By Joe Shead
Bowhunters are becoming more mobile. Their traditional approach the past 50 years was to set up stands at funnels, over food plots, or along other food sources, and hunt those sites day in and day out, given favorable winds.
But deer, especially mature bucks, are wary. They quickly learn stand locations and avoid them altogether, or pass nearby only in darkness. Savvy bowhunters adapt by slipping into the woods and setting up with ninja-like precision. It’s more difficult for deer to bust you when you sit in a tree you’ve never hunted before.
The ideal mobile hunt is a short scouting mission and a new setup you hunt the same day. Same-day scouting provides real-time info on hot deer activity that day, not last week.
To have any hope of arrowing a deer the same day you scout the woods, you need to scout cautiously. Minimize noise and step up your scent-control regimen to avoid stinking up the woods. Scouting in light rain is a great solution. Wet vegetation quiets footsteps and rain washes away your scent. If the rain lets up before you hunt, so much the better. It won’t wash away a potential blood trail. You can’t always wait for rain, of course, so keep your clothing and gear as scent-free as possible, and walk slowly to avoid perspiring.
When you find hot sign and a good ambush site, it’s time to set up. You’ll want a portable, lightweight stand. Tree saddles are getting lots of buzz because they’re extremely lightweight. They’re great for mobile hunting, but they aren’t for everyone. Climbing stands also work well, but require a straight tree with no limbs. Such trees don’t always grow in the right place.
Lightweight hang-on stands are good options. Use climbing sticks to quickly and quietly set up. Sticks that nestle together tightly stay quiet and don’t scare every deer in the county. Hang-on stands don’t require arrow-straight trees, and they tuck in between branches, which makes them more adaptable than climbers. If you’d rather stay on the ground, pop-up blinds are a good option. These lightweight blinds are easy to carry and offer great concealment.
Gear you pack for mobile hunting might require sacrificing creature comforts to stay light and flexible. You might need to forgo your warm, bulky parka or a few “just in case” items. You’ll also need to choose gear strategically. That means bringing compact binoculars instead of full-size models, or compact synthetic rattling calls instead of real antlers.
Bring just the basics. You’ll need your knife, food, drink, release, bow and arrows, wind indicator, range-finder, various calls, GPS/compass, tags/permits, flagging tape, limb saw, treestand and safety harness. Make sure each item earns its keep. If it doesn’t fit easily into a small backpack, it’s too much.
To be truly mobile, you could go Western. That means rarely hunting from trees. Instead, Western hunters typically call their quarry or spot and stalk it. Those techniques automatically cut the weight of your treestand and your safety harness, which is your heaviest gear. Spot-and-stalk hunting isn’t ideal for every scenario, but it can work when you spot a buck bedded in CRP grass or corralling a hot doe.
It’s a hard truth that old, familiar stands often grow stagnant. Deer just get wise to them over time. Scouting for fresh, hot sign and crafting quick plans keeps deer guessing. You won’t have years of experience to remind you when and where deer pass your stand, but you might get the satisfaction of seeing a plan come together quickly as you surprise a mature buck. Few moments in bowhunting are more satisfying.