By Curt Wells, Equipment Editor
WHENEVER I HAVE USED someone else's treestands, I have always found things that, in my opinion, should have been done differently.
That thought came to me as I counted the treesteps winding up to my assigned stand in Kentucky. There were 28 of them. The guide had pointed me to the treestand, but he hadn't told me I'd have to wait for an opening in the clouds to get a shot at a deer!
Maybe I'm fussy, but to me "treestanding" is an art, and one that a lot of bowhunters have not learned. Some bowhunters think all they have to do is elevate themselves above a deer trail, and everything will all work out. If only it were that simple.
Selecting a stand, a stand site, a tree, putting up the stand, and using the stand to optimize your hunting efficiency is a complicated process that deserves full attention and focus. Why practice shooting all summer, scout hard, find great places, and then get careless or lazy when putting up a treestand? Here are some steps in getting the most from your treestand.
Hunt whitetails long enough and you'll get a feel for "the spot" - a mystical place that defies description yet cries out for a treestand. Until you get to that level, seek the percentages by looking for trail concentrations and travel routes.
Locate main trails fed by multiple "tributary" trails. Trails that flow down off a ridge or from a feeding area and then merge, either because of topography or vegetation, or because they lead to a bedding area, are excellent places to key on. Field edges tend to attract hunters, but the best spots are back in the cover where you'll more likely see bucks during daylight hours.
Transition areas where different types of cover meet are also good places to look for "the spot." I like areas close to bedding grounds where the woods open up a bit with lots of heavy cover around it. Often such woodland openings have some feed deer like to nibble on, and these often are places where deer "stage" before going to feed or coming to bed.
Primary point - Work the high-traffic corridors, keying on trails, and it won't take long before you'll recognize "the spot" when you see it.
A common mistake is choosing a tree that's virtually on top of a major trail. Even 10 yards is too close. You don't want a buck walking underneath your stand, putting you in the awkward position of having to move, draw, and shoot undetected at point blank range. Besides, a straight-down shot on a deer is not good shot selection.
To gain a bit of space between you and the oppressive senses of a whitetail buck, a to assure a better shot angle, move back 15 to 20 yards from the trail. Backing off a bit might also put you in a position to cover adjacent trails.
Of course, the nature of the trees in your area will affect your options. I like large trees, like cottonwoods, that hide my silhouette. The best trees are gnarly old behemoths with lots of limbs and an upper canopy for background cover. In some place you might have to sit in an arrow-straight tree with little or no cover, in which case you might have to climb higher to get above the deers' line of sight. But I personally don't like high stands, partly because they scare me, but also because they often present straight-down shots that can produce one-lung hits. Seldom do I place stands higher than 15 feet, 20 max. I realize that in some regions where deer are pounded, you might have to go higher to avoid the whitetail radar. But in most places, if you have decent cover, 20 feet will do nicely.
Primary point - Choose a tree that provides cover and does not crowd your hottest trails.
Putting up treestands is dangerous business under the best of circumstances. And they aren't always the best. Sometimes you're often in a hurry, you have to reach out to trim branches, you're tempted to take shortcuts (called chances), and you're long way off that ground. That's a recipe for disaster.
Take all precautions. If you use screw-in tree steps, place them at no less than 90-degree angles to each other. Anything less could leave you hanging if you slip. A bowhunter in my area ended up hanging from a tree step that penetrated his upper arm and tore down to the elbow. Another was strangled when he slipped and his binocular strap hooked a step
Put steps close enough together so you don't have to stretch from one to the next, especially in bulky, warm clothes. Install steps higher than your stand platform so you can step down onto your stand instead of wrestling to pull yourself up onto the platform. The same precautions apply to strap-on steps.
Other excellent options may be safer. For example Summit's Bucksteps are flat, enclosed steps that are secure and easy to climb. The Summit SwifTree Climbing Pole has enclosed rungs that cannot snag your clothes - or flesh. Climbing ladders with boxed rungs are also quick and safe to use.
When installing trees steps or ladders, and treestands, always wear a climbing belt with a strap that goes around the tree, like a lineman's climbing belt. That leaves your hands free to work with the steps and stand.
As most hunters know, many treestand accidents happen during the transition from steps or ladder into a stand. That's a deadly moment, most because most hunters have to fall protection at that moment. To ensure complete safety, climb to your stand level using your climbing belt. Then attach the tether for your full-body safety harness above the stand. Then unhook your climbing belt. That way you're always protected. Some hunters still use simple safety belts, but you're far better protected with a full-body safety harness.
One more point on safety: Whenever you hunt in a treestand, make sure someone knows exactly where you are and when you're coming home. If nobody knows where you are, and you have a mishap, you could be in serious trouble.
