When you're hunting with a treestand, minimum effort means maximum efficiency.
Back in the day, when we used to build our own treestands out of three-quarter-inch plywood, a local wildlife refuge conducted a special bowhunt to trim deer populations.
We could not enter the refuge until the noon whistle blew in a nearby town. When that whistle blew, it triggered a mad scramble as bowhunters headed for their favorite trees.
The deer must have thought it was some sort of invasion when the herd of bowhunters came running over the hill carrying bows and treestands. It was quite comical as we hustled to the scattered patches of woods to get set up. The deer vaulted out of their beds and were on the move, and eventually a good buck would wander past someone and get shot. In fact, I killed my very first whitetail buck, a one-antlered four-point, on that late-season hunt in the early 1980s.
Back then, I wish I'd had a much lighter treestand, and that isn't the only time. Many hunting scenarios call for lightweight stands. Camp Ripley in Minnesota is a good example. The military installation annually conducts two weekend hunts, and no one can access the property until the gate opens. Bowhunters have to carry all their hunting gear, including bow, pack, and treestand into the woods, and then quickly set up in anticipation of moving bucks. No pre-scouting, no hanging stands in advance. In many such situations it's illegal to leave stands in trees overnight, so you must haul your stand out at the end of each day.
Another example is when you're hunting one of those whitetail hotspots deep in a bedding area that you prefer to stay out of during most of the deer season. When the rut arrives you slip in, quietly set up smack in the middle of the action, and then sit all day. A lightweight, easy-to-hang stand allows you to move quickly and stealthily with a minimum of commotion -- easily a fair tradeoff for the comfort of a larger, heavier stand.
What about when you're hunting unfamiliar ground? You have to follow the sign, and you never know for sure what tree you'll end up in. It could be a marginal tree that's close to the action, so a stand that's light enough to carry some distance and versatile enough to adapt to leaning trees can be an advantage.
Then you have situations in the West when hunting elk, mule deer, blacktails, Coues deer, or open-country whitetails where you have to strap on your pack, treestand, and bow, and then hike a considerable distance to get to the hunt location. The last thing you need is a heavy, cumbersome treestand that feels like a quarter of an elk by the time you reach your destination.
Big, heavy hang-ons and ladder stands are fine when you can drive to the tree or have plenty of time to hang the stand before your hunt takes place. But what if you find you've preset your stand in the wrong spot? You sit there and watch game parade down another trail out of bow range. You're hot to move, but it will be a lot of work, and you'll likely disturb the whole area as you're doing it.
That's just a short list of times when a featherweight treestand can be invaluable. Your treestand arsenal can still include heavy duty, ultra-comfortable stands set up prior to the season, but you really need at least one stand you can strap to the back of your daypack or carry long distances with minimal effort.
To help you choose a featherweight hang-on stand, I've compiled a list of options. These stands are 11 pounds or lighter -- the standard I set for this list. All the major treestand manufacturers make great stands, but not all offer models under my minimum. Some of these stands will also adjust to leaning trees, a nice feature when you have to pick a tree on the fly. Take a look at these options and make sure you have at least one in your stable of stands -- just in case.
And speaking of just in case, I should not have to remind you to wear a fall-arrest system anytime you're climbing, sitting in a treestand, or descending a tree. To those of us who never get elevated without wearing a harness, this advice seems obvious, but some hunters still insist on tempting fate. Trust me, that's a serious mistake.
