Should You Walk or Ride an ATV to Your Deer Stand?

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Both approaches can make sense, but it depends on the ambush. Here’s a look at when to take a hike and when to fire up the machine

In my formative deer hunting years, I’d park an extra quarter mile from my hunting area, throw a climbing stand on my back, and hike all the way to my tree. Often as not I’d spook a deer somewhere along the way. Back in those days, too, I’d sometimes listen to the sounds of a four-wheeler in the distance and think something along the lines of “There’s some hunter too lazy to walk.”

I have less hair now than I did back then, plus a softer belly. But I’m a better deer hunter too, wiser from years of experience and screw-ups. I’ve come to realize that some of those ATV-riding hunters weren’t trying to be lazy — they were being smart.

If there is any tactical strategy that you must perfect to consistently kill good bucks, it’s accessing your stand undetected. But undetected might not mean unheard or unseen. It could just mean unnoticed. With that in mind, there are times when it indeed pays to sneak quietly to the stand on foot, but there are also times when riding a four-wheeler to the tree is the better play.

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In general, ATVs make more sense for evening food source sits than for early morning timber sits. Image by Kinion Bankston

When to Ride

Evening Crop Field Sits

Whitetails are exceptionally adaptable, and they become accustomed to the day-to-day noises of people on a farm. Many of the properties I hunt are small, and they see near daily traffic from trucks, tractors, and ATVs — and that traffic is often concentrated on the edges of soybean, corn, and clover fields. Those happen to be the places I’m looking at for evening ambushes during the early season (and at times in the late season too). Usually, getting into these places isn’t the problem. Getting out after dark, when the field is full of deer, is. Plan ahead for a designated driver to pick you up after shooting light ends.

Evening Bait Sits

Here in Kentucky we can bait, and so if I’m piling up shelled corn for the early or late season, I like to use an ATV to haul it to the stand site. I leave the machine running while I sweeten things up and swap trail camera cards. Deer get used to that noise, and though they will run from it, they generally won’t go far. If I’m dropping a buddy off to hunt, I like to get an early start, drive the machine in just close enough so that the noise gently bumps any nearby deer, and then have the hunter hustle quietly the last 50 yards to the tree.

Observatory Gun Stands

Most gun seasons down South fall smack in the rut. Posting in an open field with a rifle between two thickets, often in a box blind, is a fine tactic to kill a rutting buck. You’re not really depending on food within the field to draw deer. Nor are you necessarily setting up on hot sign. No, this is like the waterfowler’s equivalent of “running traffic.” Put yourself in a deer-rich area where you can see a long way, and play the odds. Probably as many big bucks are killed like this every fall as by any other tactic — and there’s usually not much reason to walk into a box blind like that if you can drive. I know plenty of hunters who park their rides right next to the stand and shoot bucks every season.

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When to Walk

If You Can Glass First

Last fall in West Texas, I hunted a ground blind on the edge of a creek drainage that snaked through a rocky canyon. We were able to glass the whole set from a mesa above the canyon before dropping in and sneaking through the drainage. I arrowed a good 10-pointer a couple of hours later. Even though this set was over a feeder — near everything in Texas is — sneaking in on foot made sense because we were able to carefully scope the area out from a distance.

Pinch-Point Rut Hunts

Any time you’re hunting terrain features that funnel deer movement — especially during the rut — it’s probably best to walk. Deer aren’t loitering in spots like this for long, and the idea when hunting them is to play the odds. Odds are deer won’t be standing there at precisely the time you walk in, but they’re probably close enough that they’ll hear your ATV driving in. Park it some distance away, and sneak.

Morning Hunts in the Timber

With the exception of gun hunting from a box blind as mentioned above, I’m usually tucked somewhere in the timber during a morning hunt, either on a pinch point or in a staging or edge of a bedding area. I like to slip in on foot because it’s quieter, but I do run my flashlight as I go. Deer can see me without it, but with it on, they only see the bright beam. Most of the time, if I see shining eyes, I just step behind a tree, shut my light off, keep still, and wait for them to move on.   

If There’s Any Better Access

Long and short, I use an ATV if it provides an advantage — not to save on a walk. But there’s no getting around the noise and intrusion associated with the machine, and so if you can slip into a stand without deer seeing or hearing you, that’s what you should do. My favorite way is floating in with a fiberglass canoe — but of course not many stands allow for that. Tall ditch banks, brushy fencerows, and even simple breaks in hilly terrain can give the concealment you need. Consider those things before you set a stand.

If they’re not available, your best bet might be taking a ride.

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