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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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?
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.