With each step up the tree toward my stand, my blood pressure rises. With every uncertain step I climb, my fear of dying in the woods increases. I begin to weigh the pros and cons of hunting from a tree in my head. I have a better chance at bagging a trophy buck, I think to myself. Then I think, “Is a trophy buck worth my life?” I ignore the voice and climb higher. The higher I climb, the more unstable my feet become. I finally reach the platform and all is well, except the fact that I am sweating from worrying and a deer can smell me two miles away, even with the best cover scent or scent eliminating clothing. The above story was how I hunted for the first 10 years. I hunted from a tree; deathly afraid of falling from my tree stand on the way up or worse, on the way down long after dark.
I have cerebral palsy and although I can walk, getting into a tree has always been a challenge. My dad believed hunting from a tree was the only way to bag a deer, so at the age of 12, I climbed into my tree stand every day, knowing that it was going to be my last. I knew at some point my bad balance would catch up with me and my parents would find my cold body the next day. It was always my fear and although it never came true, to this day I am still afraid of climbing a tree. I am sure I’m not alone. Chances are if you are reading this, you are also afraid of climbing into a tree. Maybe you are like me and are physically challenged. Or you are getting up there in years and are starting to second-guess the whole “hunting from a tree” situation. Some of you may be thinking about throwing in the towel altogether because you can’t climb a tree like you once could. Don’t give up! If you want to hunt from a tree but have lost your confidence, there are gadgets available to help you get into a tree safely so you won’t have to worry about ever falling out again. If you are to the point where you don’t want to hunt from a tree, you can kill your deer while hunting from the ground. Although many hunters will tell you it’s impossible to kill a trophy deer from the ground, it can be done.
Tools For Safer Hunting
Just about every tree stand manufacturer today offers a tree stand safety device that allows you to be tied in from the moment you leave the ground. One of the first companies to offer a safety harness that was easy to put on, easy to use and comfortable to wear was Summit Treestands. They are not the only company making safety harnesses, but the “Seat-OPants System” they offer is one of the best on the market, especially when used with the 30-foot safety rope and sliding prussic knot. If you are using a ladder stand, a climbing stick or a hang on stand, you simply need to hang the safety rope that comes with the system above your stand and let it dangle. After that, each time you hunt, simply clip the harness you are wearing to the prussic knot and climb the tree. As you climb, you will need to slide the knot up. According to Keith Jones of Summit Treestands, most hunters believe that using a harness and safety rope takes too much extra time. However, in the studies he has conducted, using this system will only take a few extra minutes on your way up and down from the tree. When you consider the alternative of slipping and falling like one third of all hunters will do at some point in their hunting career, the extra minute or two is well worth it.
If you are in the market for a harness, make sure you buy one that is a full body harness like a tree climber would use. You do not want to use an old-fashioned belt system that can suffocate you in a short period of time.
If your balance is gone and/or you are getting older, stay away from climbing tree stands. Although the harness systems work great with a climber, climbing tree stands are made for people who are in good shape. If you feel like a ladder stand does not offer you enough mobility or concealment from game, a climbing stick is the way to go. Balance is one of my biggest weaknesses. I like using the “SwifTree” by Summit Treestands because it offers a large peg for your foot and the step is enclosed so your foot can’t slip off the peg.
Another advantage to climbing sticks is the pegs are usually spaced fairly close together so you don’t have to stretch too far to get your foot on the next peg. Growing up, I was forced to use screw-in steps and several times after a long night in the stand, my stiff muscles were not up to climbing down and stretching to the next peg. Climbing sticks help eliminate that problem.
There is no doubt that using a tree stand has its advantages. If you decide to hunt from a tree, make sure you are comfortable with your complete setup. Don’t buy a tree stand just because your buddies use it or because you have too much pride to go back to the old ladder stand you used to use. When looking for a harness, make sure you buy one that is easy to put on and use because if it isn’t, you will never use it.