Primary point - Before you lift that first foot off the ground, think safety. Tragedy can happen to you - if you allow it.
In placing any stand in a tree, think about shooting radius - the total arc at which you can comfortably shoot around your stand. From a sitting position, you can shoot in an arc of about 180 degrees - if you place your stand right. For example, if you're right-handed, and you expect deer to come from the west, place your stand on the
north side of the tree, which allows you to shoot comfortably in a radius of about 180 degrees west of your tree without standing or moving your feet. Shooting from a sitting position is stable and assures a minimum of movement.
If a deer appears on the east side of your stand, well, you'll have to adjust. That's why some diehards remain standing the whole time they're on stand - to increase their shooting radius. While standing you can twist around the tree and shoot at angles you can't reach while sitting. Of course, this increases your movement, so it can be a tradeoff.
Simply pick the approach that works best for you and for the given situation. Regardless, always try to position your feet ahead of time so you don't have to move them as a deer comes your way.
Primary point - Footwork is what's important here. Always consider shooting radius when placing stands.
One of the biggest bucks to ever enter into my "space" was a 160-class 5x5 that slipped around behind me. He stood not 10 yards away, in dense willows, and shook like a Labrador retriever fresh out of the water. Then he walked out of my life. I was crushed that I had not cleared a shooting lane behind me into the willows, and I swore that would never happen again. Now I'm fanatical about shooting lanes, cutting as many as possible without exposing my stand.
The best method is to have a buddy along with a pole saw. From your treestand, direct him to every limb or branch that could get in the way of an arrow. Then have him hand you the saw up and trim branches from the stand. Obviously, you must be safely belted in with a safety harness while doing this.
If you can't reach a troublesome branch or twig with the saw, weight the end of a piece of cord with a rock or treestep and throw it over the branch. Then give it a snap to break it out of the way.
Be sure to clear shooting lanes vertically as well as horizontally. The trajectory of an arrow isn't flat, and many a buck has lived another day because of a single twig in the wrong spot. Always get permission to trim trees if you're on private land, and check the laws on public lands.
I avoid using the word "never," but I will never place a treestand with only one shooting lane. Even if there's only one perfect place for a shot, I'll clear secondary shooting lanes on each side of it in case a buck slips through the primary shooting lane. Secondary lanes can be hunt savers.
Primary point - Plan ahead so that any buck that comes within range of your stand must walk through a clear, ample shooting lane.
Every whitetail hunter knows the value of silence, and a quiet treestand is especially important. When you have a deer 10 yards from your stand on a calm day, you or your stand simply cannot make a sound.
When shopping for stands, look for a platform that absolutely won't groan or click as you shift weight, and make seat doesn't squeak when you rotate it. And buy a stand with a seat high enough so you can stand easily and quietly. If you have to lunge to rise off the seat, you'll eventually alert some deer with your movement and sound.
And analyze your setup item by item. If your rubber boots could squeak again a rubber-covered platform cable, wrap the cable in sticky-backed fleece. To prevent bark from sticking to your shirt and making noise, attach a strap-on backrest to the tree. If a swivel seat starts squeaking, lubricate it.
In cold weather I cover my stand platform with a small white rug, folded in half, to silence the movement of my boots. That's especially important when frost or crusty snow covers the stand platform (and the rug is a lot warmer than metal).
When cold weather arrives, parts of your stand may contract and loosen the stand on the tree. Then the stand will shift and creak as you shift your weight on it. After any significant temperature change, reset and tighten your stand.
Primary point - After safety, think silence in every way. Anticipate noise and kill it.
In deer hunting, things can happen fast. Whitetails are sneaky. You can get burned. And eventually you will. Always be ready.
A good bow hanger helps immensely. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but you must have your bow in the ready position with an arrow nocked, and you must be able to reach it with little movement. Few products are indispensable, but I don't hunt without my EZ Hanger, which screws into the tree and pivots to just about any position. My bow hangs on the end, always ready for action, and my grunt calls, rattling antlers, and binoculars hang from other hooks. And, if need be, I can swing the whole rig out of the way.
Any kind of bow hanger that keeps your bow at arm's length will work. You can also use an accessory belt that straps around the tree and has hooks for hanging all your "stuff." I carry cameras, film, tripod, rangefinder, water, snacks, calls and other stuff in my daypack and like to have it handy, so I hang it on a tree step.
Primary point - Lay out all your hunting tools so you don't have to struggle to find or use anything.
The art of treestanding does not come naturally, but it is a skill that anyone can learn. With commitment and attention to detail, two qualities familiar to most bowhunters, you'll be hunting high, safe, and successful. But be reasonable. If I ever face 28 treesteps again, I'll probably just hunt from the ground.