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Choosing The Right Treestand for The Perfect Ambush
(Originally published in Great Canadian Sportsman)

© By Othmar Vohringer

Over ninety percent of hunters prefer hunting from treestands and quite rightly so. Hunting from an elevated position will get the hunter above the sight and smell of an animal. Hunting from a treestand, unlike other methods such as stalking and deer drives, is a low impact method which means that a hunter is less likely to get patterned by deer or alert them in other ways of his presence.  However, to make treestand hunting work to your advantage the often-overlooked factor of choosing the right stand model for you and the area you hunt is very important. Given the large variety of models and brands available, choosing the right treestand can be a daunting task. To help you make the right stand choice this article will explain the most important considerations that should influence the choice of stand that’s right for you.

Basically treestands are divided into four models. These are: fixed position stands, climbing stands, ladder stands and although not strictly a treestand, tripod stands fall into that category too. In a moment I will discuss each model and its advantages and disadvantages in more detail with you. But first let’s look at what all stands should have in common regardless of model, type or brand.

Every hunter should be aware that no matter what stand is chosen they all require some agility and strength to transport and to set up. In the many years I have hunted from treestands I have yet to find a model that is comfortably light to transport for much more than a half-mile. Even the lightest models can be of considerable weight when combined with climbing sticks or screw-in steps. A light quality stand weighs around 10 to 14 pounds but add to that the weight of the steps at (give or take) another 6 to 8 pounds and you could end up with close to or just over 20 pounds that you have to haul on your back to your stand location.

I strongly recommend going with a stand that has been manufactured by a member of the Treestand Manufacturer Association (TMA). Members of this organization periodically undergo unannounced product safety and quality checks to guarantee quality of the materials and workmanship. Stands from TMA members usually are a little bit more expensive than those of non TMA members. In my opinion a few extra dollars are well spent on a device that potentially could kill you if poorly manufactured with cheap materials. It is for the same reason that I do not recommend using a D-I-Y-stand made with 2 x 4’s nailed to a tree. These contraptions are just not safe to use in the long run.

A good treestand should have a decent sized standing platform of at least 20 inches by 29 inches and a comfortably sized and padded seat. There is nothing worse than sitting perched like a crow on a branch for up to six or more hours on an uncomfortable stand. An uncomfortable seat will make treestand hunting a battle of endurance and lead to fidgeting around and this in turn alerts deer to your presence. The standing platform should be of a size that lets you shift your feet comfortably without having to look down to see if your toes or heel hang over the edge of the platform. In my opinion a platform of around 22” by 30” is just about right for an average size and weight person.

The treestand has to be easy to install and hang onto the tree. It is a very different matter to hang a stand onto a tree with both feet on the ground compared to 15 feet or more feet off the ground with your feet balancing on a narrow metal rod step and your upper body tied to the tree trunk. I like fixed stand models that come with a hanging bracket. This permits me to hang the stand onto the bracket that is attached to the tree trunk, freeing both my hands up to fasten the stand to the tree versus having only one hand free to install the stand.

In a climbing treestand I look for the same things as in a fixed stand: comfort and a decent sized standing platform. In addition I like climbing stands that can be quickly and quietly assembled with only a few pins. It is easy to assemble a stand in daylight with lots of different straps, nuts and bolts making the need for tools necessary. But try that same task before daylight, when most of these stands are assembled during a morning hunt. It could end up a frustrating nightmare placing all the tiny nuts and bolts in the right position. Forget it if you happen to drop a small bolt in the dark, you never will find it again on the forest floor. Fortunately, treestand manufactures have become more concerned about practicality and offer climbing stand models that do not need any assembling. All that is required is to adjust the climbing wires to the diameter of the tree trunk and you’re ready to go.

