November 25, 2020
There’s a decision to be made. I can continue to sit here and watch the parade of whitetails passing by 40 yards out of bow range, or I can climb down, move my set and be ready the next time one of those love-seeking bucks marches past.
So, yeah, it’s not really much of a decision at all.
Here’s the funny thing, though: A lot of folks don’t, won’t or can’t make that move. More truth: I’ve been soundly ridiculed by buddies I’ve hunted with over the years for my tendency to change stand locations several times during a single day. I’m not talking about simply leaving one stand and moving to another. I mean physically removing the stand and the sticks and relocating them to another tree. I’ve done it during the primetime hours of deer movement. I’ve done it during the midday hours. I’ve done it while deer were literally moving about within sight.
There is a method to my perceived madness, of course, and it’s really not that complex of a thought process. If I’m seeing deer, and those deer aren’t within range, it doesn’t make much sense to simply sit and watch them—especially during the frenzied days of the rut.
Fortunately, the "mobile hunter" fad of recent years has made things much easier on me thanks to lighter stands, purpose-designed climbing sticks and über-light saddles.
WHEN TO MOVE
I won’t hesitate to move my stand any time I see a need to, but by and large this is a rut-related tactic. So much of a buck’s behavior and movement during the rut is dictated by the does that are the object of his desire.
Activity hotspots can and will change daily. This is especially true when hunting areas of thick cover with multiple bedding areas. Bucks cruise these areas looking for bedded does. The top location for any particular day will depend greatly on which bedding area is most active on that particular day. Again, you can choose to sit and watch the action from afar or you can move your stand into the heart of it. If you wait and move the stand hoping the action is hot the following day, you could be greatly disappointed.
My go-to setup is a hang-on stand with a set of climbing sticks. I enjoy saddles and believe them to be a fine tool. But, for my money, a hang-on stand provides the most benefit.
I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve installed a hang-on setup on a tree. I can tell you that I likely could do so with my eyes closed in less than 10 minutes from start to finish. And if you were standing 40 yards away, I’d wager you wouldn’t even hear me doing it.
I’ve used just about every brand and model of hang-on stand that’s hit the market in the past decade. Some are definitely more mobile-friendly than others. My current favorites are the XOP Vanish Evolution, the Lone Wolf Assault II and the new Echo from Novix—especially with its $190 price point.
All of these stands are cast aluminum, which means they’re light and don’t have that pinging/ringing noise factor of stands made from aluminum or steel tubing. I use a pair of cinch-type straps for speed and silence.
To ascend the tree, I use single-section sticks like the Hawk Helium. They’re light, easy to use and stable. I’ll generally use four to get to my desired height but can often get away with using just three depending on the available cover.
My process is simple and formed from years of working to get up a tree as quickly and quietly as possible. I hang the first stick from the ground, of course, positioning it so that the top is about head high. Then I grab two more sticks, jump up on the first stick that’s already in place, attach a lineman’s belt and install the next two sticks. In about 90 seconds or so, I have three sticks on the tree and ready to go. I climb back down, grab the final stick and place the treestand on my back using backpack straps. My bow and pack are attached to the stand with paracord. Here’s a useful tip: Attach the paracord to the front of the stand’s platform. That way, when you open the platform, the cord is away from the tree, your body and the climbing sticks. This eliminates a lot of tangles.
I then head back up the tree, set the final stick and hang the stand. I can’t stress enough how important the lineman’s belt is for this. It will keep you safe and it also makes it possible to use both hands, which greatly speeds up the install. This stage of the process takes me three to four minutes.
Then I hook up my safety harness, step onto the stand and make sure it’s seated properly and level. I pull up my bow and pack, and boom, I’m done—in position and hunting again.
The above process is essentially the same when employing a saddle—minus, of course, the need to set the treestand. My climbing system remains unchanged, though I may add an aider to the bottom step to eliminate the need for a fourth stick in situations where I’m looking to shave as much weight as possible.
I don’t often hunt an area “blind,” meaning I’ll have done some measure of speed-scouting prior to choosing a general area to target. But in those instances where I am truly going freelance and scouting with the intention of hanging and hunting a location right away, the saddle is a much lighter, more nimble option.
I like Tethrd’s Phantom saddle due to its minimalistic design. I wear the saddle while walking and scouting and have climbing sticks strapped to my pack. This allows me to quickly set up in an area without hassle.
Again, the lineman’s belt is a must. Not just because it’s the safest way to ascend and descend but because it allows me to hang sticks, platforms and tether with both hands. That saves time and greatly reduces the amount of noise that I make. And, of course, I always keep my bow and pack on the ground affixed to a pull-up rope to save an extra trip down the tree.