Treestand hunting is not an exact science. We all learn with experience, and there is definitely an element of “feel” involved when it comes to choosing stand locations and hunting them.
That said, there are definitely some rules to follow if you want stands that consistently produce high-odds shots at whitetails. This article isn’t about deer movement or funnels or that sort of thing; this is the nuts and bolts of stand placement. Add in some scouting and a few seasons of experience and you will be consistently taking whitetails from the branches above.
So, without further ado, here are my 10 best treestand hunting tips:
The higher you go, the easier it is to keep your scent above the heads of downwind deer, but the more difficult the shot becomes — especially when the animal is close.
I have a friend who believes, through personal testing, you have to be at least 30 feet up to keep your scent off the ground for a long enough distance that deer passing within range on your downwind side won’t be able to smell you. I would agree, not because I hunt that high, but because I know my normal height of 20-22 feet is not high enough.
Being afraid of heights, I don’t like 30-foot stands in the first place, but I keep my stands lower for another reason. The shooting angle to a deer’s vital area is much better from a lower height. Our goal as bowhunters is a double-lung hit. There are exceptions, but we should set up to achieve that. The higher you go, the harder this becomes, especially on deer within 10 yards of your stand — possibly even 15 yards if you go high enough.
Twenty to 22 feet is a very good compromise. That is about as high as you can go and still have a good angle for a double-lung hit on deer that are 10 yards away, possibly a bit less. And this height still keeps you above the normal peripheral vision of deer within 20 yards.
Each stand is different. Some you can hunt often with no worry of burning them out, while others you have to hunt sparingly. I don’t even like hunting the latter group at all, but in situations where stand options are limited you have to put them in the rotation. So, with that in mind, let’s take quick look at stand frequency.
I have stands I can hunt almost every day of the season as long as the wind is right. I have also hunted a few stands (and still do sometimes) where it is tough to get away clean at dark. These stands tend to burn out quickly. I avoid them when I can, and hunt them only a few times all season. You probably have stands like that too. It comes down to whether the deer know you are there or have been there. If not, you can hunt the stand often. If some of them figure it out, then you need to rest the stand a long time between hunts.
When deer sense human intrusion, they become more cautious in that area. If you reinforce the threat by going back too soon, they will stop moving naturally and become much harder to kill. Unless the stand sets up nearly perfect for undetected hunting, rest it at least a week between hunts.
How Many Stands?
This tip goes with the last one. It is good to have at least two stands for every consecutive day you plan to hunt — up to some reasonable maximum. For example, if you are going to hunt for a week, it would be ideal to have at least 14 stand sites. You don’t necessarily have to have stands set at all of them, but you should have that many spots picked out, scouted and ready to roll. This gives you several options for each wind direction and makes it much easier to spread your pressure and keep each site reasonably fresh.
I like to set my stands on the backside of the tree — the side away from where I expect deer to come. On a food source, I will be on the side away from the food. When hunting near a trail, I will place the stand on the side away from the trail. This allows me to hide behind the tree when deer are close.
While this really works well, there are two downsides. First, you will need to stand most of the time, facing the tree. You can take a few breaks when things are slow, but to be ready for action, you will need to be on your feet a lot. Second, you will have to shoot around the tree. This can take some getting used to, because you will have to decide ahead of time which side you will shoot on because the tree will block part of your field of fire.
To go along with this, I like to hunt trees about as big around as my upper body. Trees this size are easy to climb and big enough for concealment, but not so big I can’t shoot around them fairly easily.
I try to place my stand near large branches whenever possible to break up my outline and give me a sense of security in the tree. I place the stand so these branches are at roughly hip level so I can shoot over them easily when standing.
When to Put Them Up
The best time to erect stands is right after the season. The lessons from the season are still fresh in your mind and you can see all the sign from the past fall. The vegetation is roughly the same as it will be during the hunt, so you know just what to cut to create the best shooting lanes. A shooting lane that makes sense in June is often too open in October or November.
Putting stands up during the season is also an option, but I have a few tips to keep in mind. Believe it or not, I have found it is best to make a bunch of noise. Ideally, drive close, slam doors, start a chainsaw and make a few cuts nearby. Give the deer plenty of warning and time to move off. There is no sense in startling them by trying to sneak in when you know it will be nearly impossible.
