Making shooting lanes is something like wearing the right camo in the woods. The right kind of shooting lanes will help give you game encounters, but the wrong kind will have you sticking out like a sore thumb.
What’s a shooting lane?
Maybe you’ve never made one before or have no idea what I’m talking about. Simply put, a shooting lane is an open area that gives the hunter a clear, safe shot at the animal. Hunter’s should always, always, wait for a good shot that will kill the animal as quickly as possible. Sometimes you might find a good stand site that has plenty of open shooting lanes and you have no work to do. Other times, especially if you’re hunting from a tree stand, you’ll find it necessary to clear anything from large branches to small twigs out of the way so you’ll have a clear shot.
Are you using bow or gun?
If you’re using bow, you’re going to want to have larger shooting lanes then with a gun. And if you’re using a bow, remember that the smallest twig can deflect an arrow and ruin the hunt. Or worse, wound an animal. If you’re hunting with a gun, it’s easy to think you can shooting through brush. The fact is, you can shoot through brush, but you can’t make a safe shot that way. While a small twig might not stop that bullet from making a killing wound, it’s still good to get in the habit of making a good shooting lane.
Imagine you’re in your tree stand with your left shoulder facing the expected shot direction. The deer will come in along the trail about 20 yards out. You’re in the only sizable tree 20 yards out, but smaller trees are blocking a clear shot on the trail. You can see movement on the trail, and definitely the outline of a deer if one were on it, but there’s no way you can take a good shot. So how big of a shooting lane do you need to cut through those trees so you’ll have a good shot? And how many lanes (because you don’t want to cut every limb that’s waist high down)?
Imagine you are cutting a hole through the tree limbs (the hole will become your shooting lane). Now remember that a deer’s vitals will average in size of about a nine inch pie pan (so nine inches in diameter). So you should at least make the shooting lane nine inches in diameter. But hold on, there’s more.
Not all deer are the same size, and when you are looking down at the trail from your tree stand, it’s hard to guess at what height the deer’s vitals are going to show up. So you need to make sure you clear enough way. I recommend you have at least a 12 inch diameter “lane,” but more or less might be okay. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend cutting away more like a 18 inches or more away. As you become more experienced and knowledgeable you’ll learn the minimum amount needed.
Start trimming from the ground. Remember a deer’s vitals will only be about 2 feet off the ground. So clear an 18 inch circle 2 feet off the ground. Now mentally picture a tunnel back to your tree stand that’s 18 inches in diameter and clear away anything that’s in it.
Several at least. I try to have a couple shooting lanes, or at least a lot of the brush cleared away, at the extreme end of the trails or areas I can shoot in. This helps for a couple of reasons. It helps me get a clear visual of the deer coming in early on. I don’t want to first be aware of the deer when it’s in my shooting lane, I want to know it’s coming long before so I can be ready to release my arrow when it’s in my shooting lane! Cutting away shooting lanes on the extreme edges of the trail can help you be ready when it comes the “primary” shooting lanes (the ones you actually plan on taking a shot through). Of course, if the deer gives you a shot opportunity in one of the early shooting lanes, so much the better.
So have at least two on either edge of the trail, and then at least 2-3 more along the trail. How many you have ultimately depends on how much cover you have, and how good of a shooting lane you feel you can have in your primary zone (where you are most comfortable taking the shot, usually right in front of your stand 15-20 yards out). Sometimes you might only have one shooting lane, but it’s a really open one and it’s right in front of you. In that case you probably want to leave the rest of the brush for cover. That one is all you need.
Another general rule is how often you intend to hunt out of a particular stand location. If you have multiple stand locations (and you should), and you’re only going to hunt a couple times out of a stand, go ahead and make larger more open shooting lanes. The reason being is that you will have fewer opportunities to shoot a deer, so when you do have that chance you want to make sure you can take advantage of it.
If you only have a couple places to hunt from, you should clear fewer shooting lanes because you’ll be hunting a lot from the same position and there’s more risk of deer seeing you and avoiding that spot for the rest of the season.
If you’re ever in question of trimming away brush or branches, ask yourself this question when sitting in your stand. “If I cut this away, will I feel exposed?” A golden rule is, if you feel exposed then you are. Look for a different shooting lane.
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