Eighteen Feet

Eighteen Feet Chris

“Dead deer – Rugged! Earings on a dude… unrugged! (Sorry, Chris, I couldn’t stop myself!!)”

Eighteen feet is around the average height of one of my tree stands.  It’s likely the typical height that most tree stand hunters hang their stands at too, especially, the whitetail deer guys.  I’ve been hunting out of trees for about thirty years now and to my amazement many of my rugged hunting buddies still have not discovered the advantages of hunting from up in the air, as I call it.

In the last twenty years, with the exception of two or three “freezer does” that I shot, all of my deer have been taken from a tree stand.  Most hunters I know who have been hunting all their lives but still have never hunted from a tree stand, normally say the same thing. “I don’t know… I guess I just never bothered with it.  Besides, I get my deer every year, so why should I bother?”  I guess it’s hard to argue with that logic, but I also have a few friends who recently took my advice and tried hunting from up in the air.  They all said the same thing. “Coooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!”

There are many advantages of hunting deer from 15 – 20 feet up in a tree or from an elevated stand. The very first thing you’ll notice is how much more you can see from a perch, even as low as 12 feet. But, if you get your butt up to that 16 – 18 foot range, I promise you’ll wonder why you ever waited so long to try hunting deer from a tree stand.  But, there are so many more reasons why hunting from above makes perfect sense.

Let’s start off by talking about the deer, rather than the hunter.  In most parts of North America, deer have natural predators like wolves and bears, but these animals attack from the ground.  With the odd exception of a cougar attack coming from a few feet up a tree, deer have no natural predators that they need to look up for.  So, this means that most of our deer do not expect danger from above.  Wolves don’t fly, correct?  However, if you’re hunting in area where there are a lot of deer hunters who hunt in tree stands, several generations of deer could evolve to the point where they do in fact, expect danger from above, that being the hunter, of course.  This is why people who hunt in places like southern Illinois, or maybe parts of Michigan or Wisconsin (busy hunting areas with high deer populations) often hang their stands higher than 20 feet.

Now, let’s look at the key advantages that hunting from above provides us with.  Earlier, I mentioned the view.  You will be quite surprised at just how much more you’ll be able to see and this is so important because you’ll normally have more warning of a deer coming into your stand location than you would if you were hunting from ground level.  Nine times out of ten, you’ll see the deer long before the deer sees you.

Since you’re out of a deer’s normal line of sight or view, it allows you a little margin of error when it comes to your movement.  A few years ago, a young buck came trotting into my stand and at this time my bow was hanging beside me.  In order to get a shot at this deer, I had to move fast!  Since I was about 18 feet up in the air, the deer didn’t notice me at all when I grabbed for my bow and slowly pulled back the string.  Then, I whistled to stop him and I shot him at seven yards or basically, right below me.  I doubt that if I was in a ground blind I would have taken that deer because he came straight toward me. Now, if I was in a fully enclosed ground blind, sure, I would have been able to move.  But, I don’t think I would have seen this particular deer in time to make a shot.

Eighteen Feet

“RD with the large buck, but a weird rack on one side.”

Let’s talk about our human scent.  We all know that the whitetail has awesome nose power… more than a hundred times stronger than that of a human.  So, being up in the air normally helps our warm body scent to waft over the heads (and noses) of the deer who are within a hundred yards or so of the stand.  I do acknowledge that morning and evening thermals can act in very weird ways and a deer can in fact catch your scent even if you’re in a tree.  But, the odds are in your favour.  Always play the wind and keep yourself and your clothes as scent free as you can.  And, use cover-up products too.  I really believe in them.  But, I on occasion find myself in a situation where the wind direction either keeps changing on me or it’s just swirling around all over the damn place!  I’d rather be in my stand, thank you.

How about noise?  If you ever made an unnatural sound from a ground blind, you’d be busted most of the time.  But, from a tree stand, you just might get away with a minor goof-up.  Once, I accidentally dropped a fawn bleat call and it landed on the floor of my stand.  CRASH!  There was a deer about twenty yards away, but he couldn’t quite pin point the location of the “weird sound” he heard.  I didn’t get a shot at him, but it wasn’t because of the noise.  He was on the trail of some hot does that came by a few minutes prior.

