A poorly chosen stand makes hunting miserable. On the other hand, a good deer stand not only makes your time more enjoyable, it also makes you a more effective hunter. We face enough hunting challenges from the deer themselves so we don’t need tree stands that make the hunt harder. Danger – Serious injuries and deaths from tree stand falls are increasingly common and an alarming number of hunters fall from tree stands each season. Always wear a safety belt or harness! Hunting from above gives us several advantages, such as remaining above a deer’s normal field of view, raising our scent above our prey’s nose, and increasing our range of vision. Unfortunately, as the use of tree stands increases, so does the frequency of hunters falling from their perches. Here are some tips to help get the most out of your peak hunting experience:
* Hunt deer, not trees. Find the deer first by looking for trails, droppings, buck rubs, feeding locations, bedding areas and other deer signs, then find a tree within easy shooting range that will put you in a good location relative to the wind. Fresh rubs and scrapes are expected indicators of consistent use, particularly with heavy surrounding cover. The more cover the better the trail.
* Hot deer trails. Scout trails ahead of time as most deer are harvested close to these runways. Master trails are those easy to spot major trails, but these do not necessarily provide consistent action. Secondary trails tend to be more dependable, particularly for mature bucks who take the path less traveled. These trails come and go as deer are attracted to a seasonal food or bedding thicket. Secondary deer trails that serve a purpose close at hand are often a better choice for stand sites – hot sites are seasonal.
* Use a sturdy, portable stand. Permanent stands nailed into trees rot and become deadly. Weakened wooden steps and stands kill and cripple hunters. Even pressure treated wood gets a dangerous slippery growth. Ugly boards, spikes and nails ruin chain saws and anger landowners. They also give away your secret hunting spots to anybody who sees them, including the deer. They are difficult to move when deer change their trails just a few feet. Use a good portable stand like Deerhunter Stands. [http://www.deerhunterstands.com/HTML/Home.asp?FrmPage=Home]
* Inspect any stand before use. All stands need a good looking over before trusting your life to it. Metal fatigue, missing bolts or fasteners, rust, wood rot, improper storage, poor design and faulty construction can all cause a stand to fail resulting in injury or death. Risk is not a factor to be ignored – like it or not, every time a hunter climbs a stand, they are at risk. It only takes a short fall to break a neck. Never use a stand if you doubt its safety.
* Ambush locations. Look for natural travel corridors that pass through bottlenecks, funnels or along fence lines to hunt. Try not to cross or walk on deer paths just because it’s convenient as you will surely leave human scent behind. Wind direction is rarely dependable, but you will need to stay down wind to avoid detection. The deer’s nose is a far more important defense than their eyes or ears, therefore take steps to eliminate human odors. This includes everything from odor killing sprays to hygiene and diet.
* Choose the right route in. If you spook the deer while coming or going to your tree stand, the rest of your efforts are in vain. If you’ve done your homework scouting the hunting area for the best stand sites, follow through by planning the best way to approach and leave those spots undetected. One of the most common mistakes whitetail hunters make is the way they approach and leave their stands. Don’t be lazy and take the easiest or shortest path in, but rather avoid bedding or feeding areas.
* Use extreme care and good climbing technique. It’s your life so be extra careful. Keep your weight evenly distributed, avoid leaning, and stay balanced. Take the time to get familiar with any stand before using it to learn its strengths and weaknesses. Also never climb or use a stand on a dead or diseased tree – just ask my brother who lost his spleen and almost his life.
* Know the rules. On state lands, it is illegal to place nails or other hardware into trees, or to build permanent structures, such as tree stands, platforms and blinds. On private lands, it is illegal to cut or remove trees or other plants, or to cut limbs or damage bark (such as from putting up blinds or tree stands, or cutting shooting lanes or trails) without the landowner’s permission.
* Don’t go too high. Remember that the higher you go, the smaller the vital zone on a deer becomes. And the likelihood of a serious injury escalates if you fall from high up. Don’t go any higher than you’re comfortable being. You’re out there to enjoy yourself, not to make yourself miserable.
* Hunting pressure. Usually 15 to 20 feet is high enough, however hunting pressure should play an essential role in the placement of your stand. The more hunting pressure there is from other hunters in the woods, the higher you need to hunt and the deeper in the thickest cover you need to go. Also, height does help disperse your scent above the trees and deer.
* Use a safety belt while climbing. Most falls happen when going up and down the tree, and in and out of the stand. Slide the end that’s attached to the tree up until there is almost no slack, that way if you do slip or fall it will be a shorter distance and help prevent serious injuries.
* Never try to carry guns or bows up and down trees. They interfere with safe climbing; they get dropped; and climbing with guns can result in hunters shooting themselves. Always use a rope to raise and lower bows and guns while unloaded!
* As soon as you get in a tree stand — strap in. A body harness is better than a plain safety belt, but a belt is a whole lot better than nothing. If you just have a safety belt, attach it high – around your chest – to avoid injury from the belt if you fall. A short tether connecting you to the tree to prevent a fall is safer than a long one to catch you after a fall. Also, a short tether can make you a better shot. It lets you concentrate on shooting instead of balancing.
According to wildlife officers the biggest culprit in the falls appears to be the hunter’s stubborn reliance on home-built or makeshift tree stands. Often used year after year without maintenance, home-built stands have developed a well-deserved reputation for unreliability. “Two-thirds of the cases we studied involved home-built stands,” a West Virginia official stated, “That ought to tell somebody something”. Tree stands sold commercially often come with safety harnesses that hunters can use to attach themselves to the trees they place the stands in but “only 15 percent of the hunters in our study were using safety harnesses”.