In order for a treestand to be of any use as an element of a surprise ambush the stand has to be quiet to transport and to hunt from. A stand that rattles as you walk through the woods or is squeaking and popping each time you move on it is worthless. All stands can at times make a popping noise, especially when the temperature falls below freezing. Here I am talking about stands that produce noise constantly and in my experience stands with riveted rather than welded frames are the culprits.

To summarize what all stands should have in common:A good quality stand wears the TMA seal of approval, is safe to use and comfortable to sit on, easy to install and quiet. The brand name of the stand is of no consideration to me– what is important is the model design.  Discussing brands is like discussing cars. Each person has his or her favorite. There are those that like Fords and others who prefer Chevy's. It’s the same with treestand brands. If you’re in the market for a new stand try out as many models as you can to find the one that comes close to suit your needs of comfort and the environment you intend to use the stand in. 

Now lets look at the different models of stands in more detail.

Hang-On-Stand

tree_stand_hangon.jpgHang-on or fixed model stands are the most commonly used stands. Of all the stand models this is the most versatile of all and relatively easy to set up. The hang-on stands come in a variety of designs and some even have features that let you adjust for leaning and bent tree trunks. The stand is a simple straightforward design consisting of a main beam with a sitting and standing platform attached.  The seat and platform can be folded for compact transport and storage.

The stand is attached to the tree with a chain hookup or webbing belt and ratchet or cinch buckle systems. Some stands require a stabilization cinch buckle belt to stabilize it to the tree and other models use the standing platform. I prefer the latter because it makes the stand rock solid on the tree without adding another strap. Once the stand is secured to the tree the platform is pulled down, creating a lever action that firmly stabilizes the stand on the tree. There are also models that can be hooked onto brackets. The hunter can purchase as many treestand brackets as he wants and install them at different locations. This system has the advantage that only one stand is needed and if the hunter changes location all he has to do is to hook the stand onto the pre-installed brackets.

The hang-on stand is easy to transport and relatively light. Most hang-on stands weigh between 11 lbs to 17 lbs. Depending at the hunter’s physical ability it may make two persons necessary to set it up. With the variety of models and hookup systems available there is barely a tree where this stand cannot be attached to, and that makes it one of the most popular models.

To mount and access the hang-on stand some sort of climbing device is necessary. There are two models of climbing sticks on the market. One model requires that the individual sections are connected together and then, with ratchet straps, attached to the tree truck. The other model consists of singe units that are individually connected to the tree. Tree steps that can be individually screwed into the tree are another option and give great versatility but take a long time to install. I prefer the single climbing sticks because it lets me navigate branches and bent tree trunks better than a solid 15 foot stick.

Portability:

I do not consider the hang-on stand a portable stand because set up takes at least five to ten minutes not including the time it takes to prepare the stand site- even for an experienced hunter. However, these stands are affordable and having more than one stand setup does give a hunter the option to change locations quickly if needed.

Climbing Stand:

tree_stand_limbing.jpgThe next most popular treestand model is the climbing treestand. Since the first stands of this type were introduced fifteen years ago climbers have come a long way in regards to comfort, safety and ease of setting up. Some climbing stand models are every bit as comfortable as your favorite TV chair at home. The old, complicated-to-assemble and noisy rattle-traps have been replaced by stands that need very little or no assembly at all. Modern climbing stands are light in comparison to the older models and with a bit of practice very quiet to transport and set up.

The problem with climbing stands is that they only can be used on straight trees of a relatively small diameter. Most stands of this type only will fit on trees not much larger than 12 to 14 inches in diameter. If the tree has low growing branches they need to be pruned flush with the trunk to enable climbing. This could lead to excessive pruning and loss of important cover.

