You wait, holding your breath, while an elusive, 12-point buck comes into view through the branches. When he’s in perfect position, you ready yourself in your stand. Then you slowly, steadily draw your bowstring… And fire!
Only to watch as the arrow ricochets harmlessly off of a branch about 5 yards in front of the buck. Your prize tumbles off into the woods, never to be seen again.
Don’t worry, it’s happened to even the most seasoned hunting pro. Your best defense against this situation is to cut shooting lanes around your stand.
Benefits of Trimming Lanes
As the hunter, you’re at an evolutionary disadvantage to your prey. Deer can see, hear, and smell better than you can. Plus, they’re really fast. You’ll need every advantage to outsmart the deer.
It’s difficult to spot a deer in thick brush because of their coloring. In many areas, prime hunting time is just after sunrise or just before dusk. This means you’ll be looking for the deer when it’s darker and through more shadows. Opening up lanes gives you a chance to see the deer sooner, which gives you a few more moments to set up your shot.
When you do shoot, you want your arrow or bullet to actually reach the deer. The branches might look thin, but even a slight graze with a tree limb can send your shot way off target.
Of course, this is more important when you’re bow hunting. A bullet has a better chance at getting through dense brush, but even bullets aren’t immune to going off course because of hitting a stray branch.
Tips for Trimming Successful Lanes
Every property is different, so you’ll have to do some research on the best ways to clear lanes in your area. Know what kind of trees and brush you’ll encounter while you trim. And if you don’t own the land, always get permission to trim lanes before you start.
If you hunt on public land, you probably won’t be able to clear lanes like you would on private land. But there are still some things you can do to ensure you’re set up for success. Here are some of our best tips for trimming successful hunting lanes.
Locate the Best Spot for Your Stand
Your first goal is to find the best spot for your deer stand. You want to scout your spot well in advance of the hunt. This applies to ground stands and tree stands.
When placing a tree stand, you’ll want to find a tree that’s straight and has as few branches as possible. This makes it easier to get the stand up into the tree.
A good location for your ground stand offers plenty of cover but still gives you the opportunity to clear out areas to shoot. You want a solid backdrop for a ground stand so that the deer can’t distinguish it from the surrounding trees.
Look around for signs that the deer have been in the area. This includes footprints and antler rubs. Also, it helps to put your stand in an area that’s close to food and water sources that deer might gravitate toward.
Place the stand in the spot with the fewest obstructions. Although you plan to clear lanes, you don’t want to have to do a bunch of unnecessary work. Choose the path of least resistance.
In an ideal situation, you’ll clear out two or three good lanes to cover the three fields of vision from your stand.
Bring the Right Tools
Your primary tool for this job is a small hand saw. A long, pruning pole is a good tool to have too. These tools let you cut reasonably sized limbs without making too much noise, which is essential if you’re cutting lanes the day of the hunt.
If you’re in an area with smaller trees, a small pair of pruning snips might be all you need to get the job done. And if you’re in an area with tall grass, you can use a battery-powered weed whipper. But only use this early in the season, before you plan to hunt.
You don’t want to make lots of noise if you’re cutting the lanes the same day, or even a week before your hunt. It’s also best to avoid gas-powered devices like chainsaws. The gas scent takes a long time to go away and deer won’t come near it. If you need a chainsaw, opt for a smaller, battery-powered saw.
Another great piece of equipment for finding good hunting lanes is a game camera. Gander Outdoors has a large variety of cameras and all the accessories you need, like mounts, SD cards, and radios.
If you have plenty of time, position a game camera in several areas of your land. This lets you see how the deer behave in those areas. Then you’ll make a more informed decision about where to place your stand and cut shooting lanes.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Before you choose your spot, keep in mind that you’re planning to alter the area. Be mindful of how much you’ll need to clear to make it a good hunting spot. And if it requires too much clearing, consider moving on to another spot.
You want to make as little impact as possible, yet still be able to view the shooting area. Check the rules in your area. Some counties and states don’t allow you to cut certain species of plants.
You can trim directly from the stand using your long pruning pole, but do so with safety in mind. Always wear a safety harness any time you’re in the stand, even if you don’t plan to hunt that day.
Also, clearing too much brush may backfire on you. If a deer can see your stand through the shooting lane, then you’ve probably cleared too much.
Always remember to clear away what you’ve cut. Piles of broken branches are more likely to scare a deer off. And if you cut small saplings, cut them close to the ground and cover them with dirt so that deer don’t spot them.
Bring a Buddy
It’s best to clear your lanes with the help of a buddy. One person sits in the stand or blind and directs the other where to cut. This helps prevent over-clearing.
Because we stand taller than a deer, we tend to make cuts based on our eye level. If you’re cutting from the ground with no other reference to the stand, you’ll end up cutting areas that you didn’t need to cut.
But when one person sits in the stand, they have the best vantage point. You may suggest cutting a certain branch, and your stand partner might point out that cutting that branch does nothing for the shooting lane.
Plus, using a partner keeps you from having to make multiple trips in and out of the stand. And it’s a good safety precaution to have someone else there to assist in case you get in trouble while cutting from the stand.
How do you trim your shooting lanes? Leave your tips and tricks in the comments below. We love to hear your feedback! Also, visit one of our many Gander Outdoors locations to talk to an expert about the best hunting gear for your set up.