Shooting Lanes – Smallish Paths or Bowling Lanes

Scott Bestul |

With early archery and muzzleloader seasons in full swing (or about to start), and rifle seasons creeping up in a big way, hunters who didn’t get stands and blinds in during the preseason are busily getting those ambush sites set up for their hunts. And of course the best deer stand in the world is worthless if you can’t shoot from the thing. So we trim shooting lanes. But what’s the best way to create a good shooting opportunity without screaming “Danger Zone!!!” to a buck?

You can get some good discussions—if not heated arguments—going about this topic. Hunters tend to divide into one of two camps: those who prefer a low-impact, trim-lightly-and-sneakily approach, and their polar opposites, who cut lanes with power tools.

Alan_Pole_Saw-Mo_Farm-July_2015-2The former group argues that bucks are uber-sensitive to intrusions and changes in their world, so taking a minimalist approach that disturbs the least vegetation and makes less noise is likely to alarm a buck and result in a good, close-range shot. The latter counters that it’s nearly impossible to trim without a buck noticing, so you might as well do the work quickly and efficiently, let the deer get used to it, and hunt away. Besides, they argue, whitetails are curious critters who not only don’t mind the sounds of power tools, they often view them positively; one of my best friends is a full-time logger, and in his area (the big woods of northern Wisconsin) whitetails equate the sound of a chainsaw with a dinner bell: Chainsaw noise=downed trees=fresh browse=happy, well-fed deer.

So who’s right? They both are, in my opinion. Every year I trim sets with just a clipper and pole saw, and I do so quietly and with minimal noise and disturbance. And I kill deer from those sets, which are mostly hang-and-hunts, often on public land.

But on the whole (especially on private land, farm-country situations) I lean toward the power-tools camp; chainsaws (both standard, and the pole-saw version) allow me to clear lanes quickly, efficiently and with less wear and tear on my 54-year old back. I use power tools on virtually all setups prior to season, and any in-season setup located off a known bedding area. I firmly believe that, with a few exceptions, whitetails (even big bucks) are generally curious critters, and making a big ruckus and then going away doesn’t have much of an effect. They come in after I leave, investigate, and accept my limb-trimming as a new part of their world.

Chainsaw_Tailgate-Mar_2011All this power-saw advice comes with one qualifier; cut only limbs, brush or trees necessary to make a clear shot. Some guys go crazy with a chainsaw, creating lanes you could drive a jeep down. For many deer this isn’t a problem…but I’ve seen big bucks get goosy around such lanes. It has nothing to do with them thinking “Golly, here’s a shooting lane created by a human being. I’m nervous as heck!” It has everything to do with a buck just feeling uncomfortable in an open area. Remember, these guys are used to hiding like rabbits, and when they encounter a big opening, it’s just instinctive for them to either avoid it, or sprint across. So fire up that power saw…just don’t turn your shooting lanes into clearcuts!