Another great advantage of hunting from up above has to do with your shot, especially the archery hunters.  I know a bunch of archery hunters who hunt from ground blinds only and I often hear about them missing deer because “my arrow must have hit a twig or something” that caused the arrow to deflect.  Hopefully, the stray arrow missed the deer completely rather than wounding it.  From 18 feet above, there’s a lot less that your arrow can hit on the way to its target.  Even rifle, black powder and shotgun hunters have to deal with branches when they’re shooting from the ground.

Here’s something you really need to consider before you think about hunting from a tree stand.  Should you buy a stand from the store or build your own?  I know people who build their own stands out of plywood and lumber, but I don’t recommend you do this.  First, they will likely end up being much bigger than needed and normally they are permanently nailed into the tree.  Second, they are usually very noisy, especially on a cold morning.  I was in a homemade plywood stand about ten years ago in New York State when I saw a decent deer about forty yards away. As I slowly turned to get into position for a shot, the plywood floor made one hell of a squeak and that young buck went into orbit.

Perhaps the most important item to consider is the question of safety in home built stands.  I know a lot of you will argue this one, but I’ve seen some pretty crazy home built stands over the years.  Wooden floors rot, so do wooden ladders… and safety rails can become loose after a couple years or so.  If you drive a nail into a tree, it will loosen eventually.  Most people I know who build their own stands do so in order to save money.  I think this is a huge mistake.

Today’s stands are well made and inexpensive, in my opinion.  There are many types to choose from, including simple hang-on types, to ladder stands to self-climbers and tripods.  I use very small hang-on stands and I prefer them for several reasons.  First, I am comfortable on a small stand, high up in a tree. In other words, the height doesn’t bother me at all so I don’t need any kind of safety rails.  Second, I’m not a huge guy.  I’m 5’9” and I weigh (depending on how many nachos and wings I had recently) around 155 – 165 pounds. So, unlike someone who is 6’5” and weighs 280… I really don’t need a big stand. Third, I like the ease of transporting them to a new location and installing them, as they only weight a few pounds.  I can strap one over my shoulder and off I go. I also like the cost.  A good hang-on stand is only around $100 these days and it’ll come with a good quality safety harness and safety DVD.  Go to a sporting goods store in January and you’ll find good stands on sale, BIG TIME on sale!

Eighteen Feet

“One of the Rugged Dude’s treestands, high up in a poplar tree. “

Safety is a huge concern when it comes to hunting from a tree.  Unfortunately, each year there are accidents, people do get hurt and some people have been killed.  But, almost all of these accidents are preventable through education.  In the very least, you’ll be embarrassed and bruised after a fall.  In the worst case scenario you’ll be killed.  Many hunters have gone half way and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives.  One thing to really, really think about first – are you typically nervous of heights in the first place?  If you are, forget about hunting from a tree stand.  If you truly have a phobia about heights and you’re a little tense on a say, a ladder… do your family a favour and hunt from the ground.  I really don’t think you can “practice” not being afraid of heights.

A few years ago, I did something stupid while doing some home renovations.   I broke several basic safety rules and I ended up falling close to twenty feet off a ladder.  The end result was a broken hip, broken ribs and a broken collar bone.  I was in the hospital for a month and then I spent six months in a wheelchair, then another six months in physiotherapy.  I have completely healed, so the bottom line is that I was very, very lucky.  I am a lot more careful these days.

Tree stand accidents are not much different from falling twenty feet off a ladder.  Like I mentioned earlier, many whitetail deer hunters place their stands twenty feet up, especially if they are hunting in a busy area where the deer are spooky and always on the lookout for hunters.  First things first… when you are hanging your stand make sure you do it at a time when you won’t be in a hurry.  In other words, hang your stand at least a few days in advance if you can.  This way, you won’t be racing the clock and you’ll have the time do play it safe.  Never, ever hang a stand in the dark.

First, whether you have a climbing stand or a hanging stand, pick a safe tree.  It must be big enough to hold your weight and it must not be dead or beginning to rot.  When you’re securing your stand to the tree, always use a safety harness and as well as an additional one that goes around your waist and the tree.  (Like the ones that linemen use while working on a power pole.)  This way, you can have both hands free while you work on anchoring your stand.  Next, make sure that the exact spot on the tree where you hang your stand is solid and straight as can be.  The last thing you want is to be leaning forward or to the right or left when sitting fifteen or twenty feet up a tree.

