Take Time to Plan Your Approach

By Bob Humphrey

 I’m meticulous about the way I hunt, particularly the stands I hunt from, leaving as little as possible to chance. That’s partly why I ask so many questions when on a guided hunt. I’m sure I’ve annoyed my fair share of guides and even offended a few. But I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the most emphatically ugly; and until I spend a little time with the guy, I don’t know which category he falls into.

“We’ve seen some good bucks in this field,” my Illinois guide said in the darkness of his truck cab on the first day of my hunt. The stand he’d described on the ride sounded like a winner. It was in the woods, just off the corner of a cut bean field. From it, I could cover the back corner of the field above as well as a wooded pinch point below. Now I just had to get there. “Just stay on this two-track till you come to the field,” he said. “Your stand is down on the left side, but don’t walk along the edge. Walk down the middle of the field,” he continued. “The deer like to bed down in that bottom, and you might jump them.” Seemed logical. “When you get to the end, turn left and follow that edge to the corner. Your stand is right there,” he said. OK, I could figure that out. Off I went on foot, turning back only once to glimpse his taillights fading into the distance. It all seemed to make sense, until I made the last turn and found the field. If there were any deer in the bedding area, walking down the middle of the field would reduce the chances of them seeing or hearing me. But the wind would be blowing directly from me to them during the entire length of my walk, ensuring I would clear the hollow. Under different circumstances I would have switched to a Plan B. That wasn’t going to happen, because I’d never stepped foot on this property before, so I didn’t have a Plan B to switch to. I wasn’t expecting to see much that morning, and I didn’t.

Getting There

 Deer hunters spend so much effort finding the right location, but they sometimes overlook how they’ll get there when it comes time to hunt, which can be just as important. We’re taught at a very young age that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But a direct approach is not always best when hunting wily whitetails. It might take a little more time and effort, but the route that causes the least disturbance is often the path best traveled. It might seem easier to approach a food plot stand than a stand in the woods, and in some ways it is. That also makes it easier to get lax and make mistakes. You should plan your approach in much the same way you planned your plot layout, by first gathering information on habitat and topography and how they influence deer movement. If you did a thorough job on your initial layout, you already have most of that. Then move from the extensive to the intensive, looking at details of how and when is best to approach.


For the most part, you’ll be hunting food plots in the afternoon. Morning food plot hunts for me, tend to be a low percentage proposition. Deer are most active just about the same time you’re headed to your stand. If they’re already on the plot, you’ll spook them going in. By the time things settle down, so has most of the morning activity. But you don’t have to be on a food plot to hunt it. Set a stand back in the woods on a trail deer use when leaving the plot. That way, you can slip in the back way without disturbing deer on the field. It will also be a good spot during the rut if you’re after a mature buck. There’s another option, if you really want to go to extremes. Consider that we go to our afternoon stands sometimes two or three hours ahead of when we expect to see deer. Granted, something might saunter by earlier and offer a shot, but most shot opportunities occur within the last 30 to 45 minutes of daylight. Why not go to your morning stand two or three hours early? It might not be much fun in a lock-on, but you could slip in to a shooting house, catch a couple of hours of sleep and then be right where you need to be when you need to be, with minimal disturbance.

Against the Wind

You almost certainly factored wind direction into your stand location, so why would you ignore it when considering approach? My Illinois hunt in the opening passage was a prime example of how a bad approach can ruin a good stand. I contend that wind direction is even more important to approach than location, because you’re covering more ground and have the potential to disturb far more deer. Bumping deer on the way in is also more likely to have a domino effect, where one fleeing or snorting deer alarms others, putting them on edge or sending them on their way. During most circumstances, it’s best if you can approach with the wind in your face. As you have to consider other factors, that’s not always possible. If you can’t, at least use a quartering wind, or one that will blow in a direction where it will disturb the fewest deer. Sometimes you have no choice. Most hunters have heard the old adage, “Never hunt a stand when the wind is wrong.” That also applies to approach. There might be some stands you could hunt if you could get there, but the wind is wrong for the approach. Wait until it’s right.

Take the Highway

No matter how conscientious you are about scent control, you will always leave some trace where you tread. That’s why it’s often better to travel existing roads, two tracks or ATV trails to the greatest extent possible. Deer are more accustomed to disturbance and human odor on and around them. During most circumstances, and especially when hunting alone, you should park your vehicle a considerable distance away from your stand and walk the remainder. Vehicles are noisy and smelly. In addition to petroleum odors such as gas and oil, there’s the sulfurous stench of a catalytic converter as well as anything you might have in the back of an open-bed truck. Then there are opening and closing doors, and on a cold morning, that annoying “tick-tick” as the metal contracts. Eventually, you might have to get off the road. If a quiet, unobstructed approach doesn’t exist, make one by cutting and clearing brush. It can also function as a shooting lane. Beware though that deer may find your trails easier to use too, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Easy Rider

For every rule, there are exceptions, and this is particularly true of approach. Deer react differently to motor vehicles under various circumstances. I’ve seen them bolt at the first drone of a distant four wheeler, and I’ve seen them stand in a food plot and watch a truck roll by. The difference, in most cases, is what they’re accustomed to. Although it’s usually better to walk at least some of the distance to your stand, there are circumstances when riding as close as you can is a better option. This is particularly true where deer are accustomed to regular vehicle traffic. Obviously, this only applies when someone else is dropping you off. And the more frequent and regular the traffic, the more this works in your favor. If you suddenly go from weekly trips to check or fill the feeders to daily hunter drop-offs and pickups, it will have a much greater negative effect on deer movement. If you’re hunting alone, you might still be able to ride much closer, and this is one area where electric ATVs really excel.

Sneaky Feelings

OK, so we’ve covered the extensive aspects of approach. You’ve looked at the landscape, studied deer movement and planned the proper route and the best time to approach. You’re still not done. We’ve got one more area to cover — one where people often mess up. You put your stand in a particular place for a reason: Deer like it there. Just because they’re not standing out in the plot doesn’t mean you can tromp right in. Chances are very good the deer are lying somewhere nearby. This applies to any stand, but is especially true of food plots. Approach with this in mind and you’ll scare off fewer deer. You could even get an unexpected shot opportunity. Convince yourself there is a deer bedded nearby. Then load up and approach with that in mind. Just don’t forget to unload before you ascend to your stand. The above applies mostly to an afternoon hunt. The best route for a morning approach — besides sneaking in the back way — might be right down the middle of the plot. You’re going to spook any deer already in the plot no matter how you approach. And those back in the woods won’t see you in the dark. More important, you won’t be leaving any trace of human scent along the edge. This is critical as deer will often stop along the edge before venturing out into the open.


You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be a successful deer hunter. Much of planning your approach — as with most of deer hunting — comes down to common sense. No creature passes through the forest without making its presence known. You simply want to minimize yours as much as possible. Covering the basics should give you a decent shot, at something. But ask someone who targets mature bucks, and they’ll tell you the difference is in the details, the subtleties. It’s somewhat analogous to scent control. You can be lax and still succeed, sometimes. You don’t notice the absence of deer. You might chalk it up to poor weather, high pressure, low deer densities or a dozen other factors. But when you are meticulous about controlling your odor, you will see more and better deer. If your goal is meat in the freezer, you can probably ride up to your plot on an ATV, hop off and stroll down the middle to your stand. If you want to see big bucks with any consistency, take the time to plan your approach.