Climbing treestands, although easy to set up require considerable strength and agility to move them up a tree. Not only does the hunter have to move the full weight of the stand up the tree but with some models his own body weight too. Climbers come in two basic models: The sit-down-stand-up models and the hang on-and-pull models. Most of the so called “bowhunter climbers” are hang on-and-pull models. The sit-down-stand-up models are much easier to climb because you can sit down on the upper frame as you pull the lower platform up with your feet. The bowhunter models do not have that feature and the hunter has to hang on with his hands to the seat portion and then pull the standing platform up with his feet while his full body weight and that of the standing platform is fully suspended from his hands only. Regardless of weather I hunt with a bow or rifle I always use the full upper frame climbing treestand that permits me to sit down to pull the lower platform up. I have never found that the full frame is in the way when I shoot the bow.

Portability: 

For me the climbing treestand is a true run-and-gun stand. With this stand I can quickly change locations, set the stand up and hunt from it right away. The down side, as mentioned, is that you need straight trees of a relatively small diameter and it requires a certain amount of strength to climb up a tree with these stands.

Ladder Stand:

tree_stand_ladder.jpgAs the baby boomer generation grows older these stands have become very popular in recent years. While not so long ago one had to look far and wide to find a good quality ladder stand, these days every treestand manufacturer offers several models. The ladder stand is quite heavy and in most cases needs two people to set up. It’s also hands down the safest stand a hunter can use due to the fact that the stand remains in contact with the ground at all times. Because of that the stand is also easy to climb up and down. Some of the better models, especially the ones designed for two people, are very comfortable to sit on with padded seat and back cushions. 

Ladder stands have an almost limitless application as long as there is a tree strong enough to lean a ladder against it will work for a ladder stand. The downside with ladder stands is that they are very visible to deer and other hunters and at an average weight of 40 pounds plus the bulkiness they are not exactly easy to transport. However, in areas that have dense undergrowth and brushy trees where a hang-on or climbing stand would not work well a ladder stand will be perfect. These stands are also perfect for hunters that have one or two “hot spots” that produce deer every year and want to have a semi permanent stand set up. Also hunters that are not very agile and need a stand that is easy to get in and out of will like the ease and comfort of the ladder stand.

Portability:

As mentioned earlier the ladder stand is quite heavy and bulky, plus it takes considerable time to put it together and set up. Considering all these factors the ladder stand is not what I call portable by any stretch of imagination.

Tripod Stand:

tree_stand_bipod.jpgThis is not a treestand because no tree is needed to set it up. The tripod stand is a self-supporting unit, but since it is listed under “treestands” in hunting goods catalogs and permits the hunter to get above the game I have included them here too.  A tripod stand is the perfect choice to hunt brush country, marshes and cornfields. This stand will get the hunter above the vegetation and lets him see into the thick tangled brush, corn and reed stems.

Tripod stands are very heavy and take considerable time to set up. As the name suggests the tripod stand consists of three legs, one of which serves as a ladder to access the stand. At the top of the tripod a platform is installed and a seat. The better models feature a swivel seat affording a 360-degree view of the hunting area by simple swiveling around on the seat- a bit like an office chair. Tripod stands can be prone to tipping over in windy conditions or if the hunter suddenly shifts his weight from one to the other side. It is therefore advisable to add additional anchoring to the stand. This is simply achieved by attaching ropes at the point where the three legs meet under the standing platform and then tying the ropes onto metal or wooden stakes that have been driven into the ground around the tripod. Some manufacturers deliver an anchoring system with their tripods while others offer it as an after market product. Either way I strongly recommend using an anchoring system to improve the safety aspect of a tripod stand.

Portability:

Like the ladder stand the tripod too is not portable. The stand comes with many different parts and needs to be completely assembled. This takes time and due to the weight of up to 100 pounds and the consequent bulkiness, depending on the model, two to three people to assemble and set up.

