Almost everybody is using treestands these days, but are they using them properly?
By Joe Blake
Treestands have played a big role in increasing success rates for bowhunters. When I began bowhunting in the early 1970s, there were only a couple of manufacturers (like Loc-On or Baker) that even offered portable treestands. But once they caught on, just like compound bows, treestands popularity skyrocketed. Now there are dozens of manufacturers that offer hundreds of different makes and models to fill virtually every conceivable need.
Before portable treestands became widely available, the woods were riddled with permanent stands nailed into trees, but there is really no good reason to use one. A permanent stand damages trees and is an eyesore for anyone spending time in the woods. It also is inherently unsafe because, after being subjected to Mother Nature year-round, it starts to deteriorate.
Also, since it is impossible to move these permanent structures, you can’t be mobile when deer patterns change. If the whitetails in your hunting area alter their feeding pattern, for example, you are forced to abandon one stand and build another. This is likely how the woods became full of permanent structures in the first place.
Probably the biggest drawback is that whitetails, especially big bucks, quickly become accustomed to permanent stands and avoid them.
Most bowhunters go too high when hunting from elevated ambushes. I rarely hang a stand more than 14 feet off the ground. The higher a hunter goes in a tree, the longer his or her shot will be. The sharper angle presented by a high stand makes hitting both lungs difficult or even impossible.
Also, the higher you climb, the higher the inherent danger. A slip from 10 feet might cause injury, but a fall from 30 almost certainly will. The argument is usually that it’s necessary to climb to nose-bleed heights to avoid detection, but proper stand placement and cover, as well as knowing exactly when and how to move as you prepare for your shot, is much more important than climbing into the clouds.
A few years ago, I was hunting on a bitter cold December day in North Dakota and a lack of suitable trees forced me to place my stand extremely low. The big doe I arrowed that morning walked past my ambush without giving me a glance, despite the fact that I was only 8 feet off the ground and less than 10 yards from the game trail.
Of course, terrain, available trees and cover all have a bearing on the correct stand height. I like my bear stands about 8 feet up to keep my shot angle low on such a big, powerful animal. Believe it or not, in brushy country like South Texas, I’ve actually hunted from elevated stands as low as 4 feet to gain enough elevation for best visibility.
To avoid detection, the amount and type of background cover your ambush offers is much more important than stand height.
I love to bowhunt in areas of heavy spruce or pine because the thick vegetation breaks up my silhouette. These evergreens provide cover throughout the season long after other trees have lost their leaves. I also like to hunt from large trees, despite the fact that I almost always have to add extensions to my portable stands to get them to reach around the trunk. A large tree provides great background cover. In Minnesota I hunt almost exclusively from big, gnarly old oaks whose giant trunks and multiple branches hide me to perfection.
It seems obvious that the best place to hang your stand is the exact spot that offers you the highest probability of success, but in visiting with other bowhunters, I find that most people place their stands in the easiest, most comfortable trees available. Rather than setting stands where they are most likely to shoot an animal, many hunters are content to place stands where they are most likely to merely see deer (even if they do so subconsciously).
Proper stand placement depends on factors too numerous to adequately cover in one article, but there are a number factors that are critical that we should cover.
One is to always keep the sun at your back, which means expecting your shot to be west of you in the morning and east of you in the evening. A low sun behind you makes you virtually invisible and helps illuminate your target early and late when it is sometimes difficult to pick your spot and identify your hit. Another good practice, especially for fall seasons, is to place your stands on the north side of trees. With the sun in the southern sky, it will generally be behind you throughout the day.
Another key factor is how you approach and leave your stand. Keep your trail well away from expected game movement, and clear enough of a path so you make a minimum amount of noise.
You likely will be entering and exiting your stand sites before daylight and after dark. Just because you don’t see a deer doesn’t mean there isn’t one (or more) nearby. If you’ve selected a good stand site, there most likely will be whitetails somewhere in the vicinity as you come and go.
Many hunters mistakenly believe their scent vanishes the second they climb a tree. That’s why some hunters put their stands up at staggering heights, figuring that the higher they are in a tree the more likely it will be that their scent carries over the sharp noses of their quarry.
Being elevated can help with scent dispersal, but it is not a sure bet. I have an awesome stand site on my farm in Minnesota in a huge, old oak that always shows me lots of deer, but I need a northwest wind to hunt it. Even with a steady northwest wind, the deer upwind of my ambush almost always smell me early in the season. With the leaves still in full foliage, the wind swirls, eddies and backwashes around the huge tree and carries my scent upwind to the whitetails before they get within bow range.
Conversely, I shot a nice buck at 12 yards from a relatively low stand in North Dakota a few years ago that came in from almost a half-mile away, directly downwind. It is necessary to study and understand not only wind and wind direction but also the subtleties of air currents and thermals, and how they relate to your hunting area and the game you are pursuing.
Treestand hunting has come a long way in the last three decades. When I started bowhunting at age 12, the norm was a board wedged into the crotch of a tree or one limb for your feet and another for your rump. No one had heard of safety harnesses or portable stands, but that has changed forever. There can be no doubt that bowhunting success has risen along with the use of effective treestand gear and tactics.
This article was published in the August 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.