Acting like a farmer checking a fence or a landowner cutting some firewood will give you the diversion you need to clear them out. Next, using the very best scent-control methods you know (even going so far as to wear PVC waders to the base of the tree), sneak the rest of the way in and place the stand. Move them out, but keep scent to an absolute minimum near the stand. And keep cutting to a minimum as well.
You can also get away with placing stands during the season by going in during a rain shower. The rain makes the woods quiet and dilutes your ground scent. I have placed many stands during cold, mid-October rainstorms.
How Far off Trails?
Twenty-yard shots are the bread and butter of whitetail hunting. I would love it if every shot I take for the rest of my life were 20 yards. Sometimes, shorter shots can be just as tough as longer shots. When shots are less than 15 yards, you run a greater risk of being seen or heard in the tree. The shot angle also becomes more challenging as the distance shrinks, increasing the risk of a single-lung hit.
Longer shots may allow you to get away with a bit more movement in the tree, but dealing with walking deer or deer that are likely to jump the string becomes a much tougher challenge. Twenty yards is perfect!
Climbers vs. Hang-Ons
I am not a big fan of climbing stands for most of my hunting. First, the trees where I hunt often have too many branches and are too crooked to accommodate a climber.
Second, I can’t get up the tree as quietly in a climber as I can with screw-in steps or strap-on climbing sticks. When sneaking into an early-morning stand on a still day, the climbers make too much noise for my taste. They also require too much movement when sneaking out of a stand next to a bedding area after a morning hunt or next to a feeding area after an evening hunt.
Third, I don’t want to carry stands in and out of the woods all the time. So, I am left with the only option of leaving the stand at the base of the tree when I am not hunting it. Deer are not going to take the sudden appearance of a climbing stand nearly as well as the sudden appearance of a tree step.
There are situations where climbing stands make sense, such as when hunting a big tract of straight trees on a limited budget. In that case, carrying the stand to and from the woods each day is just an unfortunate requirement.
The Element of Surprise
You have likely noticed that the first time you hunt a stand, or the first time after a long rest, usually results in the best action. The area is fresh; you have the element of surprise on your side. You can take advantage of this one of two ways. First, you can have many stands out so you are hunting fresh ones nearly every day, or you can carry your stand on your back and hunt fresh areas often.
The first strategy obviously requires a sizable checking account to buy all the stands, but the second strategy is not without its own costs. If you hope to move that often, your cost will be sweat. Putting up stands several times per week during the season is a lot of work. I used to hunt this way all the time and I came up with a very fast, very portable system, but it still required plenty of resolve to see it through each day. I enjoyed great hunting using this strategy.
You can either put up fresh stands in the afternoon and hunt them the next morning, or take them down when you leave the woods and hunt stands you already have in place during the mornings. Unless you are using a climbing stand in an area with lots of straight trees, it is very tough to put up a stand in the pre-dawn darkness without making lots of noise.
The Key to Success
If there is a secret to treestand hunting, it is the value of entry and exit routes. Without going into lots of detail here — I have written about this many times — I will just lay out the fundamentals.
If the deer know you are there, they won’t come past your stand. So, your entry route has to be undetectable. If they know you were there, they will become more cautious in that area in the future. So, your exit route has to be undetectable too. That doesn’t leave much room for error, does it?
The Most Important Product
The most important product available for treestand hunters is not the stand, but the climbing system. I am totally sold on the climbing ropes made by a number of companies, such as the Hunter Safety System Life Line, Seat-O-The-Pants Climbing System and Muddy Outdoors Safeline. These products keep you safely attached to the tree from the time you leave the ground until you return. A climbing rope has already saved one of my good friends from a very ugly fall that would have killed or severely injured him.
Most falls don’t occur when the hunter is on stand, but rather when he or she is climbing up or down. That is where the rope comes in. Seriously, this is the most important product you can buy. If you hunt from treestands long enough, it is not a matter of if you will fall, but when — and how badly you will be hurt. Use the climbing systems.