Hunting from treestands

Our guide to tagging trophy bucks from up in the air

By Mark RaycroftMark Raycroft


Photo by Mark Raycroft

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Hunting from a treestand is a popular and proven strategy for ambushing wary whitetails, but there’s a lot more to consider than simply climbing the sturdiest tree in the forest. Whether you’re hunting from a store-bought stand or a homemade job, here’s everything you need to know to maximize your chances for success.


Where you choose to hang or build a stand plays a huge role in your hunt’s success. That means you need to spend some time afield, searching for deer signs—rubs, scrapes, runways, bedding areas, watering holes and favourite food sources—to learn how and where the deer live. Aerial photos and topographical maps also help unravel the secret lives of local deer. I find that photos taken when the forest is leafless are best. The print should be at least 11″ x 14″ and laminated so you can take it afield; use a felt-tip marker to note places you find deer sign. Over time, this will become an irreplaceable reference tool. You could also hire a local pilot to take you up for a one-hour flight. The perspective gained from this vantage point is not only unique, but also very useful when trying to understand the lay of the land you hunt.


When selecting a new stand site, make sure you take into account the prevailing wind. Sometimes it’s worth the time and effort to hang two stands on opposite sides of a field. That way, whichever direction the wind is blowing on the day of your hunt, you’ll be certain to have one of them downwind of your quarry.


What’s the best height for a treestand? I’ve seen stands close to 30 feet up—what a view! These are best suited for gun hunting, as the elevation creates too long of a distance—and too great an angle—for an arrow to be effective. Generally, the preferred height is 15 feet at the footrest. This places the hunter above the deer’s normal line of vision, and it’s compatible for both bow- and gun hunting. For additional concealment, and to allow you to move around more without being detected, you can also quickly fasten camouflage netting or evergreen branches around the stand. When setting up, it’s essential to have unobstructed shooting lanes in all directions. Even though whitetails tend to follow the same paths, it’s impossible to guarantee where that mossy-horned buck will appear. You can easily clear the lanes, which only need to be a few feet across, by trimming branches and saplings. This is especially critical when bowhunting, as one branch can considerably alter an arrow’s trajectory.


The most important factor to consider when choosing where to hang a stand is safety. A fall from a treestand, whether from eight feet or 30, can cause serious injury. Ensure your stand allows for a safe climb up and down, and always wear a safety harness.


Some prefabricated treestands come with their own metal ladders, while others are more portable—you simply step into them and inch yourself up the tree. Keep in mind that if you use one of these so-called climbing stands, you’ll need to cut away any branches. Ideally, select and prune the trees you plan to use before the season gets underway. Otherwise, be sure to carry a small handsaw with you. Homemade wooden stands, meanwhile, tend to be more spacious, but hauling lumber into the bush can be a bit of a workout. It’s best to build these stands in the spring, before the forest greens up and the blackflies and mosquitoes start to appear. Because there’s no foliage, you’ll also be able to visualize the same shooting lanes you’ll have during the fall deer season. Always use pressure-treated wood for the flooring and braces, and keep in mind that you may have to replace weakened or rotting timber every few years. Whether you buy a stand or build your own, you want one that will allow you to sit motionless for hours at a time. And the more comfortable you are in the stand, the keener you’ll be to hunt from it.

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