A tree stand is one of the bowhunter’s most important tools. Sit quietly in one that’s in the right place and you’ll see deer and have shot opportunities. Place one thoughtlessly and you’ll enjoy nothing but solitude.
The basic principle is not complicated. All you need to do is set one up within easy shooting distance of an area your quarry routinely visits. The devil, as always, is in the details.
With that in mind here are a few key factors to consider.
Most times a good location will be somewhere along deer travel corridors, most often between bedding and feeding areas, which includes artificial feeding areas such as bait sites or food plots.
Traditional bowhunting wisdom suggests that in the early morning, a hunter should use a stand closer to feeding areas rather than bedding areas. That way by the time a deer passes your stand on the way to the feeding area, shooting light will be good.
In the evening, a stand set a little closer to the bedding area is normally better; deer approaching a feeding area in the afternoon often hang back in a staging area until near dark. If you set up in those staging areas, you have a better chance of intercepting a deer in good shooting light.
Sometimes property lines or topography prohibit a hunter from following these strategies. In that case, hunt obvious crossing points, where trails intersect, choke points in the topography, and where trail camera photos, scrape and rub lines, or other signs indicate deer regularly pass through during legal hunting hours.
If a deer catches your scent, you’re probably beat.
You can avoid being busted by positioning your tree stand so the prevailing wind is blowing from the deer’s travel route to you. Crosswinds or quartering winds will also do in a pinch. If you don’t have favourable winds, hunt the stand another time when the wind is on your side. Try to have several stands set up to accommodate different wind directions.
Hunters also need to be aware of thermal air currents. These air flows travel upwards as the earth heats in the morning and downwards as temperatures cool in the evening. This means, if you set up a tree stand near a creek bottom, you might not want to use it in the morning, especially if deer are coming down hillside trails to get there. The wrong wind might catch your scent as it gets carried uphill by rising thermals.
Tree stand height
Ideally, you should place your tree stand as high as you are comfortable climbing without creating too steep a shot angle.
A high stand helps keep your scent above deer and also keeps you out of the deer’s line of sight as it approaches the stand. It also provides a really good vantage point so you can see what is happening in the woods around you.
Lower stands have certain advantages too. They provide a less severe shot angle, which makes shot placement easier. Also, if heights make you nervous, sometimes a lower stand is the answer.
Regardless, there are situations when stand height is dictated for you due to surrounding trees. For instance, you probably won’t be able to set a stand too high in areas where cedars and other evergreens abound, since their canopies will block your line of sight to the ground.
If you really like the area, adapt. If not, find another spot more conducive to your preferred tree stand height.
Almost every experienced bowhunter has passed up a shot at a big game animal within easy bow range because of a shooting lane that was obstructed by a screen of sticks, vegetation, or trees. When you set up your stand take the time to situate it over natural shooting lanes or, failing that, clear a good shooting lane or two. Don’t overdo it or the deer might get suspicious of the changes in the area.
Even though you are off the ground and out of the deer’s normal line of sight, you should also try to conceal your tree stand. The best way to do that is to set it up among a group of trees, in the shadows if possible, to ensure you and your stand are not silhouetted during the hunt.
This should always be your primary concern. That means knowing without a doubt your stand has not been damaged and is attached to the tree properly. It also means you wear an approved safety harness and use it correctly from the time you leave the ground to the time you set foot on it again.
None of that is of any use if you do not pick a sound tree with bark that isn’t going to slip and destabilize your stand. Choose your tree carefully.
Don’t hunt a stand when weather conditions are unsuitable due to ice, snow, heavy rain, electrical storms, or high winds. Similarly, don’t get up in a tree if you are overly tired, sick, or on substances or medications that affect your balance or make you drowsy.
Though this should be fairly obvious, I’ve seen far too many hunters ignore that advice – and the price of doing so can be high.
These are the major issues most of us face when choosing a tree stand location. Tackle these concerns and you might find yourself eating tenderloin sooner rather than later.