How to Properly Use a Climbing Treestand

I’ve been a fan of, and believer in, climbing tree stands ever since I got my first one 25 years ago or so. (Remember the old, wooden TSS?) Climbers have come a long way since those days. They’re much safer, sturdier, lighter and more comfortable. And I have learned a lot more about how to use them effectively.

I must note here that I live and do much of my hunting in Pennsylvania. I’ve used climbers throughout the Northeast and in parts of the Midwest, and I can assure you the United States is not created equal when it comes to trees suitable for climbing stands. Where I can pretty much bank on finding a good climbing tree anywhere I’m hunting in Pennsylvania, Maryland or New York, that is not the case as you move west – and especially southwest. In Kansas, for example, I’ve walked through a 30-acre patch of timber without finding a single tree suitable for a climbing stand.

hunter-walking-with-treestand

With a climbing stand on your back, you can hunt anywhere…almost.

So I’m fortunate to live in climbing-stand heaven. Mostly thanks to the tulip poplar. That’s the tree God made specifically with the climbing-stand deer hunter in mind. They’re tall, they’re straight and mature trees usually have no branches within 70 or 80 feet of the ground.

Deer hunters in Southeast states, like Georgia and South Carolina, might argue they’ve got the perfect climbing trees, with their longleaf pines. But I’d counter the bark of a tulip poplar gives my climbing stand a better grip. No need to start a fight, though. Let’s say we’re both in good climbing country.

The slim profile of Lone Wolf climbers make them a cinch to carry.

Go Big

My philosophy on choosing a climbing stand is to go big. I’m 6 feet tall and I weigh 200 pounds, so I’m somewhat on the tall side. (Be sure to check a stand’s rated weight limit before buying, so you know if it’s a good fit.)

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Always use a safety harness, from the ground up.

Big stands are comfortable. My Summit Titan has a platform that’s 31 inches long by 21 wide. They also feel safer, because you have lots of room to move around. Hunting up high can be disorienting to some folks. I’d rather be on the biggest platform I can haul on my back when I’m 20 feet up, than worry about where my feet are the whole time I’m hunting.

Lone Wolf also makes an incredibly rugged and quiet climbing treestand that has plenty of room on the platform.

But comfort and security doesn’t come without a cost. Big stands are heavier no question. When I strap my loaded backpack to my treestand, I could be hauling about 40 pounds on my back. I don’t care. There are lots of ways to deal with that weight, and I’d rather figure that out than go with a small stand.

In the offseason, I run and lift weights so my back, shoulders and legs are prepared for hauling my big climber. I also allow plenty of time for hiking to my spot, so that I can rest on the way if necessary.

One thing I’ve found extremely helpful is using specialty backpack straps. Let’s face it, the straps that come with climbing stands usually don’t cut it. They dig into your shoulders, or they don’t lift the stand high enough on your back to keep it from banging your legs.

The Climb

The beauty of the climbing tree stand is that it’s your ladder and your stand, all in one package. You climb trees in your stand. Naturally, there can’t be any branches between the ground and your preferred hunting height. Or at least, no branches that you can’t safely cut with a limb saw that should always be within reach when you’re climbing a tree for the first time. One of the first things you’ll discover using a climbing stand is trees taper as they go up. You’ve got to set your stand at the bottom with the platform pitched up at just the right angle so that it will be level when you reach your hunting height. After hunting from a few different trees, you can get pretty good at judging how to set your stand properly.

hunter-using-hand-saw

Always have a limb saw handy when you climb a tree for the first time.

At your hunting height, you want the stand platform to be level or slightly pitched up. That upward pitch will force you to lean back against the tree trunk. That’s OK. What you don’t want is for the stand to be pitched down toward the ground. If it is, climb down and reset the stand to account for that angle. Most modern climbing stands have metal contact points where the stand grips the tree. Older ones often employ rubber contacts. Those can slip on wet tree trunks and smooth bark. You have to really pay attention to slips if you’re using a stand with rubber contact points.

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The Lone Wolf climber is one of the quietest treestands on earth.

Even stands that have metal teeth can slip, though. Some trees are rock hard – hickory, maple, ironwood – and don’t allow the stand teeth to dig in. Try to avoid these trees to avoid problems with slipping. Climbing tree stands employ two pieces – the platform and the climbing aid, which often doubles as your seat. Lash the two pieces together when you climb. If your feet slip out of the platform, you won’t have to worry about it falling out of reach.

We’re talking about hunting from a tree stand, so, naturally, we’re going to mention full-body safety harnesses. Wear one. When using a climbing stand, attach your harness to the tree at ground level, and slide it up the tree as you make your way up. If anything goes wrong, you’re covered.

Hiding On a Telephone Pole

Hang-on tree stands can be tucked in among branches to provide cover for the hunter. By comparison, a hunter in a climbing stand on the side of a telephone-pole tree sticks out like a sore thumb. But there are ways to find cover in a tree that’s suitable for a climbing stand.

hunter-in-climbing-stand

Two trees standing close together offer good cover to hunters using climbing stands.

Perhaps my favorite way is to climb a tree that’s growing right next to another one. When I reach the height where I want to climb, I’ll turn my stand to face the tree next to me. The two trees will help break up my silhouette, and hide me from an approaching buck.

