Sure, it’s fun to get away from it all and enjoy nature in a tree stand, but let’s be real. You’re there to harvest a deer. That’s pretty hard to do if you never see any, and as someone who’s had his share of hunts where I haven’t seen head nor whitetail, I can assure you it’s discouraging.
But I’m also someone who believes in personal responsibility, and if I’m not seeing any deer, well, then I’m probably doing something wrong. In my experience, these are the 10 main reasons you never see deer from your tree stand.
1. Bad Location Choice
The most likely reason you never see deer from your tree stand is that your tree stand isn’t where the deer go. Deer have routines just like you do, especially outside of the rut, and they move between feeding and bedding areas along paths of least resistance that become deer trails.
Consider setting up your tree stand on “edge habitats,” areas where two different landscapes meet. In particular, the tree line next to an open feeding area is a great place, especially if you can put yourself where you expect the deer to enter and exit the field.
2. Faulty Scent Control
No matter the type of hunting you’re doing, odor is the easiest way to spook deer because they smell so well—even better than dogs. You may think you’re covered, but the deer get a whiff of you from hundreds of yards away, and you never even see them.
Scent control requires serious diligence. You should wash your gear and your body with hunting-specific detergents that eliminate scents without adding any of their own. I then recommend storing your gear in a box full of pine needles, fallen leaves, and other brush for two or three days before you hunt.
3. Bad Timing
You may also be in your tree stand at the wrong times or getting into it at the wrong times. Deer usually go out to feed at night and return to their bedding areas when the sun starts to rise. You want to be waiting for them when they come by, and there soon enough that they don’t hear you hiking to your spot.
My go-to be-in-the-stand times are 30 minutes before sunrise and an hour before sunset. You can also consider a midday hunt, being in the stand at 11 o’clock.
4. Inadequate Camouflage
Deer have poor vision relative to humans. Since their eyes are on the sides of their head, they have bad depth perception, and they’re red-green colorblind. That doesn’t mean you can just throw all caution to the wind, though.
Unnatural patterns that break up the surrounding landscape are likely to spook deer and keep you from seeing them. For example, human writing on a shirt or the metal frame of a tree stand that’s not hidden (I’ll get more into this part in a minute).
5. Too Much Noise
We’ve covered sight and smell, but deer can easily notice you with their ears as well. They can hear you climbing up into your tree stand, and then you’ll sit all morning without seeing a single one.
While much of noise control comes down to personal discipline, there are some things you can do, particularly when you’re hiking to your hunting spot. For instance, I like to vary my steps so there isn’t a noticeable rhythmic thumping. Of course, I tread lightly as well and try to avoid stepping on dry leaves and twigs.
6. Unnatural Tree Stand Setup
If the deer get spooked because of something they see, it’s probably you moving. However, if you set up your tree stand unnaturally, the straight lines made from metal and plastic may stand out in the woods, especially if you’re in an environment where the deer don’t regularly come across manmade structures.
A lot of tree-stand manufacturers address this these days, and your tree stand is less likely than you are to spook a deer. Nonetheless, I still like to go the extra mile and try to camouflage my stand. You don’t want to cover up your line of sight for shooting, but you can try to cover the bottom of the stand and metal parts with leaves and foliage. You can even stick some branches into the stand itself.
7. Setting Up Upwind
A tree stand can help disguise your scent, but you still have to pay attention to it and set up your stand downwind of where you expect the deer to be. In fact, if you set up upwind, the higher elevation, though causing your scent particles to disperse more, can also help them travel farther. If your scent is strong enough, this could warn deer to your position, and you won’t even see them come near.
8. No Plan or Scouting
If you go into the woods without any idea of where you’re going, chances are low you’re going to see any deer. I already talked about the importance of setting up along deer trails where you know game will move, but you have to know where these places are.
Trail cams are the easiest solution, but this may not be an option on public land. However, you can still review maps and see where food plots and tree cover meet, as well as the paths through the elevation that deer are most likely to take. You can even visit the area, though I recommend doing this before the hunting season begins.
9. Overhunting a Spot
Deer aren’t the smartest animals in the world, but they’re not the dumbest either. Even if you have the best-researched, prime tree-stand location, if you’re there every day, deer are going to pick up on it and change their behavior. I personally alternate between two or three spots and try to leave a week before reusing the same spot.
10. Calling and Lure Mistakes
Even though stand hunting involves a considerable amount of waiting and wishing, you can take action, and you may not be seeing any deer because you’re not doing all you could be. Make sure you’ve studied up on your calling and luring strategy and calibrated it to the part of the season. For example, social calls are better in the early season, and you should save your grunts, doe estrus, and rattling antlers for the rut.
In tree stand hunting, successfully spotting deer hinges on various factors.
Bad stand location can put you out of deer’s routine paths, making sightings rare. Faulty scent control, inadequate camouflage, and noise can alert deer to your presence. Timing plays a role, with sunrise and sunset being pivotal times.
Moreover, an unnatural tree stand setup, placing your stand upwind, and overhunting a spot can deter deer. Also, neglecting proper scouting, not having a plan, and making lure or calling mistakes can reduce success. A strategic approach is crucial for fruitful hunts.
I hope this article has been helpful. Happy hunting!
For more, check out How to Bowhunt From a Tree Stand | All You Need to Know.
Christian grew up in the Ozarks where he spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ homestead learning about guns, hunting, and the great outdoors.
An avid traditional bowhunter, much of his writing covers this and other similar topics, but he also covers just about everything from history and economics to motorcycles.
See more of his work at ChristianMonson.com.