When do you access your treestand in the morning? Are you a 2 hour before daybreak kind of hunter? What about right at the last minute...or even, later after mis-setting the alarm? Would you believe there is a place for the timing of each one of those early morning access practices? There is no "right" answer as to exactly when to access a stand location, and you may find that by defining exactly when to access a stand, you can actually use more stands to hunt during the morning hours!
Make sure that before you ever step foot into the woods for a morning rut hunt, you take the time to read these two important articles:
Why hunt during the morning hours? Because when the conditions are cold during the whitetail rut, mature bucks move, and they often move all morning long! Mature bucks move much longer during the morning hours than the afternoon hours, and that is backed both by scientific research as well as my own personal camera or hunting observations. When daytime highs are predicted to be into the mid-50s, the morning hours often begin in the high 20s to mid-30s, and when that's the case, the morning temperatures often struggle to make it out of the 30s by noon. However, after the noon hours the mercury climbs as fast as the buck movement shuts down. Between 3pm and 4pm the temperatures hit their daily prediction and often fall very little by dark. What does this mean for you? It means you have several times more quality hours to hunt during a frost morning rut hunt, than after the lunchtime hours.
It pays to define exactly when to access your stands during the morning hours, so here is my whitetail rut morning treestand access guide that you can set your watch to!
The Early Riser
Should you access your stand at a set, pre-determined magical number on the face of a clock every single time you enter the woods-absolutely not! In fact, it can really hurt your efforts in the long run. "2 hours" get's tossed around a lot, and "an hour before light" is a common practice as well. Let me ask you this, "When you are in your stand prior to daylight, what is downwind of you?" There is always wind, your scent is always settling and collecting somewhere, and before the temperatures rise after the daylight brings increasing temperatures-your scent settles down, and below your tree. Adding any slight breeze can saturate an area downwind of your stand locations like an enveloping fog of danger (to a deer, of course). Entering a stand location early brings risk, because areas that you may never see a deer use during daylight, will readily travel through prior to daylight. Whether you arrive at a stand location an hour before light or even two, there is always a case to be made for early morning access, but not just not every time-so procede with caution!
I love to access a stand early while soaking in the sites, sounds and smells of a moon-dormant woods that eventually explodes to produce some of the most abundant whitetail magic all season long! But I do not access a stand extremely early, if my downwind scent is not captured in some manner within in a deer-less area before daylight. Bedding area sits, and deep woods cruising corridor sits can feature the perfect locations for a morning access, but if I run the risk of spooking a deer during the 1-2 hours prior to daylight, I wait a bit longer. Open water, rocky habitat and extremely steep terrain are just 3 examples of locations to capture your scent prior to sun-up, but anytime I climb into a stand early I make sure that my hunt is not over before I can't even see a deer.
Just In Time
As the seasons pass, the more I have moved away from entering a stand location extremely early because there are just too many more strategic options. Accessing a stand just before daybreak has it's benifits, but mostly that you can time your entry with both the rising thermal patterns and expected shooting opportunities. Cruising bucks often pass through a stand-location window within a minute or less. Entering a stand location at any hour can lead you into that "minute or less" movement, but it doesn't happen very often. And that's why, I don't mind entering a stand location just prior to shooting hours! The odds of spooking a mature buck prior to daylight are as equally low as the number of minutes left before you can legally fire an arrow. Also, depending on the stand location, the risk level for running into a cruising buck is still the same whether you access extremely early, or late.
Remove bedding area sits and deep-woods cruising corridors are the perfect places to find your stand early if their are favorable pre-dawn scent conditions, but I have any other stands that require different access strategies. My favorite "Just In Time" stand locations are easily accessed cruising corridor funnels and pinch-points that allow me to slip-in with minimal effort through favorable, deer-less habitat. Open cow pastures, mature leaf-less hardwoods and knee-boot required water crossings can all allow you to slip into a cruising corridor quickly, quietly and without spooking any deer. Although each of those areas could hold a passing deer or two prior to daylight, the odds are less likely during shooting hours. When is a waiting until right before shooting hours appropriate? When your risk for spooking deer before daylight, outweighs the risk of entering a stand just before the sun comes up.
This is one of my favorite morning access times. Did you have a little too much fun at camp last night, forget to set your alarm or have to wait for your hunting buddy who is notoriously late? This morning access is just for you! This can also be your most strategic method of morning rut hunting in your arsenal. During the last couple of years I watched a hunting show where the guys were just drooling to hunt a woodline on the backside of a giant corn field. They felt they couldn't access the stand location for fear of spooking deer prior to daylight, that were feeding in the picked corn. I really wanted to jump into the TV, and help them out! I couldn't believe that these hunters wouldn't even talk about or consider entering the stand site across the corn, after the deer had already cleared the fields. This would have offered them the perfect opportunity to sit in what they felt was their best stand, all-day long. And when they left at night, they could have just simply slipped well around the corn field through bedding areas that had been vacated by deer that were dependably feeding in their evening food source. A post daylight stand entrance may offer some of the most non-invasive morning hunts during the entire whiteail rut!
If you have to cross a food source to get to a stand, waiting until after daylight to do so may offer you the perfect approach. Crusing corridors that parallel food sources can provide some outstanding hunting during the rut as bucks aggressively search for receptive does that may have traveled into or out of the food source. Do you have a waterhole located along a woodline? A 2009 access on a great waterhole provided me with nearly a dozen buck sightings from about 8 am to 1pm. I waited until deer had left the fields from my vantage point a 1/2 mile away, and then went in for the sit, while letting my scent blow safely into those same fields all morning long. When I felt the risk was high that deer would begin to feed within the fields during the afternoon hours, I moved to a more appropriate evening set-up. While accessing a stand location post-daylight, you can safely use stand locations while both avoiding pre-dawn feeding deer, as well as allowing your scent to blow into areas during the daytime that are literally full of deer during the hours of sunrise and sunset.
When is the perfect time to enter a stand location? That is a question I am asked often, and I can most definitely tell you that there is no one, right answer. In fact if a hunter were to subscribe to only one right answer for all conditions, they would remove a large portion of morning treestand access strategies that they could rely on to bring them consistent success. I have a passion for frosty morning rut hunts and if picking the day to hunt is the easy part, exactly when to access a stand is the hard part. I hope that you can use these 3 tips from this whitetail rut morning treestand access guide, to help you to define when to use which of your stand locations this season, at which time!