ANSWER Bowhunters tend to develop their own philosophies on this, but I like ample shooting lanes. I simply cannot tolerate a lone branch, or even small twig, in my shooting lane. It will inevitably cause a problem, and when I finally get a buck within bow range, I must have the clearance to make the shot.
My shooting-lane strategy actually starts with tree selection. I look for a large tree, or better yet a double or triple-trunked tree, that I can get lost in from a silhouette perspective. The background is as important as foreground cover when it comes to avoiding visual detection by a deer. If I have a good background, I can get away with fewer branches in front of me, blocking my shooting lanes.
Once I'm in the tree, I study my options based on the deer sign and suspected location and direction of travel. A single shooting lane is unacceptable, because it represents just one chance to make the shot. Two lanes are better, and three even better still. Sometimes, a buck will quickly walk through your first lane, but you'll be ready when he gets to the next one. Of course, you may be on a field edge with lots of shooting space. But, what if a buck slips in behind you in the brush? Anticipate and give yourself a chance by making sure you have one or two lanes behind you.
I also take my pole saw up in the tree and cherry pick every branch that could be an obstacle to my arrow. I avoid cutting branches above me, unless they obstruct the swing of my bow. If these cut branches have leaves, I often tuck them into the branches above and behind me to improve my background cover. The leaves will dry up, but they often remain well into November and can provide some cover when the rest of the tree is bare. If necessary, I'll even haul some branches up into the tree to use for background cover. Once I'm done clearing shooting lanes, I pick up all the cut branches and stack them on any deer trail I don't want a buck to use, such as a trail directly underneath me. If I plan to hunt right away, I stash the branches in heavy brush so a deer can't pick up my scent on those branches.
Inevitably, once I sit down in my stand to hunt I'll discover a twig or small branch that irritates me. That's when I snap off a short twig and tie it to the end of my bow pull-up rope. I throw the twig over the branch, tangle it up, and snap the rope to break off the offending branch. I will spend whatever time is necessary to eliminate the evil branch.
Sometimes, my "open-lane" strategy can leave me feeling vulnerable to detection. But when hunting, I pay close attention to my surroundings to avoid any surprises. If I detect an approaching deer well in advance, I can get into position for a shot before the deer gets close. That allows me to remain motionless enough that a buck never knows what hit him. When in doubt, cut it out!
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Caption: Clearing ample shooting lanes is critical, as is having good background cover in the tree. Below, I'm stacking cut limbs on a trail that I don't want deer to use. Once in the tree hunting, if I have a branch in my way, I'll tie a stick to my pull-up rope, throw it over the offending branch, and then snap the branch off. It goes without saying to make sure you've got permission to trim trees on any property.