Maximizing your advantage in america's most popular stand style.
Getting a shot at a nice buck from a ladder stand isn't as hard as many bowhunters think. You just have to pay attention to detail to maximize the stand's effectiveness.
As I watched the taillights from my friend's truck disappear into the pre-dawn darkness, I was thinking my morning hunt was going to be a waste of time. It was a little warm for November, and the rut wasn't going full tilt like I had hoped. As I approached my stand, the sliver of optimism I had in me disappeared. My buddy hung a stand for me, but I didn't know it was going to be a ladder stand.
As I climbed in, I thought to myself, "Well, at least I'll be comfortable this morning. Hopefully I don't fall asleep." As I sat down, I felt like a pimple on a prom queen. I was out in the open and only about 14 feet off the ground. I prefer being higher and hunting in a more discrete style of treestand, but I didn't have a choice on this warm November day. It was hunt out of this tree fort or sleep in â€“ and I wasn't sleeping in!
As the sun began to rise, a few does appeared in the small food plot in front of me. Eventually, a few small bucks began nosing around to see if any of the does were in estrus. They gave me a head bob once in a while while they continued about their business but never really spooked. I still don't believe what happened next, even though I saw it with my own eyes.
A 150-inch buck stepped out into the food plot and started chasing does right under my stand. Eventually, he gave me a shot. Unfortunately, I missed him. I believe he didn't notice me because he was focused on the does, and the ladder stand was hung in the tree months before I sat in it, giving the deer time to acclimate to the stand.
I have cerebral palsy, so after the hunt, I decided to look into hunting from a ladder stand more often, because they are easy to get in and out of. I was surprised to discover ladder stands are more popular than I thought. According to The National Bowhunter Education Foundation, ladder stands make up at least 50 percent of all treestand sales. Bob Ransom from Ameristep Treestands knows how popular they are. Ransom said ladder stand sales are exploding. "First and foremost, ladder stands are easy for hunters of all ages to use," he said. "Getting into a ladder stand isn't as difficult as using a climbing treestand or hang-on stand. A lot of hunters are getting up there in years and don't want to use a climber."
Ladder stands are comfortable and easy to get into. With many brands offering models 20 feet high or even higher, you can see incoming deer like you could if you were hunting from another style of stand.
In the past, ladder stands had a few drawbacks that caused many hunters to shy away from them. Most notable among these was height. Ten or 15 years ago, most ladder stands were only 10 or 12 feet high. Given the fact that the ladder often protruded several feet away from the tree, they stuck out like a sore thumb. But boy, has that changed!
Ladder stands reaching 20 feet high -- or even higher -- are now readily available. Plus, newer-style ladders hug the tree so they don't stick out as far. Ladder stands also have gotten lighter and easier to transport.
Success StoriesEven though ladder stands are taller and sleeker than before, they still have a tendency to stand out. Eric Presley, vice president of engineering for Big Dog Treestands, says success depends on stand placement.
"When I hunt from a ladder stand, I often place it 20 or 30 yards from the food source or runway I am hunting," he said. "With a climber, you can get away with hunting on top of a runway. With a ladder stand, I've been more successful placing it back a ways so it blends in with the woods better and doesn't draw attention." Presley has used ladder stands to harvest several big bucks with a bow around his Illinois home.
Ladder stands are a great way to introduce young hunters to treestand hunting.
You could say he has hunting from a ladder stand down to a science. "I usually hang my ladder stands in the summer so the deer have time to get used to them. I often sit in them in the evening a few times before the season opens to see if the deer notice me. If they do, I relocate the stand. Many hunters think putting up a ladder stand is a big deal. I think they are easier to put up than a hang-on stand and easier to use than a climber."
Although many hunters like being in the nosebleed section when hunting from a treestand, Presley doesn't think height is all that critical. "Most of the time, I hunt from a 12-foot double ladder stand and rarely get busted," he noted. "I try to conceal the stand the best I can by placing a camouflage skirt on it. That seems to work well."
Another bowhunting fanatic who has had great success hunting from a ladder stand is Joe Gizdic from Tall Tines Outfitters in Illinois. Gizdic hunts from ladder stands and runs a hunting operation. Dozens of hunters who hunt with him use ladder stands. "I think having ladder stands that are tall really helps," Gizdic said. "Hunters don't seem to get busted in ladder stands as much as they used to. There are a few advantages to using a ladder stand. They are very easy to get in and out of, so older hunters can use them.
