Types of Tree Stands
Tree stands are generally available in fixed, climbing and ladder styles. These various styles have helped make tree stands one of the most important pieces of bow hunting equipment available. The type of tree stand you choose should be dictated by the type of area you hunt. If you spend your time in pine thickets or pin oak stands where the branches on the trees come down to nearly ground level, stay away from climbing tree stands as they need straight trees with few branches below 20 feet. A ladder stand or fixed position stand may work in trees with a lot of branches with just a bit of trimming. Use screw in tree stand steps or a ladder that attaches to the tree with straps and you’ll be in fine shape. Let’s take a quick look at the attributes of each style tree stand.
Climbing Tree Stands
Climbing tree stands are the most commonly used tree stand in the hunting woods today. They are versatile and offer the bow hunter a great deal of flexibility and comfort. Climbing tree stands come in two pieces that attach to the tree with some sort of climbing strap that wraps around the back of the tree. The hunter stands on the lower portion of the tree stand and while hanging onto the upper portion pulls his legs upward bringing the lower platform with him. As you settle your weight back down onto the lower platform of the tree stand it locks into position on the tree. This “climbing” sequence is repeated until the hunter reaches the level they want to hunt from. These tree stands are usually lightweight because the hunter will pack it in and out of the woods before and after each hunt.
These tree stands are, as the name implies, built with a ladder that is generally 15 feet tall. A platform and seat are built into the top of the ladder. The tree stand rests against a tree and is attached to the tree at the platform and about halfway up the ladder. These tree stands are great because they allow the bow hunter to sit virtually anywhere they can find a tree. Branches and crooked trees are generally not a huge problem with ladder style tree stands. The downside of these tree stands is that they can be very heavy and usually take 2 people to put up on a tree safely. It is this characteristic that leads most bow hunters to leave them in their original location once they are set up.
Fixed Position Tree Stands
The original tree stand design, fixed position or hang-on tree stands are a platform with a seat that is attached to the tree usually with a strap or chain. How you get up the tree with the tree stand is up to you. The stands are very lightweight and allow the bow hunter a lot of choices when selecting a tree to hunt from. These tree stands can be placed in very tight quarters and if you like to hunt in heavy cover for concealment they are an excellent choice. As far as climbing the tree the tree stands most hunters use screw win style steps. Just as the name implies, these steps are pointed and threaded on one end and shaped into a step. You screw the step into the tree trunk one at a time until you reach your desired height. This can be very hard work and time consuming to do. A hunting friend of mine takes a cordless drill with him to drill pilot holes for the steps, making it easier to get them started in the tree. Another option is small ladder sections. These are becoming very popular because they are easier to attach to the tree, but they add weight to your load going in. Fixed position tree stands are generally left in their location like ladder stands because it can be time consuming and hard work to move these.
I own a ladder style tree stand that I bought to hunt a particularly well used deer run through a stand of pines and some very mature, gnarly old trees. It conceals me well and is always there ready for me to quietly climb up into and hunt. I also own a climbing tree stand that allows me to hunt a number of areas on that same property. It is light enough to carry on my back a mile or so to these other stand locations and allows me the flexibility to get into and out of different trees even in the same day if I’m not seeing deer.
I do not own a fixed position or hang-on style tree stand, but have sat in many over the years hunting with friends. I love the flexibility they provide when it comes to choosing a tree to set up in. These tree stands also allow you to sit in thicker cover with branches to break up your outline. The platforms are generally smaller than those on climbing tree stands so comfort and even safety can be an issue. Again, similar to the ladder style tree stand, they are there waiting for you to hunt and very quiet to get into quickly in the dark.
Your tree stands should be quiet to set up, they should be quiet when you are sitting in them and shift your weight and they should be matched to the type of trees you predominantly hunt in.
Properly Using A Tree stand
Hunting from a tree stand is one of the best ways to regularly get close to whitetail deer. The elevated position a tree stand provides places you outside the cone of vision of a deer, which is generally focused on what is happening at ground level. A tree stand will help you get into position to draw undetected and even control the distribution of your scent to some degree.
How high is high enough?
The point about how high to hang a tree stand is hotly debated among archery hunters. I will say that I believe it depends on first and foremost your comfort level with heights and secondly the terrain and cover you are hunting. If you are uncomfortable with heights you will not feel at ease in a tree stand. Having said that, I have a friend that regularly reaches heights in excess of 20 feet in a tree stand. In contrast, my rope to raise my bow to the stand maxes out at 18 feet. We both have success, but I need to hunt just a bit differently to make up for the lower height of my stands-many times just 12 feet off the ground. I simply seek out those trees and areas that have better cover closer to the ground or those areas where I can use the rising or setting sun in my favor to keep deer from spotting me. My friend, at much greater heights doesn’t have so much to worry about until – he overcomes some of the obstacles I face by getting higher in the tree.
Hanging your tree stand in the proper location is more than just finding that pinch point or creek crossing the deer favor. It means that after you find that spot, selecting the right stand location on the spot. Hopefully, you will have at least a few trees to choose from within bow range of the trail. First, I consider the direction of travel of the deer and look for trees in an area downwind of where the deer will approach. Second, I look for a good sized tree, because I feel more secure in a thick tree and I can better hide against it or behind it depending on how the deer are approaching. I like a tree at least 3/4 as wide as my shoulders. Third, I look for a tree that is in a stand of other trees to provide some cover behind me. One of my favorite tree stand sites is an old gnarled tree that has 5 main trunks coming out of one stump. It sits on a hillside with an old road bed below it. It is tough to get up the first few feet of the tree, but once I hook my lower platform of my climbing tree stand I can pull myself up and continue the process. I can only get up 10 feet off the ground in this tree, but the deer generally approach from the road bed which is another 4-8 feet below the tree adding some height to my position. The other tree trunks also provide me great cover once in my tree stand. In addition to the wind you can also use the sun to your benefit by positioning the stand so that a rising sun will be at your back while hunting in the morning. Deer looking up in your direction will not see you through the glare from the sun. Similarly, if you have an evening stand, pay attention to the path of the setting sun.
Not enough can be said or written about safety in a tree stand. Many manufacturers have started to provide a safety harness of some sort with the purchase of their stands. If you prefer a different style of safety harness that’s fine, but with the variety of styles on the market there should be no excuses about it being uncomfortable or in the way. You need to fasten yourself to the tree when you are climbing the tree and also when you are on the tree stand. It could save your life.
I hunted from the ground for the first 8 years and saw plenty of deer. Most of them were spooked or at least slightly aware of my presence and in some instances I just couldn’t hunt effectively. When I switched to a tree stand the number of deer I saw went through the roof and ironically, the best stand sites remain those that I still hunted through for years. Still hunting allowed me to constantly scout while hunting and the information I gathered on deer movement translated into great stand locations once I had the right tools and an understanding of proper placement.
A good tree stand will be quiet, easy to get into and out of the woods and should allow you some degree of flexibility in its placement. Climbing stands are not useful if all the trees in your area are covered with branches right to the ground. Similarly, if all the trees in your area are tall and straight and there is not much for cover at 20 feet up in the way of branches from other trees, a ladder stand is not going to be very effective because it will only allow you to get about 15 feet above the ground.