Eighteen Feet

“Another one of RD’s “eater size” bucks from Ontario”

Once you have the stand installed, I recommend you use an additional ratchet strap or safety strap of some sort and tie that stand down, good!  Some stands are designed so that your weight will keep the bottom part anchored to the tree and prevent it from moving around.  Trust me… tie the crap out of it! If you use the style that uses a chain or cable to secure the stand to the tree, also use a ratchet strap around the bottom.  When I hang a stand, it’s going no-where!  Some manufacturers are including these straps as part of the package.

Getting in your stand is simple, if you do so slowly and you are organized.  Always have your five way safety harness (or vest) on you (and adjusted properly) before you climb up the tree.  This way, you minimize the time you’re in the stand without being secured by your harness. And, tuck in any loose straps so when you’re climbing, they don’t get snagged on a branch.  When making the “big step,” as I call it, from the last tree step, branch or from the ladder and you make a commitment to the stand… always do so in an upright or erect position.  What I mean is never kneel or climb up onto the stand.  The “big step” should be a simple step over onto the middle of the platform.  So, I always install a couple of tree steps (unless there are handy branches available) at head level so I can grab onto to something solid while making that first step.

The very first thing you should do when you’re in the stand is secure your harness or vest to the tree. Give yourself only about a foot or so of slack, so if you do fall, you won’t jolt yourself into the middle of the following week.  Make sure you are able to sit and also stand to stretch.  Then, raise your unloaded rifle or bow by a pull cord, hang up your accessories and settle in for the hunt.  Don’t ever raise arrows unless they are safely stowed in a quiver.  If you ever fell on one… ouch.

Here’s a quick tip regarding raising your firearm with a pull cord.  Always put something over the muzzle to prevent any debris like a small piece of leaf, tiny branch or pine needle from entering the barrel.  A small piece of electrical tape works perfectly and in fact, you can shoot right through it anyway.  Many guides get their hunters to walk around with a piece of tape over their muzzle to prevent something from entering the barrel while they’re walking around.  It keeps rain out too.  As you likely know, an obstruction in the barrel could easily cause the barrel to rupture when fired causing injury or even death to the shooter or bystanders.  And, never raise your rifle or shotgun if the breech is open for the same reason.

Another neat tip I’ve developed over the years, this one is for gun hunters only.  Dropping a loaded firearm out of a tree could be a problem, to say the least.  It could discharge, in fact.  Tie a short safety cord around the tree beside where you are sitting and attach the other end to your rifle or shotgun sling.  Give yourself just enough slack so you can swing and aim in all directions for the shot.  If you do drop the gun, it’ll fall three feet, not twenty.  Make sure the rifle sling is secure!  Just take one guess at how I came up with this idea… ahem…

Many hunters have fallen asleep while in their stand and ended up hanging by their harness with a load of fresh number 2 in their pants… or worse.  The same common sense rule applies as it does to driving your vehicle.  If you’re tired, get out of the tree and go home.  And, if you’re up in your stand after drinking a few beers, you’re a moron.

One of the most common times that tree stand accidents occur is immediately after a shot.  At this time, you are excited, your heart is pounding and it’s easy for some people to temporarily stop using their brain.  Each time I shoot a deer or bear from my tree stand, I always wait a while.  Even if I know for certain that my shot was a good one and I know the animal is dead, I still wait.  I take ten or twenty minutes to calm down, relax, take a deep breath and regain my senses.  In other words, I need a few minutes to calm down so I don’t become an idiot and do something stupid.  If your hands and fingers are cold, warm them up before you try to climb down.  Cold hands – poor grip.  Always unload your weapon and lower it down with the same pull cord you raised it with.

If you’re new to tree stand hunting, I recommend you practice installing, entering, exiting and sitting in your stand at a height of three or four feet above ground.  This way, if you fall, you’ll only be embarrassed… or a little bruised.  Have fun, but BE SAFE… there are many people who can tell you from first-hand experience that falling out of a tree can be a permanent, life-altering event.

If you’ve never tried hunting from “up in the air” but have been thinking about it recently, now is the time!  Get out there and do it… you’ll wish you hadn’t waited so long!

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  1. Hello. remarkable job. I did not expect this. This is a excellent story. Thanks!

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