Hunters can sneak into ladder stands without making much noise, which is helpful when hunting near a bedding area or any place."
Gizdic also said a ladder stand can be used on a wider variety of trees. "Climbing stands don't always work well on smaller trees, but ladder stands can be positioned on smaller trees and remain safe and secure," he said. "With a ladder stand, the hunter has more options."
Gizdic likes leaving low-hanging branches and brush in tact when hanging ladder stands.
"When using a climber or hang-on stand, I often have to trim branches and brush to make the stand fit the tree correctly," he said. "With a ladder, I can lean it against the tree, secure it and leave much of the brush and low-hanging branches in place. It takes less time to hang one, and the branches and brush help conceal the stand."
A number of products, such as the Pine Ridge Archery branch holder shown here, will help camouflage your ladder stand using native vegetation. Such efforts will really pay off by helping break up the outline of your stand.
Many hunters complain that ladder stands squeak a lot, but Gizdic has solved that problem. "If I have a ladder stand that makes a lot of noise, I use vegetable oil on the joints to eliminate the squeaks," he said. Another good option is Dead Down Wind's Totally Odorless Oil, a synthetic lubrication perfect for your outdoor gear.
A Stand Style For Everyone
One of the biggest advantages of a ladder stand is its ease of use for hunters of all ages.
They are comfortable, and some ladder stands can accommodate two hunters.
Bowhunters with children enjoy hunting from ladder stands, and Presley falls into that category. "I always hunt from a double ladder stand, and usually bring one of my kids with me," he said. "They aren't afraid to climb into the stand. The seat is big and comfortable.
Using a skirt that conceals the stand allows them to wiggle around without being detected."
More and more bowhunters are hanging ladder stands for their kids because they are safe.
This Illinois buck was taken with a bow at Tall Tine Outfitters. Many outfitters offer ladder stand setups because they are popular with a wide variety of hunters.
A friend of mine, Len Kriger from west Michigan, said, "When my son was old enough to hunt, I had him use a ladder because I knew he wouldn't be afraid to climb into it and I knew he would be safe. The last thing I wanted was to have him use a stand that he was afraid to use or use one that was uncomfortable because that could make kids fear hunting. Ladder stands are great for kids."
Ladder stands also are great for older hunters and the disabled. "Many of my clients insist on hunting from a ladder stand because they can't physically use any other type of treestand," Gizdic said. "I think this is why they are gaining in popularity. Many old timers like ladder stands because they feel safer climbing in and out of them."
For the disabled, ladder stands are often the only way to hunt from an elevated stand.
Deer aren't the only animals you can kill out of a ladder stand. Clay Hall from Summit Treestands used one to take this nice bull elk.
Keith Jones from Summit Treestands recently took his son Dennis -- who is partially paralyzed as a result of a car accident -- on an elk hunt in Colorado. Dennis was able to get into a ladder stand. "My son has use of his arms and partial use of his legs. By using his upper body strength, he is able to climb up a ladder and was able to harvest a cow elk with a crossbow. It was a great experience, and hunting from a ladder stand has made it all possible," Jones explained.
Simple Ladder Stand Strategies
- Erect ladder stands well in advance of hunting season. Ideally, you want to give the local deer herd several months to get acclimated to the stand's presence and feel comfortable around it.
- Consider trying some of the newer ladder stand styles that feature higher platforms and low-profile ladder designs. The extra height and subtler outline will decrease the odds of getting busted.
- Take some time to add camouflage to your stand with a commercial treestand skirt, natural brush or both. Several companies now offer special clamps that make it easy to attach real tree limbs to your stand's frame.
- Select ladder stand locations that aren't right on top of the location you're trying to hunt. Tucking a stand 10 yards off the edge of a well-used deer trail or food plot can greatly increase your odds of success.
- Be flexible! If you get busted a couple times in a particular ladder stand setup, it's probably in the wrong spot. Don't be afraid to tweak stand locations during the season. With some help from a buddy, moving a ladder won't take more than a few minutes, and the effort could pay off in the form of a punched tag.
- If you have a ladder stand with some squeaks you just can't get rid of, carry a small vial of vegetable oil into the field and lubricate the noise-causing parts before your next hunt.
- Consider placing a two-man ladder stand in one of your best hunting areas. These roomy stands are ideal for introducing children, spouses and friends to hunting because they are easy to get into and out of -- making newcomers feel safe and secure during their initial stand hunting experiences.