September 16, 2021
With temperatures forecasted to eclipse the century mark for the fifth day in a row, there was no way a spot-and-stalk approach was going to work. It was opening day of archery season, and the ground was hard and noisy.
After a quick wind check, I knew exactly which of my three treestands I needed to get to if I had any chance of tagging a blacktail.
Before daylight I was 23 feet up a tree, comfortably harnessed in the stand. Three hours later, one of the bucks I'd been catching on a trail camera all summer stepped onto a trail and headed my way. The shot was simple, and soon I was making plans for the following season.
Hunting from treestands continues to grow in popularity among big-game hunters throughout the West, and rightly so. Whether you're hunting elk, blacktails, whitetails or bears, hunting from a treestand might provide the advantage you’re looking for.
WHY TREESTANDS WORK
Hunting from a treestand offers three distinct advantages, the most important of which is getting your scent off the ground. Wind flows like a river—in layers—and the higher you can be off the ground, the less likely your scent is to linger where animals can smell you.
Second, hunting from a treestand gives you an elevated vantage point, allowing you to see more than you ever would from the ground. It also allows you to hear more of what’s happening in the woods.
A third benefit for deer and elk hunters is that due to the structure of the eyes of these animals, they struggle to decipher details of objects high above the horizon line. Game animals simply don't look up very often. This explains why if you remain steady in your stand, they’ll either not look up at all or look briefly and then go back to what they were doing—which hopefully was walking toward you so you have a good shot.
The first thing to know about hanging a treestand is that no matter where you put it or what kind of treestand it is, you must wear and properly use a safety harness system. These are designed to prevent falls while you are climbing into, hunting from or climbing out of the stand. Many folks secretly pride themselves on not reading the instructions that come with the equipment they use (you know who you are), but do yourself and your loved ones a favor and read and follow safety harness instructions.
My minimum height for hanging a treestand when hunting Western big game is 15 feet, but 25 feet is my preferred height. Once, on a very steep hillside, I hung a stand 45 feet up a tree. I wouldn’t suggest doing this unless you’ve had some treestand experience, and while it sounds like a bit much, the trail on the uphill side of that stand was barely below eye level. I later arrowed a nice bear from that stand, so on a practical level it worked.
Ladder stands are great to start with as they are stable and very safe. My preferred stands are climbers since they allow maximum height to be reached. Ideally you can hang multiple stands in your hunting area, as wind direction, time of day, sun position and more will dictate which stand you hunt from and when. Some stands will best be hunted in the morning, while others will produce in the evening.
If you hunt over a waterhole in hot conditions, be prepared to sit from daylight to dark, keeping in mind that the changing position of the sun can play havoc. Make your set-up as comfortable as possible for a long sit. For example, at some point you will probably want to take a break from holding your bow, so have a bow stand or hook in place so you can keep an arrow knocked and readily accessible.
I like having stands in place well before the season, as limbing trees, clearing brush and ratcheting ladders can be invasive. Early hanging also allows time for scent on the stand and everything else you touched in the area to dissipate.
That said, sometimes in-season scouting or trail cameras will suggest that it’s time for a stand in a new location. If you hang a stand during the season, hang it during the most unlikely time of game movement (usually mid-day), so as not to spook the animals you are hunting.
WHERE TO HANG OUT
Summer scouting will help you determine where to hang treestands. Physically scouting will help you locate game, as will hanging multiple trail cameras. Trail cams are perfect for this as they can be positioned on the very tree you’re thinking about hunting from.
Patterning game movement is critical to any hunting success but it’s especially important when hunting from a treestand since you’re immobile and waiting for game to come to you. You have to be right about where the animals will want to be or else you’re in for a very long sit.
Treestands allow you to hunt in brushy, timbered habitat and on hillsides you otherwise may not effectively be able to hunt from the ground. Any stand that allows you to see over head-high brush on the ground in an area where game moves is an advantage over standing on the ground to hunt.
If you are looking for a way to avoid spooking game this fall, consider a treestand. Once you experience how much game you can see from one, you’ll be looking at more ways to implement them into your hunting repertoire.