Hunting from the ground also has its advantages. I know many hunters who kill trophy class whitetails each year while hunting from the ground. One of the best accessories to hit the bowhunting market in the past decade is the pop-up hunting blind. Many manufacturers like Double Bull and Eastman Outfitters offer blinds that are lightweight and are easy to take down and put up. Most manufacturers offer their blinds in a wide variety of camo patterns to help keep you concealed regardless of what kind of terrain you are hunting. Many of the blinds made today have darkened interiors and windows you can shoot through that help keep your movements concealed at all times. Another benefit is many blinds come with scent eliminators impregnated into the fabric.
The biggest problem with pop-up blinds is outsmarting deer while using them. Although elk and turkeys seem to pay no attention, deer tend to catch on to the program in a big hurry. There are a few ways to decrease your chances of being busted by the wary whitetail. If you have the luxury of hunting private land, try setting your blind up weeks before your bow season opens. This will allow the deer to get adjusted to the blind being there. Another option, and by far one of the more popular routes taken by many ground hunters, is laying brush and branches against the sides of the blind to break up its outline. By using a pop-up blind, you have mobility and often you can hunt places tree stand hunters can’t go; like the edge of a swamp which has very few large trees. Pop-up blinds are safer than tree stands and they keep you warmer and more comfortable. This will help you stay in the woods longer, potentially increasing your chances of killing whatever you’re chasing.
Another option is to hunt from the ground without any type of blind at all using camo and ground cover to keep you concealed. Although this type of hunting can be difficult, the availability of leafy suits and other camo patterns that helps you resemble a bush can help you blend in with your surroundings with little practice.
Digging a hole in the ground is an
other possibility. Although thisoption is often overlooked today and considered by many to be an old fashioned way of doing things, it is still an effective way of putting meat in the freezer. To do this, you must be on private land in most states. Hunting from a pit can offer many advantages that no other kind of hunting can offer. By digging a hole deep enough to conceal most of your body, you can move freely without being seen and stay warm because your body is out of the wind. Hunting from a pit can be an effective method to hide your body odor. When the wind is swirling and you are hunting from a tree stand, the wind can carry your scent all over the woods. If you are hunting from a pit, your scent will stay in the ground giving you the option of hunting even when the wind direction isn’t perfect. If you have a buck that frequents a field and never seems willing to leave the middle of it, building a pit blind close to where he comes out is an easy way of getting the shot of a lifetime. I have heard of more than one hunter who did this and they bagged monster bucks.
If building a pit blind is not feasible for your physical condition, try digging a small hole on the surface and then piling brush around it. Although your entire body won’t be hidden, your bottom half will and your human outline that deer grow so accustomed to looking for in the woods will be broken. Never leave a pit or hole uncovered, for obvious safety reasons. If you don’t have it in you physically to move around large amounts of brush and limbs, find an area that has a natural depression. Gather just enough brush to break up your outline. I personally look for large downed oak trees and use their branches to keep me concealed.
Tree stand hunting is by far the most popular way to hunt whitetail deer. Deer have natural predators that hunt them from trees as well. This has led deer to always be on the lookout for trouble in the trees. I have had deer walking down a runway and right on cue, they look into my tree and bust me. Although I sat there motionless and thought I was concealed, they made me feel like I was sitting out in the woods in nothing more than a pair of underwear and white flags. The point is deer are accustomed to being hunted from the trees and because of that, hunting from the ground under the right conditions offers hunters several advantages.
Growing up, I always dreaded climbing into my tree. Many stubborn old birds I know are unwilling to quit using their old faithful climbing stand and are willing to risk their safety because of pride and the fact that getting old is hard for them to swallow. I have known more than one hunter who has fallen out of a tree and after the fact, always said that they wished they had been wearing a harness. Don’t let that be you; either purchase a harness or hunt from the ground. There are options out there for all of you who have old bones or in my case, a body full of screws and metal that allows you to still fling a few arrows in the woods.