Using a tree stand is like anything else: the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more comfortable it will feel. With so many options out there, there is a stand for everybody, and every hunting level. Ladder stands, climbing stands, and fix stands all provide their advantages and disadvantages. It is important to remember that any time you are using a tree stand, you MUST wear a harness and a fall arrest system. Keep in mind that more people are killed each year from using homemade tree stands than all others combined. Old boards crack, nails and screws become unattached, and rain and sun weaken the boards. They are just plain unsafe and should be avoided at all costs. Additionally, any time you are hanging stands, you should also be wearing a lineman’s climbing belt for additional stability and balance. If you are afraid of heights, then a tree stand is not right for you. There is nothing wrong with hunting from the ground. I will cover that topic later.
Ladder stands are just as the name implies: a ladder with a tree stand attached at the top of the ladder. They come in a variety of materials, most often steel and aluminum. When installed properly, they are the safest of all tree stands. They are extremely stable, and some are big enough to hold two hunters comfortably. This makes them ideal for taking young hunters aloft for their first few seasons. Generally, this type of stand is put up once at the beginning of the hunting season and left up in one for spot for the duration.
Ladder stands require two people to set them up and are often cumbersome to maneuver around. Most ladder stands range from 15 to 17 feet in height. At this height, most people feel comfortable hunting and it provides them with the optimum shooting angle. The higher you are off the ground, the steeper your shooting angle becomes, making it more difficult to get a double long shot. Ladder stands are attached to the tree with a series of straps and ratchets the lock it in place. The ladder is very easy to climb, and is extremely sturdy.
The platforms on ladder stands vary in width and length depending on your specific hunting need. It is important to match your platform to your style of hunting. Rifle hunters generally do not need as big of a platform, because most of their shooting is done from the seated position. Bow hunters, on the other hand, often prefer larger platforms so that they can shoot either standing or sitting.
The only downside to a ladder stand is that they are more visual in the woods, thus making it more difficult to hide than the other two types of tree stands. Also, because of their size, they are not portable.
A climbing stand is the most portable of the three types of tree stands. It is carried into the woods the day of the hunt and taken back out at the end of the day. There are two pieces that make up this type of stand: a seat and a base. Each piece is attached to the tree via a cable. The hunter then inches his/her way upward by lifting the seat up and the base up, much like an inch worm moves, until he/she is at their desired height. To climb a tree with this stand, it must be straight and free of branches. Essentially, you are climbing a telephone pole. This can leave the hunter exposed to the game if the stand is on the edge of a field or any other open area
Climbing stands are the most comfortable to sit in for long periods of time. Most come with a heavily-padded seat and arm rests. Some hunters refer to this type of stand as a lounger, claiming that they are as comfortable as their favorite lounge chair. I can personally attest that many of the high-end climbing stands have chairs that are very comfortable, too comfortable for my liking. This is the type of stand that most hunters fall asleep in and fall out of.
One major advantage of this type of tree stand is its versatility and ease of use. You only have to carry the stand. There are no ladders and no other items to carry into the woods with you. Also, if you are going to hunt public land, this is your best option for getting off the ground. Any time you leave a stand in the woods, you are at risk of having some steal it. I have even had this issue on private property.
The third type of stand is a fixed stand. It requires the hunter to carry the stand, plus some type of a climbing device. Climbing devices range from portable ladders, to interlocking climbing sticks, to strap-on rail systems. This type of stand is very popular because of its ease of use and its ability to be highly mobile if necessary. This is the type of stand that I use most often.
They allow individuals to climb to any height desirable. Most climbing sticks and ladders max out at 20 feet. Additionally, they allow you to place the stand above limbs and branches, allowing the hunter to have extra cover from the game below. The platforms are very spacious and allow the hunter to shoot comfortably from the seated position or standing.
Fixed stands are stable and very safe when used properly. They typically attach to a tree with a belt or chain that is affixed to the stand directly below the seat. Once connected, the hunter then synchs the belt tightly to the tree. Add a secondary strap on the bottom for stability, and you are all set and ready to hunt. Many high-end companies such as, Lone Wolf and Summit, now connect the stand to the tree with a strap and a hook system. This system makes hanging stands extremely simple and fast.
With any tree stand I hunt out of, I always attached a few extra accessories to the tree to aid in my comfort. First, I always screw a bow holder to the tree. From the bow holder, I can then hang my ropes for hoisting my bow and backpack up to the stand. It also provides me with the space to hang my gear, backpack, range finder, binoculars, and calls.
When trying to decide where to hang your tree stand from, remember it is all about location, location, location. Logging roads, field edges, and creek bottoms all make excellent locations to hang stands. You should try to hang them some place where the deer are going to move past as they are following their daily routine. Keep in mind that all deer have to eat and drink. You just need to find out how they are getting from their house to the supermarket. This is where off season scouting and trail cameras can pay big dividends.
How high should a tree stand be? Well, for most of us there is no reason to go above the 15-20 foot range. Within that range, a hunter should be able to find adequate cover, even into the late season.
Another important factor to take into consideration when hanging a tree stand is your ability to approach the stand undetected. You need to determine what the prevailing wind is for that area and base your decision of how to enter your standoff of that. You do not want to wake up the deer as your entering your stand area. This may require you to go the long way in and out of your stand, but it will pay off in the end. As walk, go slowly. The slower you move, the quieter you become. Do your best to avoid stepping on leaves and sticks in order to minimize noise.
If you want the perfect tree stand location, keep your mouth shut. Far too often, people want to brag about the big deer they have scouted around their tree stands. Whether you do it in person during a conversation or chat about it online, the results will always be the same: someone else is going to either sit in your stand when you are not there, or they will erect one of their own nearby. If you want to brag, wait till after you shoot the deer and then tell everyone that you shot it in the peach orchard. Within a week, someone else will have a stand in that peach orchard.
You must be comfortable on your stand. You need to be able to sit fidget-free all morning or all afternoon. The more you have to move around, the more likely that a deer is going to pick you off. It is also important that you learn how to shoot from your tree stand in the seated position. This will help you further conceal your movement in the tree.
If you are seeing lots of deer, but cannot seem to figure out why they keep giving your stand a wide berth, look at the ground below. Often times, fallen branches, downed trees, and other obstacles may be forcing deer to move just out of shooting range for you. You want to move obstacles so that they force deer towards you, not away from you. This is a little thing that can make a world of difference.