Keeping you treestands in good shape:

How safe treestand hunting is depends not only on wearing a safety harness and using a quality stand but also on the maintenance of the stand. It all starts by carefully reading, understanding and following the owners and operation manual accompanying each treestand. Before each use and after the hunting season ends inspect your stands for wear and tear, especially the attachment belts, buckles, chains and cable. If you see a crack in the frame have it fixed by a manufacturer recommended professional. Worn parts should be replaced with factory recommended parts. After the hunting season closes wash and repaint the stands and lubricate all the joints and moving parts; this will go a long way to avoid creaking and popping noises. Store the treestands in a dry place such as the garage or garden shed until next season. Purchasing a treestand is an investment that can greatly enhance your deer hunting success so keep it in good working order and you will get many years of use from one of hunting’s great inventions.

Conclusion:

Each of the different stand models has its advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, a serious treestand hunter should own at least several hang-on stands, a climbing treestand and a ladder stand. This stand arsenal permits the hunter to pre-select several stand sites and quickly change locations from one stand to the next without any delay to wherever the deer action is. Owning several stand models gives you the opportunity to use stands in a wide variety of situations and that often will make all the difference you need to be in the game.

No matter what stand model or brand you choose safety is of paramount concern. Each time a human leaves terra firma he or she is in danger of risking life and limb. Unlike birds we have no wings that take us safely back to earth from lofty heights. Treestand manufactures supply a safety harness with each treestand and they should be worn each time we hunt from a stand. Most of these safety harnesses also function as a lineman type of climbing belt. While most hunters these days wear a safety device once they are in the treestand, many hunters fail to realize that they are just as much in danger of falling while they are climbing up or down a tree. Of all the hunting related accidents, falls from stands or climbing up and down and to and from one account fro seventy-five percent. From that figure more than eighty percent of accidents occur when climbing to and from your treestand. The rest of the accidents occur by careless use of the stand, malfunction and disrepair of the stand, ladders or safety equipment. By remembering a few simple common sense safety rules accidents with treestands can be greatly limited.

Treestand Hunting Safety Tips

  • Never carry equipment with you while climbing. Use a haul line to raise or lower your gear. Make sure guns and crossbows are unloaded and broadheads are covered prior to raising or lowering firearms, crossbows, or bows with a haul line.
  • Always use a climbing belt when climbing up or down a tree. Use a safety harness when hunting from elevated tree stands. Study manufacturer’s recommendations before using any equipment. Never use a rope to replace a safety harness.
  • Check permanent tree stands every year before hunting from them. Replace any worn or weak lumber.
  • Read, understand and follow the factory recommended practices and procedures when installing commercial stands. Inspect portable stands for loose nuts and bolts before each use.
  • Choose only healthy, living trees when using climbing devices. Rough-barked trees such as oak are best. Do not use a tree that is rotten or has dead limbs.
  • Never put all your weight on a single branch. Keep at least one hand and one foot on a secure place when reaching for the next hold.
  • Climb higher than the stand and step down onto it. Climbing up onto it can dislodge it.
  • Wear boots with non-skid soles, because steps or platforms can be slippery in rain, sleet or snow.
  • Never hunt from a treestand in high wind or lightening storm.
  • Always make sure you not choose a tree that is over or under the tree diameter recommended by the stand manufacturer.   
  • Tell a dependable person where you’re hunting and when you plan to return. Map your whereabouts and leave a note at camp, at home or in your vehicle so that you can be found.
  • If sleepy, move your arms rapidly until you feel alert.
  • Maintain your treestands regularly after each hunting season and store them in a dry place. Check the stand before each use for wear and tear.
  • Repair treestands only with manufacturer recommended parts.
  • As a precautionary measure, clear all debris, branches, rocks and other hard or pointy material from the ground below the tree stand.
  • Use updated equipment. Newer tree stand equipment is solid, safe and secure. Updated safety harnesses offer more protection than older ones.
  • Carry a whistle to call for help and carry a first aid kit, flashlight and cellular telephone in a fanny pack.
  • Before you hunt from a newly purchased treestand practice attaching and detaching it to/from the tree at about a foot or two of the ground. Stand and sit on it until you become absolutely familiar with the stand and how to set it up.
 
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I welcome assignments from hunting related media. Send for queries and requests by email.


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