The lightest stand from Ameristep is the Non-Typical Avenger, which weighs 10 lbs. The platform is large enough at 29'' x 20'', and the flip-up seat is generous at 12'' x 17'', and it is thickly padded for comfort. The Speed Strap is reversible so you can attach the stand from either side of the tree, and the Super Cam leverage lock system allows you to snug the stand to the tree and pull down the platform to lock it tightly in place. Non-Typical's NS3 Technology features a Micro-Fiber exterior that reduces shine and sound. Contact: Ameristep, (810) 686-4035,www.ameristep.com
This Michigan treestand manufacturer has upgraded its compact 8-lb. Super Ghost treestand by increasing the size of the platform seven inches to 25'' x 14'', which brings this stand's total weight to 10 lbs. even. The Super Ghost can be ordered in three seat heights -- 20'', 22'', and 25'' -- to match your height and leg length. The platform also features a tri-position leveling system, so you can use this stand on trees that lean backwards. A Chain Rigging Harness is easily hooked around the tree, and the stand hangs in seconds. Contact: Chippewa Wedge-Loc, (989) 835-3856, www.chippewawedgeloc.com
The Silverback Scout tips the scales at a friendly 9.8 lbs. and attaches with an Easy-Cinch dual claw strap. Special XT-6 nylon bushings eliminate squeaks, and you won't slip on the Black Traxion coated surfaces. The XPE foam seat won't absorb moisture, and it flips up and out of your way to maximize foot room on the 24'' x 18'' platform. A leveling system on the seat contributes to comfort, and backpack straps help you get this stand into the field. Contact: Gorilla, 1-877-685-7817,www.gorillatreestands.com
One of the most versatile stands on the market, especially in regard to adapting to oddball trees, is the Leveler from Innovative Treestands. This aluminum stand features four telescoping tubes, two on top and two on the bottom, that allow you to adjust the stand to trees that lean backwards, to one side, or even both. The seat height adjusts from 18'' to 28'', a feature I appreciate since I'm 6' 5''. All that adjustability and a generous 22'' x 30'' platform still add up to only 9.5 lbs.! Contact: Innovative Treestands, (815) 725-7268, www.innovativetreestands.com
The Assassin Combo is a unique option that includes a Micro-Platform and a Sniper Tre
e Sling. The platform, measuring 18'' x 14'', weighs only 6.5 lbs. It fits trees 4'' to 22'' in diameter and features a leveling system that makes it adaptable to leaning trees. The Sniper Tree Sling supports the bulk of your body and doubles as a safety harness, allowing you to move around the tree in virtually any direction. In some trees you can use the Assassin to stand on while you sit on a stout limb -- still wearing a safety harness, of course. Contact: Lone Wolf, (309) 691-9653,www.lonewolfstands.com
The dual-strap system on the lightweight Hunter Pro stand prevents any shift in stand position as you're climbing in. This 10.5-lb. aluminum stand has a 28'' x 21'' welded grate platform that can be leveled with an easy, no-tool leveling system. The angle of the seat can also be adjusted so you can be comfortable in a leaning tree, and a three-inch-thick cushion with a waterproof cover keeps you comfortable for the long haul. Contact: Muddy Outdoors, 1-877-366-8339, www.gomuddy.com
The new Raptor Series of treestands includes the rsFalcon, an 11-lb. aluminum stand that features all the new Summit technology. The platform measures 20'' x 24'', and the thickly padded, flip-up seat measures 18''W x 8''D. The new Talon Bracket System makes hanging this stand a cinch, because you attach the bracket to the tree first and then pull up the stand and hang it. You can quickly level the platform with a single cable that slides through a spreader tube (giving you more leg room), meaning you only have to adjust one side of the cable. Move the cable to the appropriate slot and the platform levels itself. Contact: Summit, (256) 353-0634, www.summitstands.com
The Tree Saddle, a modified harness system, is designed to provide you with long-term comfort by distributing your weight across the seat portion of the Tree Saddle. There are no pressure points to shorten your day, and you actually save more than the Tree Saddle's four-pound weight because it doubles as your safety harness. Zero dB Stealth "D" Rings eliminate metal-on-metal contact, and magnetic closures or cinches on pouches contribute to silence.
You simply install tree steps around virtually any tree at your hunting height, or even stand on stout limbs. This allows you to be suspended from the trunk but still move quietly 360 degrees around the tree. You can set up multiple trees with steps, and since the Tree Saddle goes with you, you have no worries that someone will steal your treestand or use it when you're away. Using the Tree Saddle takes some practice, but it is a serious option. Contact: Trophyline USA, 1-866-444-4868, www.trophylineusa.com