By Tom Fegely
When I was a kid just shy of 14, it was a special treat to hunt from a treestand, no matter how primitive. I felt a sense of adventure while scaling stout-branched trees during the Pennsylvania buck and doe seasons with an Ithaca 16-gauge shotgun and a supply of “punkin” balls.
The problem back in the 1950s was that few suitable trees in the neighboring farmer’s woodlot had stands hung in them. Hunting from a treestand a half-century ago wasn’t anything like today, nor was it the safest of ventures when compared to today’s strict treestand hunting guidelines.
By mid-century, a few commercial treestands — such as the once-popular but accident-prone Baker climbing model — hit the market. Most, but not all, of the treestands available in the ’50s and ’60s were homemade. My wood-and-metal Baker stand carried sufficient flaws to make it weak and dangerous. The simple device, however, became the prototype for a variety of climbing stands when Baker’s lawsuits began to pile up.
Most early stationary stands were made of wooden platforms and rails, and they were nailed, strapped, chained, roped or screwed into firm trees. They were the strongest, safest and most reliable stands at the time.
The biggest mistake hunters made was not faithfully updating them. Stands exposed to the elements had a tendency to rot and weaken after a few years, even if they weren’t left in the woods all year (and most were).
The initial years of treestand popularity brought plenty of experimentation. Some ideas worked, others didn’t. Depending on what sort of trees were available, I hunted stands a mere 8-10 feet off the ground; others were 30 feet or higher.
Treestands such as the Baker were among the first popular climbers.
Up a Tree
Just how high should an elevated treestand be placed — and why?
It’s been 35 years since I raised the question with my longtime friend Leonard Lee Rue III, a prolific writer and photographer who has probably shot more photos of bucks and does than anyone alive today.
“Deer seldom look up very high, so (a treestand) allows you to wait for them to get close without seeing you,” he said. “Hand, head and foot movements will not be seen as easily when you’re up a tree.”
Rue agreed that a platform fastened high in a tree can be an advantage in seeing deer, especially after trees have shed their leaves.
But it doesn’t come without risk.
Preparing a tree to safely hold and hide a treestand and hunter — whether 15 or 35 feet up — is as important as any other “essential” pre-season activity.
In a more recent conversation with Rue just a few years ago, I again asked him about the importance of treestand height. Rue chuckled and conceded that treestand popularity with gun hunters and bowhunters had taught many deer to look up. There was a time, Rue noted, that deer didn’t look up at all when moving about, but the treestand bonanza changed all that.
Yesterday and Today
It might surprise many of today’s bowhunters to lean that firearm carriers were the first to learn the benefits of hunting from trees. Archery was not permitted in Pennsylvania until 1951, but gun hunting from treestands was legal then in most states. Even so, it was the explosion of bowhunting popularity that led to the widespread use of treestands today.
This hunter cautiously worked his way more than 20 feet above the woodland floor.
Why So High?
Recent trends have seen hunters climbing higher and higher — 30 or 40 feet — which brings with it some unique considerations. Safety is the most obvious, but not for the reasons you might think. A fall from just a few feet off the ground can be fatal, but our perception of danger and our fears increase the higher we climb. Such fears can lead to mistakes, which can lead to death. Never climb higher than your comfort level dictates.
I recommend climbing no higher than 14 feet and believe you can make a better shot when you’re not worried about falling out of your stand. But not everyone is afflicted with such fears, so to each his own.
When hunting high, don’t forget about shot placement, particularly with a bow. Your impact point changes when you shoot in a sharp downward angle. Kill zones shrink, and distances are harder to judge, particularly when bowhunting.
On the other hand, treestands more than 20 feet up allow users to get a wide-angle view of brushy fields, pastures or open woodlands. One of my favorite stands today hangs on the rim of an unharvested cornfield where I catch glimpses of deer resting, feeding, and wandering about, only because I’m in a tree.
Another advantage of hunting high is that most air currents are swept away before they get to a whitetail’s nose below. The higher the stand, the better the chance to remain undetected.
Record From Above
One example of success from hunting on-high comes from my friend Craig Krisher. On the opening day of the 1988 Pennsylvania archery season, Krisher, an arborist by trade, entered a bedding area composed of dense scrub, low-growing trees and shrubs and other dense cover. He’d been there before when it looked a bit different. Well before the season, he fastened a portable stand to an old apple tree 20 yards off a thick, overgrown side trail.
Krisher entered the thicket via a shallow, meandering creek, then crawled on hands and knees through the brush and was in his stand, situated well above the pasture, long before sunrise. A light fog aided in shrouding his movements. It was one of those days when nothing could go wrong. Less than 10 minutes after legal shooting time, Craig killed a 23-pointer that held top honors as the state-record irregular whitetail with a bow from 1988 to 2007.
Krisher had a choice of several trees along trails leading to the bedding area, but he chose to be as high as possible to be above the many branches. He used his observations from previous scouting trips and caught the buck trying to slip back to bed along the trail. Krisher’s buck is just one example of many big deer that might not have been taken without the use of a treestand.
This article was published in the October, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.