Photograph by Lance Krueger
As legal shooting light slowly slips away, the magnificent buck you’re watching continues to feed—just out of bow range. Darkness swallows the field.
Now what? The answer: Have a variety of stand exit strategies ready. One of these four should work for most hunting situations.
1. Wait Them Out
The deer feeding in front of you may seem to be settled in for the night. But whitetails rarely stay in one spot more than an hour before moving on to fresh new forage. All you need here is some time and some patience.
Before heading into the woods, tell your hunting buddies or family why you may be late, or if you have a signal on your phone, text or whisper your predicament. Once the deer leave, wait a bit longer, then quietly slip out.
2. Circle Them
This tactic works when deer are near your location but still far enough away that you can slip down from your stand or out of your blind without being seen. Have two pre-scouted routes in mind for differing winds that will allow you to circle wide around the deer to get back to your truck or camp.
Place glow tacks or ribbons on trees to help you navigate in the dark, or plot the routes on a GPS unit. Walk the route in daylight so you can navigate it comfortably in the dark. And bring a good flashlight with fresh batteries.
3. Blow Them Out
If you can’t wait any longer and need to climb down, spook the deer out. But do so in a way that doesn’t let them connect their alarm with your stand site or human activity.
I mostly use game calls—rabbit in distress, pileated woodpecker, coyote howl, or crow—for making deer move out of an area. Even imitating loudly barking dogs works. Cup your hand over your call and turn sideways so the sound doesn’t appear to come from your position.
The deer may hesitate and look around briefly but will almost always flee if the sound is strident and frantic enough. Don’t use this tactic too often, though. Older bucks may grow suspicious.
4. Hitch a Ride
This technique transfers the animals’ attention toward a vehicle that will scare them away.
Arrange to have a friend slowly approach and pick you up with an ATV or truck if you’re not back at a designated time. The deer will flee but won’t associate the disturbance with your ambush spot, allowing you to hunt it again.
Bonus Tip: Second Chance
If you miss a buck during the rut, don’t leave your stand. A deer may flee if an arrow zips past or a gun goes off nearby, but it won’t associate those incidents with a specific danger that it needs to avoid—unless you leave your stand in disgust and the animal sees you. With the rut directing a buck’s focus on finding estrous does, his guard may be down. Hang tight—you obviously have a good stand location or you wouldn’t have gotten a shot in the first place. That trophy may return to the same spot the next day, later the same day, or in just minutes.—Gerald Almy