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Tree Stand Hunting Essentials
(Originally published in the BC Outdoors Magazine)

© By Othmar Vohringer

If you were to ask me which invention has given bow hunters the biggest advantage I would have to tell you without hesitation that it is the tree stand. Hunting deer from above has added more to bow hunting success than any other invention. The biggest advantage a tree stand has is that it allows you to get above the sight and smell of the deer. Using a tree stand gives you the perfect surprise ambush that is necessary to get close to your quarry and these advantages have made the tree stand the number one choice of equipment for bow hunters to ambush deer with. However, to get the full benefit of hunting from a tree stand you have to do several things just right. Here is what I have learned from 25 years of bow hunting whitetail deer from tree stands and these are what I refer to as tree stand hunting essentials.

The Right Stand For The Job

Tree stands come in three basic models. These are: fixed position stands, climbing stands and ladder stands. Each of these models is suited for a particular situation. Some models can even be adjusted to leaning and bent trees. No matter what the situation or type of tree there will be a stand on the market that will fit it or is adjustable to suit. However, hunters have to be aware that no matter what stand model is chosen they all require some agility and strength to transport and to set up. Even the lightest models can be of considerable weight when combined with climbing sticks or screw-in steps. A light quality stand weighs around 5 to 7 kilogram but add to that the weight of the steps at (give or take) another 5 to 7 kilograms and you could end up with over 10 to 14 kilograms in addition to all the other equipment that you have to haul on your back to your hunting location.

Typically a dedicated stand hunter owns several different models consisting of climbing, fixed position and perhaps a couple of ladder stands. The reason for that is that although stand hunting is a passive hunting method – you wait for the deer to come to you – you want to be as mobile as possible. To do that you need several stands already set up on pre-scouted locations.

If you use a hang-on or fixed position stand you need some means to get up to the stand. Climbing devices too come in a variety of models. Personally I prefer stick-ladders that consist of three to four sections and assemble and attach quickly to the tree with straps to reach a height of up to 7 metres or more. Some hunters use screw-in steps but I don’t like them for one main reason. It takes to long to screw them into the tree. In the time it takes you to screw 10 to 15 steps into a tree I will have set up the stick-ladder and fixed the stand to the tree. Very often the time it takes to set a stand up is of paramount importance, especially if you have to move during a hunt and only have one stand available. When I purchase a new stand I practice setting it up and taking it down until I am totally familiar with every little aspect of it. This regime enables me to install any of my stands safely and securely on any tree in less than 4 minutes from the time I arrive at the bottom of the tree. The less time you need to set up a stand the less likely it is that you will contaminate the area with your scent.

In order to help you decide what stand will suit your needs and physical ability I’ll briefly point out the pros and cons of each model.

Climbing Stands

Climbing stands are the most limiting of all because they only can be used on straight trees of a relatively small diameter (up to 50-centimetres in diameter) with few or no low hanging branches. Although climbing stands have improved considerably in the design they still need a certain amount of assembly work before they can be attached to the tree.

These stands require strength and agility to get up a tree. Not only do you have to move the weight of the stand up a tree but also your own body weight. I prefer climbing stand models that you move in a sit-down-stand-up motion, versus the hang on-and-pull-up types where during the pulling up movement your body weight and that of the stand is suspended by your hands holding on to the upper section of the stand.

I regard climbing stands as the most comfortable of all stand models with the exception of some ladder stands. Climbing stands are mobile. If I am sitting in my stand and see deer move out of bow range it only takes me a couple of minutes to climb down, gather up my gear and head to a new location closer to where the deer moved and set up again. I can’t do that with any other stand model.

Hang-On Stands

Hang-on stands are the most versatile and come in a variety of designs that fit on any tree. Because these stands are so versatile most dedicated stand hunters own up to a dozen or more of these stands that they place in advance on pre-scouted locations. This enables hunters to change positions fast and keep up with deer movement pattern changes without having to disturb the area by moving stands around. Hang-on stands attach to the tree with a chain or cinch belt. Some stands use a lever action to wedge them firmly and securely against the tree, others use a second stabilizing strap. My favourite is the lever action, simply because it means less time and less gadgets.

To be comfortable I don’t mind a bit extra weight in exchange for a comfortable seat with backrest and decent sized platform that permits me to shift and turn my feet without having to worry about stepping over the edge of it. For me a decent size standing platform should be at least 50-centimetres wide and 80-centimetres long.

Ladder Stands

Ladder stands are the safest of all stands because they stay on solid ground and the top part is securely attached to the tree trunk. These stands are very versatile because their design lets you set up on almost anything that will support your and the stand’s weight. For the elderly and physically limited hunter this stand is perfect as access and descending from it are as easy as walking up and down a staircase. The draw back is that these stands are quite heavy, averaging 27 kilograms and more. In addition they need to be assembled form many parts and installation often takes two persons.

Another disadvantage is that deer and other hunters can easily detect the stand and therefore good additional camouflaging is required. Usually I place a ladder stand into the thick stuff where big bucks like to hide out and where no other stand will fit. I leave these stands up all hunting season long or move them only once or twice.

