I realize the deer hunting season has concluded, but I am always interested in sharing some advice with other hunters.
I had a fellow hunter approach me and ask me a question that I considered very important. He asked me, “How do you locate your tree stand before daylight?” I guess this is a question I figured everyone had figured out for themselves, but after discussing the topic with him, he suggested I compose an article for other hunters to consider.
One of the most frustrating situations for a hunter is to place a stand location, and then when he/she enters the woods before daylight, he/she cannot find it. The hunter wanders around aimlessly, creating quite a disturbance. And, in the meantime, they manage to “spook” most of the deer out of the area. This has happened to me numerous times, and it can make or break your chances for hunting success.
Over the years, I have experimented with different methods of finding my stand locations in the dark. I have used broken-down tree limbs placed along the edges of the open field pointing in the direction of my stand. When I see the limb on the ground, it points in the direction of the trail leading to my stand. I even have used other strategically-placed tree limbs as indicators inside the woods, and this still will assist me. But sometimes during storms there are numerous tree limbs on the ground, making it difficult to know for sure which ones I placed.
Another method I used was taking a knife or small hatchet and “blazing” a tree by removing some of the bark that would be a visual indicator, but that also allowed other hunters to be able to locate my positions. I also did not want to damage the tree by removing the bark. I have used some bright lime-green or hunter orange surveyor ribbon tied to tree branches, but that was an eyesore and highly visible to other people traveling the woods.
The best thing I ever starting using was the reflective trail tacks that are highly visible using the illumination of your flashlight for a couple hundred yards. They are very lightweight, inexpensive, and you can purchase them at just about any sporting goods store. (I have bought some that contain 50 tacks for just a couple of dollars. If you watch, you can often purchase them on the clearance counter after deer season for cheap.) These little reflective tacks last forever, and all you have to do is just push them into the bark of a tree. They will not damage a tree. I have seen these tacks available in white, green, and orange, and they all work great.
I like to place these little tacks fairly low to the ground, so I do not have to worry about the flashlight beam traveling very far and disturbing the deer activity as I enter the woods. I can simply walk in, use my flashlight pointing low to the ground, and be able to find my tree stand every time. This allows me to travel slower, quicker, and never be concerned about getting lost in the dark. This means a lot, especially during the early hunting season when there is so much foliage, and every tree looks identical. I mentioned these little reflective tacks last a long time. I have some tacks sticking in the bark of some trees that I placed over six years ago, and they are still as brightly reflective now as they were when I placed them.
Just recently, I found three boxes of HS archery access reflective trail tacks (50 tacks per box) that were marked down to 75 cents per box. Needless to say, I purchased them quickly, and I carry a good-sized plastic pill bottle that I keep filled with these tacks. I carry that bottle in my backpack and trail camera case for when I scout new areas. When I decide to hunt a different area, all I do is simply use a pocket knife to remove the tacks and stick them back in the plastic storage bottle for future use.
I also might add that with modern-day technology, you can use a hand-held GPS or a smartphone that will allow you to navigate the woods. Some people, like myself, are “electronically-challenged” and unless my grandkids teach me how to use it, a GPS would be more of a deterrent. I like to “keep things simple,” and for me, it is much easier to use my thumb, sticking those little tacks into a tree and taking them back out when I am done. Simple, lightweight, affordable. You can't beat the reflective thumb tacks for assistance before daylight.