When hunting for big game out West, especially with a bow, we often think about chasing herds of elk from ridge to ridge or the hours it takes glassing up mule deer bucks. It is easy to think about hiking, sitting and hiking some more and come to the conclusion that the only way to hunt a bull or buck is to be constantly on the move; however, this would be incorrect. Every year, there are many bucks and bulls killed from treestands and blinds and hunting this way can be a very successful strategy for your next western hunt. Typically, the first question most people ask when I talk about treestands or blinds out West is, “Why?” Afterall, if you are going to haul any extra weight into the backcountry, it is important that it has a purpose. The answer to this question is because treestands and blinds can help mask the three major senses that most deer and elk use to bust us hunters. These senses are their sight, hearing and smell. Here are some ways that a stationary hunting strategy, such as a treestand or blind, can help mitigate your chance at getting busted by a deer or elk and thier keen sense of sight, hearing and smell next fall.
It is easy to get picked out by an elk or deer as we walk across an open side hill or try to still hunt them through timber. Elk and mule deer have pretty good eyesight, though, it is not their best sense. They have eyes on the side of their heads that allow them to see greater than 180 degrees and detect motion. If they do get close enough to you with a bow, you need to be able to pull back the string without putting an elk or deer on alert. At close distance, a treestand or blind may just be the ticket to allowing you to do so. This is because elk do not look up for danger because most, if not all, of their natural predators, use ground assaults. They are constantly scanning their surroundings for something that seems off like a hunter, wolf, bear or mountain lion. It would make sense that a blind or treestand positioned on a watering hole, wallow or heavily used game trail may allow you to stay hidden long enough to make your shot.
Both elk and mule deer have good sized ears that allow them to hear very well at long distances. It is common to see a bedded buck or bull twitching their ears in an attempt to hear danger from a long ways out in different directions. This creates a problem for us hunters who often use spot and stalk techniques on bedded bucks and bulls. Even the slightest mistake at 200 yards can put them on high alert or cause them to stand up and head the other way. A treestand or blind can allow us to be in position and quietly wait for a deer or elk to walk by us. This silent waiting will also allow us to listen for them to come our way in order to be ready for the shot.
The most successful sense that a elk or mule deer has to keep them away from danger is their sense of smell. I have often heard it said that “You can fool their eyes and their ears, but you will never fool their noses.”A correctly positioned treestand upwind of a water source, wallow, trail, pinch point or meadow will allow your scent to move away from the place you expect to see the buck or bull come in from. There is an added benefit to a treestand in regards to scent. With a strong headwind or afternoon thermals, a treestand will put your scent pattern above the animal’s head — even if they are slightly upwind. This will give you less of a chance to be busted. A blind often traps some of your scent and keeps it from moving upwind, which also can help. Overall, scent elimination out West is impossible since we are hiking, sweating, carrying a pack and covered in different scents. The best thing we can do is find ways to control where our scent goes and a blind or treestand can definitely help do this.
Not every situation or place is perfect for a treestand or blind; however, I love to have it in my playbook. If you come up to a wallow that is torn up a few miles from a trailhead, a treestand or blind can make you more successful and get your shot. If you find a natural pinch point that creates a funnel between two drainages or a tight saddle out in the open, a blind might allow you to shoot 360 degrees and contain a lot of your scent. Any time we can think outside the box and find places to hunt stationary may allow you the much needed rest on your legs. It might also give you a chance at a mature bull or buck that otherwise you may not have had a shot at. A blind can also give you a break from the brutal wind, rain or snow that often makes it hard to get out of the tent. Next year, when you pack your hunting rig, throw in your blind or treestand just to have another option.