Another good bet is to climb to a height where there are branches. Branches growing out of the tree I’m in, or branches growing from a nearby tree that extend into the area where my stand is set, will both help me disappear from a deer’s eyes. Trim what you must to have clear shooting lanes, and you’re set. Height also will help you hide. If you’re used to hunting 15 feet up, try going 25 or 30. Pressured deer often know to watch the trees for signs of danger, but they don’t usually crane their necks to look up to 25 or 30 feet.

As I already mentioned, you should be wearing a full-body safety harness from the time you leave the ground no matter how high into a tree you climb. But understand that if you fall from 30 feet because you’re not wearing a harness, death or serious injury are not only probable, they’re virtually guaranteed. Wear a harness.

Also recognize that hunting from 30 feet creates steep shot angles – especially at deer under 10 yards away. Adjust your shot placement accordingly to account for that angle. From extreme heights over 20 feet, it’s actually a good idea to take your shot at 20 or 25 yards, rather than let the deer walk in closer. You’ve got a better chance of a double-lung hit at that distance. When a deer’s in tight, and you might only be able to catch one lung at a severe angle.

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Climbing higher – above 20 feet – will help hunters “hide” from wary deer.

You don’t have to climb that high, though. Maybe you just need to climb up 7 or 8 feet to get above some tall grass or shrubs. There are no hard and fast rules for climbing stands. Use them to suit your needs. Perhaps the climbing tree stand’s greatest advantage is the mobility it affords. You can hunt wherever you can haul it and find the right tree. If you need to move after your initial set up, you can – quickly and quietly.

PJ Reilly

PJ Reilly

P.J. Reilly is an avid archer and bowhunter disguised as an outdoor writer. P.J. lives in a swamp in southeast Pennsylvania, where he watches deer and tries to avoid poison ivy.
PJ Reilly

Comments

  1. PaulBlackburn says:

    I like hunting from climbers in the evening. If you go in to a feeding site and try to climb up; the deer are going to hear you. They will avoid your best efforts of rattling, and grunting. Let me share a few hunts, I had, many years ago. I had placed a tube feeder in the area, and figured out the prevailing wing direction. It was from the south. I placed a tree stand that I had made, with a standing and a sitting platform on it. I was prepared for the long wait. I got into my stand that morning, just as it had broke light. I made it to my tree and climbed the climbing steps into my prepared stand. I didn’t make a sound getting into it. Pulled my bow up. Put it on my favorite Real Tree bow hanger. I sat down. I hadn’t been in my stand more than ten minutes. I could hear red oak acorns being cracked and crunched. I knew exactly where the sound was coming from. It was coming from an acorn grove up the hill that always contained rubs and deer droppings. I got out my favorite Knight and Hale grunt call, and blew on it a few times; and then I hung it up! I heard an acorn pop again. Know I’m hearing foot steps, – coming in my direction. My stand was facing away from the buck as he came checking to see the deer that made that sound. I was on a hill flat thatover looked the road and a field below. He entered my shooting lane ten feet up wind from me and quartering away. He thought the deer went off the hill, so he headed that way to look. As he did so, I slide the Muzzy behind his right front shoulder, as he was walking away. He ran eighty yards before collapsing. That couldn’t have happened with me using a climbing stand. I would have made to much noise because the deer was ultra close. I had one of the first climbing stands to come out. It was a Baker climbing stand. The upper part was two pieces of metal, with a ” V ” shape brace that bite into the tree. It had a pipe that went across the front of it; with a threaded rod that closed the front. Then it had a piece of angling metal that went through the back part of the frame that made a seat, for you to sit on that bit into the tree. It had a piece of plastic that was your seat. I Hunted many years from that noise making stand, as I climbed about every hunting tree in the deer woods. The standing platform was made about the same way. However, it had some real accident problems made into it. I experienced the most common ones. First one: The straps hooked on the hill of your boot, while the toes of your shoes hooked under a piece of bung cord in the front. The problem with that was as you climbed and were about 20 foot up in your tree. The standing platform would fall off your feet, and stop falling , at the bottom of the tree. It came with a rope that could be tied to the two pieces, but one couldn’t climb fast with that attached. So, I would take it off from time to time. It didn’t take but one time, having to slide down that tree, as I bear hugged it, with skinned up arms, to retrieve my standing platform. That wasn’t the end of it. Now, I had to bear hug the tree back up to get my seat, with the standing platform on my feet. I made so much noise that day, that Bigfoot came to see what was happening. I have an old Summit and a API with the motor cycle chain. I love both of them. PJ., next time talk about the noise factor with these new stands. Do you think that matters. The old Summit stand that I have and love. Was given to me by my hunting buddy because it made to much noise, and he didn’t take time to learn how to use it. We used API’s hang on stands early in our hunting life. He saw an ad about these climbing stands so he ordered one. We got to the woods in the dark that morning and began hooking our stands to the tree. I was up and hung on in nothing flat. My buddy finally got his climber attached and started climbing the tree. As he dragged the foot part up, he made so much noise that he woke up Bigfoot. No, it was just the neighbors dog. A dog down the mountain and across the road, heard the noise and came to investigate. That dog barked from dark to 9:30 that morning. He was still barking as we walked away. As we sat there, laughing, he in his stand and me in mine. The hunt was ruined. To make matters worse, his stand was pointing down. He had to go back down and try to level it the best he could. Moral of the story, learn how to use your stand before taking it out to hunt or you just might give it away.

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