Picking out a tree stand can be as overwhelming as trying to pick out a bag of dog food in the aisle of a big box store. There are so many different selections and prices, all with brilliantly-worded descriptions. How do you wade through the options and figure out what you want?
For a moment, forget about the stand itself and consider other important factors. What are the types and sizes of trees in the area you’d like to hunt? Is there a honeyhole of a spot, which doesn’t have suitable trees? And what are the ages and sizes of the people who will be using the stand? What will the weather conditions be like? Once you’ve gotten those key aspects listed, it will be time to shop for other features, such as platform size and type of stand.
I spent a day during the rut last year in a portable or hang-on stand locked onto a tree that didn’t have a big enough diameter to feel secure on a windy day. The area is perfect, near a stream crossing between bedding and agricultural areas. And yet, the trees are a mix of spindly white pines, maples and aspens. And not one is thick enough for a hang-on stand, climbing stand, or ladder stand. Given the height of the young evergreens, a tripod stand would have been the perfect solution. They’re designed specifically for areas with little to no growth and are often quite comfortable.
Remember that deer don’t see color. That said, they do see differences in degrees of light and dark. Nothing stands out at a glance through the woods than a dark brown stand against the silver bark of a maple. It may sound crazy, but color should be a consideration as you shop.
Although most of us would feel “the higher, the better,” that’s not always the case. In fact, by going higher you may eliminate shooting lanes because you’re above the existing forest canopy. As you scout, make note of the places on the trees where you believe a stand should be located, and measure the height.
If you’re going to be hunting an area where trees have a huge girth, you’ll have difficulty hanging a portable stand. In fact, some trees in my area are so large that the ratchet straps for a set of steps won’t reach around them. If this is the case for your area, a ladder stand may be the best pick.
On the other hand, climbing stands are an awesome “ambush” tool for hunters, but aren’t the best choice for smooth-barked trees such as aspens and maple. To get a good bite with a climber, oak trees are best.
Age and Size Of Hunters
For most young or newbie hunters, venturing onto a tree stand platform for the first time can be a little daunting. I’ve found that inexperienced hunters feel the most secure in a ladder stand, which has a railing near the seat. When the railing mirrors the platform below it, it gives the hunter a real feeling of security. Also, nothing beats a roomy, two-person stand for introducing a new hunter to elevated stand hunting.
Ladder stands or climbing sticks also provide a bit more security when weather conditions are wet and things get slippery. You’re less likely to have your foot slip from a step if there’s a ladder rail on both sides.
And let’s face it — we older hunters aren’t as spry as we used to be. Some of us have bad knees or hips. Pushing off a bad leg from step to step is easier with a ladder, especially one wide enough to get two feet on it.
My friend’s dad hunted my property this year and he has trouble with stiffness in his legs. He would have found it difficult to climb a set of steps, but he loved the two-person ladder stand. It made it much easier for him to get in and out of the stand with the ladder and bigger platform.
What about weight considerations? Most tree stands have a weight limit of 250-300 pounds. Remember that the hunter may also be wearing heavy clothes and carrying a backpack filled with accessories. Don’t push the limits. If you need a tree stand for a heavier hunter, consider purchasing a 1.5-person or 2-man ladder stand. These types of stands typically have a weight limit up to 500 lbs.
And what about the weight of the stand? Don’t wreck your hunting season by hurting your back putting up a stand. If the instructions for installing a ladder or tripod stand advise using two to four people, don’t be a hero. Put up the stand by following the directions.
Here’s where I’m of strong opinion. For about 90 percent of the time, I like to shop for the biggest platform available. Most of the hunting I do will be with archery equipment, and I want plenty of room to turn, draw and shoot without feeling that I could step off the stand.
That said, let’s return to location. I remember trying for several hours to wrest a stand into the fork of a black birch tree, which was immediately adjacent to a white pine. The white pine was at the perfect height to provide cover for the portable stand, if I could position the stand within the fork.
Because of the huge platform on the stand I had with me, it wouldn’t fit. But a little, chain-on portable stand slipped into the spot as if it was meant to be there. Thus, a small platform may be the best choice for a small hiding spot.
Type Of Stand
Should you buy a tripod, portable, ladder, or climbing stand? First, consider the time of day that you’ll be hunting the stand. Again, this is a personal preference, but I don’t like to use a climbing stand in a morning spot. It’s dark, and I can’t see if deer are moving. And try as I might to avoid it, I’m going to make noise. If the area I’m going to hunt is a morning spot, I’m going to slip in as quietly as I can into one of the other types of stands.
If you live in a northern region, where hunting season temperatures are often sub-zero, I don’t use my climber. I’ve hunted places where I’ve gotten so cold that I had a hard time easing down the tree using a climbing stand. Also, the tree trunks may be slick with ice. And yet my trusty Summit Climbing Stand is my all-time favorite piece of gear for hunting. Using a climbing stand makes it easy to adjust to changes in food sources and also to changing travel patterns during the rut.
If your area lends itself best to a ladder or tripod, resist the urge to erect the stand immediately. These stands are great, but they are more difficult to move. It’s an awful feeling to climb into a two-person ladder stand or tripod and notice that a tree in the same vicinity would have been a better spot. Hunt the area with a climbing stand for a day or two before you make your final location choice.
And Most Importantly… .
No matter how much of a good deal it may seem to be, don’t buy a used stand! You have no idea how old the stand is or how it’s been used. Also, never use a stand that has not been certified by the Tree Stand Manufacturer’s Association (TMA). Stands that pass that rigorous testing will say “TMA Certified.”
Finally, never leave the ground unless you are tethered to the tree and wearing a full-body harness. When I’m using a portable stand, I use a safety tether that can reach the base of the steps of the stand and immediately attach it to my harness. Using the climbing stand, I inch my tether up and down the tree as I climb and descend.
Good luck choosing a stand and be safe! Make sure you visit Sportsman’s Guide for a full collection of tree stands and accessories:
- Hang-On Tree Stands
- Climbing Tree Stands
- Ladder Tree Stands
- Tower and Tripod Stands
- Climbing Sticks and Tree Steps
- Safety Harnesses