"Dad, I'm stuck," whimpered a voice from below my treestand. "I need help getting down."
I looked down and could see that my 3-year-old daughter Katelyn was in no immediate danger, but she certainly had gotten herself into a predicament during this humid August day. We were on a family outing and my mission was to prepare several treestand sites well before the hunting season.
Katelyn, eyeing her dad and ready for an adventure, had scampered up a deadfall. Even though she was barely 3 feet off the ground, the newfound height combined with her Barbie sneakers twisted in gnarled limbs, brought on a sudden panic attack. I suspect she was trying to imitate her dangling dad, who was 20 feet above her fastening a Summit treestand onto an ancient cottonwood.
"It'll be all right, honey," I reassured her as I shimmied down the tree. After saving her from the clutches of her imagined danger, I set her firmly back on the ground with detailed instructions on how to avoid a similar problem in the future.
For me, placing treestands during the summer has become a family affair. My hunting property sees daily summer activity, with ranching and haying chores regularly disrupting whitetails. For years I've been taking advantage of the activity to get treestands up, knowing the local whitetails can't tell my kids and me apart from a local farmer out mending fences.
Most deer, with the exception of wilderness bucks, see a lot of humans during the summer, and your presence in the woods will soon be forgotten. Even a disrupted wilderness buck has time to forget about a summer intrusion and will return to his daily pattern well before the hunting season.
UNRAVELING A PATTERN
By August in much of North America, whitetails have bonded with any new travel routes and are firmly established in a home-based environment. Crops are maturing, deer are visiting water sources regularly and their bedding areas are shrouded in the thickest cover of the season.
In short, life is good and a deer's routine pattern reflects its lackadaisical nature. Hence, summer is a great time to pinpoint traditional trails and travel patterns the deer will continue to use well into the hunting season and beyond.
You might think the thick brush would prevent the location of trails and sign. Not so. In low-density areas it might be tough to pinpoint lightly used trails, but summer moisture combined with high-density travel to lush feeding fields can quickly reveal a well-used trail.
Look for muddy tracks, matted grass and broken limbs along field edges. Next, follow these signs back into cover for a total view of a whitetail's established pattern.
If you annually scout throughout the summer, you'll find deer often use the same trails year after year, and only vary their use depending on which food and cover offers the best options during a particular season.
With the summer forest in full foliage, you can clearly see the amount of trimming that needs to be undertaken for the cleanest shooting lanes and best stand cover. Besides clearing shooting lanes and adding or subtracting backdrop (brush and leaves) to a treestand location, I enjoy re-directing the deer past my stand with the assistance of a machete.
Like most hunters, deer like to take the path of least resistance, so it's a good idea to make these walkways available to them. Using a machete and old-fashioned muscle, I make sure the paths past my stand provide no-hassle travel routes.
Do they work? You bet. During the 2002 hunting season, I arrowed a heavy-antlered 5x6 Pope and Young Club-class whitetail that was using one of these man-made paths. In fact, he was my second buck in 2 years from the same treestand. The site sported two manipulated travel routes machete-cleared of brush and debris.
For rutting convenience, I also installed several mock scrapes that got their start in the heart of the summer. During the progression of the rut, I simply added Wildlife Research Center's Active Scrape scent to spark the scrapes to life. My bow-killed buck not only used the manipulated travel route, but he also visited a mock scrape. I arrowed him at 12 yards.
CHECK YOUR CALENDAR
Time is the greatest factor as to why I prepare my treestand sites during the summer. I just don't have time to do it during the fall.
Once the leaves change color, I'm hunting. And when I'm not hunting, I'm catching up on family and work. Even if I don't hang a stand in a particular area due to the threat of theft, I can still have most of the preparation finished to hasten an autumn hunt. Hanging stands is easy if you don't have to scout or trim shooting lanes.
Matt Morrett, a Hunter's Specialties pro-staff member, knows the benefits of summer stand preparation. His fall is spent on nonstop trips across the country with cameramen to capture hunts on video.
"Like most hunters, finding time to get out and prepare stand sites can be difficult and you sure don't want to be wasting valuable hunting time doing it," Morrett said. "I do most of my treestand preparation during June and July, when I'm not on the road hunting or giving seminars. At a minimum, I trim trees for stand placement and cut shooting lanes. Even if I don't actually hang the stand during the summer, the location is ready to go when I return for a November hunt."
Don't live by the old adage "the lazy days of summer." Toiling a few hours in the summer heat might be your ticket to a hot autumn whitetail hunt. You might even get to rescue a damsel in distress.