Choosing the Right Tree

By: John Eberhart


You’ve scouted and have several locations to prepare. You now have all spring to prepare those locations and it’s advised to prepare locations in order of importance with what you think are the best ones being prepared first.

When pursuing mature bucks in heavily pressured areas, choosing the proper tree can prove pivotal to success and choosing the right tree isn’t always as simple as one may think. There’s been times when I located a narrow funnel or at an active scrape area where I’ve wandered around for nearly half an hour before choosing the right tree. At a field seminar at a location where several terrain features converged I had 18 participants choose a tree and not one chose the tree I did.

In heavily pressured areas mature whitetails will oftentimes search for hunters in trees and when they pick you, unlike what’s commonly seen on TV and in videos, they don’t lose interest and go on about their business, they immediately spook. This fact has a direct correlation on tree choice and stand height.

Ask yourself these questions before choosing a tree. What time of season and how frequently will I hunt here? Will there likely be other deer around for an extended period of time such as at a destination scrape area or mast or fruit tree? How much and what type of hunting pressure does the surrounding area receive? What are my shooting distance limitations? What’s my comfort level with heights? Does this tree offer the most shot opportunities? Each answer should play a role in tree choice, how high you set-up, and how it’s prepared.

I scouted a property for a friend in late April and we located a well-used runway running along a river and there was a suitable conifer not 10 yards away and he and his son immediately said, “that’s the tree”! I knew both of them were comfortable with 30 yard shots so I wandered a bit and while more subtle, discovered 2 more runways 50 and 60 yards away from the river. I chose a different conifer 30 yards from the river that allowed them to comfortably shoot to the river and to the other 2 runways which were 20 and 30 yards from the tree. There is no doubt they would have set up the first conifer and may have very well missed out on an opportunity this fall on the others.

For most hunters wind direction should be considered. I pay absolutely zero attention to wind direction during all aspects of bowhunting and in later posts will offer information on how you can negate wind direction as well.

Begin the tree selection process by slowly walking or crawling down every surrounding runway while looking at every suitable tree. Conifers and oaks are the most ideal as they typically offer the best concealment cover because conifers hold their needles year round and oaks hold their leaves long into the season.

Most trees lose their foliage before the rut phases begin, so for rut phase locations, if available pick a conifer, oak, or a large diameter tree with a crotch or large branches at your hunting height to help conceal your body profile.

If crotches or large branches don’t exist, consider going higher up the tree. The additional height will aid in keeping you out of a deer’s peripheral vision and allow you to get away with minor movements during the shot process.

In pressured areas I feel totally exposed when hunting below 20 feet in a tree with no concealment cover as the odds of getting picked are high.

Never pick a tree directly over where you expect a shot opportunity as doing so will cause; severe shot angles, narrow target area, and no chance of a double-lung hit which should always be the goal. The probability of getting picked is high as well because deer will be coming directly at you.

It’s also strongly advised to practice and sight your bow in from a similar height to your stand heights to replicate the same form when taking steeper shot angles.

For early season hunting most trees will have concealment foliage and background cover, somewhat negating the need to hunt quite as high up trees as during the rut phases. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the higher you set-up, the more opportunities you’ll have.

Choose a tree within your comfort zone concerning shooting distance to the farthest runway. At this time of year slightly out of range runways can be altered to within range and we’ll discuss that in a future post.

Always choose the tree that offers the best concealment cover and shot opportunities. If no adequate tree is available and the location is awesome, a well concealed ground blind may be required.