The Right Tree

When scouting I look for terrain features, structure, food sources and all the other things that tell me where and when deer use a given area. From there I look for some kind of feature that funnels deer through a narrow spot where I can get a shot at them. Only after I find my ambush site do I look for a tree to hang my stand. I don’t care what shape or size the tree is but it has to be on the exact spot I need it to be. Once I found that tree I will find the stand that will fit.

 
Last year I helped a young hunter from Wisconsin to find the right tree. For years the hunter looked for a tree to hang his stand, instead of for the right spot to hunt and then look for the tree. He had not much luck and finally turned to me for advice. After I showed him how to find the exact deer ambush and then look for the tree his fortune turned and within two days he arrowed a beautiful 5x5 whitetail buck, his first buck ever. Two weeks later he phoned me to tell me enthusiastically that he shot a huge 5x7 buck. This is a prime example of how important it is to select the exact tree to hunt from and not look for a tree that accommodates your stand.

Getting In And Out

You scouted the perfect location and put your stand up but have you given any thought to how you will access and depart the stand location? Before you can establish an entry and exit route you have to know the area and that means scouting the whole area and familiarizing yourself with deer movement patterns and holding areas. I always try to choose several different routes to access or leave my stand. Nothing can spoil an area faster then when deer catch on to your movement patterns. Another important factor is that the more you travel the same route the more human scent you’ll leave behind no matter how careful and clean you are.

Adjust To Deer Movement

Last year I sat in my stand watching three bucks crossing a ridge well outside my bow shooting range. The next day I went back to the same stand; again the bucks moved across the same ridge. I don’t know why but I went back a third time and saw no more deer. What I should have done on the first day is to move the stand the very instant the deer moved out of sight and earshot and come back to that new location the next morning. I didn’t and paid the price. We’re all guilty of getting stuck on one location, particularly when we see a big deer. Unfortunately, hanging around to many times the same spot is a sure recipe for a place to get cold very quickly. 

It is important to realize that any stand site produces sightings for a very limited time. Changing food sources, hunting pressure and other factors influences deer to constantly adjust their movement patterns and in order to be successful we must change to match.

Tree Stand Height

Some hunters claim that the higher you are up a tree the less likely it is for a deer to see or smell you. Based on my experience I am not so sure about this claim. In fact I know it is flawed. The higher you climb the more likely you are to run out of cover and be sky lighted. Do the test yourself. Stand 6 to 9-meters away from the base of a tree, as a deer would, and look up. What you’ll see is that in most scenarios at about 6 to 7 metres up you can see the sky. So can a deer with you sitting up there in the open.

What about the claim that deer can’t detect human scent? It’s a fact that the higher you climb the farther your scent spreads. A deer that can smell you from 200 to 300 metres away surely will not come any closer to investigate. If you stay lower your scent will linger around the base of the tree in a radius of about 9 metres. This will still give you a very good shot at any deer before they detect your scent. A few years ago while sitting in my stand (5 metres off the ground) a doe walked down a trail and bedded down less than 9 metres from my stand. She never smelled that I was there.

Another more serious aspect is that the higher you climb the steeper and higher your arrow is going to strike the target (see illustration). Lets say the deer is standing perfectly broadside at 13 meters from the base of your tree; that should be an easy shot, Right? But if you are 27 metres up a tree then that certainly is not an easy shot. You may kill the deer but will you recover it? The arrow will enter high on the back and exit low at the belly line. The low exit wound immediately and completely gets plugged by the internal organs – no blood. Since the entry wound is high on the back there will be no blood either. No deer has that much blood that it could fill up the body cavity and exit the entry wound. There is no blood trail to follow. A straight down shot is possibly the worst shot a bow hunter can take.

For me tree stand height is of no consideration whatsoever. What is a consideration is good background and having many shooting lanes in various directions. Most of my stands are not much higher than 5 metres off the ground and quite often even lower but they’re all perfectly camouflaged. 

Bow Hunting Is Not Archery

“I’ve spent a lot of time at the archery range and attended a few 3-D archery tournaments this summer. I’m ready to go hunting,” said the archery champion I guided on his first bow hunt many years ago. The deer stood perfectly broadside 13 metres away from the stand. The archery champion aimed and took the shot. To his absolute surprise the arrow buried itself one metre above the deer in a tree trunk.

The champion made all sorts of excuses to defend his poor shot. He couldn’t maintain proper archer stance standing on the narrow tree stand platform; he had to bend his upper body severely downward, his elbow touching the tree trunk distracted him from concentrating on his form… I responded, “Bow hunting is not archery. Let’s go to the range and practice bow hunting.”

A week later he shot a doe and told me afterwards: “I never would have thought that shooting a bow in a hunting situation is so different from archery.”  This archery champion realized an important fact: all the many hours, days and weeks spent shooting your bow at the archery range or at 3-D tournaments will simply make you a proficient archer- not a hunter.

Once my bow is tuned and sighted in I’m finished with the archery range and will do all my shooting practice from a tree stand. From that lofty place I practice every imaginable variable and scenario I could encounter in a real hunting situation, including shooting under different weather conditions and wearing light summer and heavy insulated winter clothing. It is this type of practice that gives me the confidence and proficiency to take any shot that might present itself.

 

In order to make tree stand essentials work everything has to be done right. Leave out one ingredient and everything else will be dependent on luck.

 
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I welcome assignments from hunting related media. Send for queries and requests by email.


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