access from the downwind side. I always avoid otherwise appealing ambush points that require me to walk over crunchy ground or wade through thick foliage. A stealthy approach to stands is essential.
Well before a hunt, you can certainly clear a trail to a superior site ensuring easy stand access. Wear all-rubber boots to keep human foot-scent down and spray your lower body with Carbon Blast or another scent-destroying mist to reduce the risk of leaving body odor on shrubs or grass.
My bear stand was easy because a naked logging trail ran directly from a road to the platform. No muss, no fuss.
STEP 4: CONTROL SHOOTING DISTANCES
Only you can determine how far you are deadly with a bow. You should not shoot at game beyond the range that you can place all your arrows in a circle 75 percent as large as the critter's vital area. In other words, if you can shoot 6-inch broadhead groups at 30 yards, you can feel confident shooting at a whitetail's 8-inch chest at 30 yards.
Beyond 30, there's too much room for error.
You should select treestand trees or ground blind locations with your personal sure-kill distances specifically in mind. It makes no sense to erect a portable stand 10 yards too far from an active deer trail, or to quickly erect a ground blind close to one end of a pronghorn watering hole, when the other end is too far away.
It is also possible to set up too close for best results. In my experience, animals at point-blank range are often more intimately threatened by small noises or the thud of your bow. You should resist the temptation to create a "chip shot" at game because being greedy about shooting distance can backfire as you try to draw your bow.
Place stands at moderate distances from likely animal activity—say 15 to 30 yards.
STEP 5: SEE, HIDE AND DRAW UNDETECTED
One thing that I liked most about my 2001 bear platform was my ability to see the bait without being seen. I could lounge behind camo burlap and peer through with full knowledge that I was invisible to critters at the barrel. I knew that I could also roll to my knees, draw my bow and aim over the fabric with added cover from a leafy aspen tree.
Every perfect stand site lets you see, hide and draw unseen.
You must be able to spot approaching game without moving much, yet be well-hidden from animal eyes. In a treestand, this means tucking yourself in a screening pocket of limbs and leaves that you can see beyond with ease. In a ground blind, this means hiding behind a solid wall of shrubbery, camo netting or dirt with a shooting port or window to peek through.
When the time comes to shoot, you must be able to draw and aim without telegraphing movement to your target. In a tree, this means drawing behind cover and waiting for the animal to move into a shooting lane or drawing when the animal is behind cover. On the ground, you must usually draw behind a natural or fabric barrier, then lean to one side just far enough to sneak your arrow through a shooting window or hole.
When using fully enclosed commercial blinds like the fine models from Double Bull, it is sometimes dark enough inside on a sunny day to draw directly in front of a shooting port. Don't try this when it's overcast, because the contrast between outside and inside light might not be dramatic enough to hide your move.
STEP 6: CONSIDER THE COMFORT FACTOR
Waits on stands can be long. Use a folding stool, foam pad and whatever else you need to be comfortable and relaxed. Sit or recline—don't stand non-stop. Trim necessary limbs around a treestand so that you can comfortably lean back. A perfect stand setup gets the game.
Just after sundown during my first day at the "moose platform," a large black blob materialized from cover to my left, lumbered to the bait and dropped his head to feed. I rolled to my knees, drew my bow and slowly swung my bowsight on target.
Seconds later, the 2317 Super Slam arrow smashed the bear's chest with a telltale liquid thump. The big bruin roared, galloped 25 paces and collapsed like a furry sack of oats. He later weighed 355 pounds and the skull green-scored 1911/16 ... one of my largest black bears with a bow. It was another bowhunt that proved how effective stand-hunting can be.
But it also served as a reminder that this tactic works best if you do everything right, step by step.