It’s become the time of year when some of us despise deer.
This does not mean that we disapprove of them. It’s just a matter of perspective. When we see them during a hunting season, it’s often when we’re at a higher elevation, literally looking down at them from the top of a tree.
With Kentucky archery deer season starting today, people will be heading back to the woods and edges of the field to take vigils while waiting for the whitetail deer. Far more often than not, those ambush spots they wait in will be in stands of trees overlooking the surrounding terrain.
Deer are too alert and discerning, while humans lack the stealth to stalk to be practical. This is especially the case for bowhunting, where the shots must be at close range. Hunting from tree stands, especially portable stands, grew along with bow hunting. Tree stands provide the benefits bowhunters need for close encounters with whitetail deer.
Hunting at altitude brings the hunter above the deer’s immediate line of sight. Of course, a deer can and will look up, but its attention is first focused on the ground.
An elevated fighter that sits still often avoids being noticed, especially if that fighter blends in well with the environment with camouflage hiding the edges.
Movement allows more hunters to be seen. A bowhunter must draw the bow to prepare to shoot, and it is always best to shoot when a deer’s eyes are behind a tree or when the creature has its head turned in the opposite direction. Still, the position of the shaft stand allows some margin for error, often leaving the hunter off the hook with a small move that would be nearly impossible in the field.
Hunting from above will help keep human scent away from deer noses, a first line of defense. During the morning or mid-day warming, the rising air helps ward off the scent of an ambush tree from the deer below.
As it cools, the air and scents it carries vanish, so the olfactory benefits of hunting tree stands then dissipate. The reality here is that you should always hunt downwind of where you expect the deer to appear.
The hunter’s point of view is another advantage for the shaft support. The above ground clearance helps the bow hunter see approaching deer sooner and provides more shooting opportunities when they are in range.
Tree stands come in three basic types. A fixed position stand is usually a platform and an “L” shaped backrest that chains, ties or ropes to a tree. It usually takes some sort of steps or a stick ladder to reach the elevation where the bracket attaches. They are great for advance placement and repeat trips to the same location, if only two or three hunts.
A ladder rack is more of an upside down “L” with a substantial ladder from the ground reaching a horizontal platform at the top. Opposite to the ladder, the back of the platform is attached to straps, chains or ties to a tree.
An advantage is that the ladder stand supports the weight itself and will work on most trees. A disadvantage is that the height of this support is limited to that of the ladder and that it is generally bulky and heavy. It is best suited for advanced placement and repeated use to justify the disruption and effort required for placement.
A faster sort of hunting is possible with a climbing stand, usually a two-piece platform and seat/hand climber assembly that attaches to the tree and at ground level, then uses friction to climb trunk. The big advantage is that a climbing stand is easier to transport and relatively quick and easy to assemble and set up, justifying occasional hunts. The disadvantage of the climber is that it requires straight-trunked trees of a certain size range and an absence of lower limbs.
How high ? The elevation of tree stands is often dictated by the habitat being hunted in, the comfort level of the hunter, and sometimes the tree stand itself.
At the start of this archery season which begins in the summer, the thick foliage provides plenty of cover at a relatively low elevation. In a few weeks, after the leaves had fallen, those same low altitudes would leave hunters evident.
Higher elevations help hunters stay out of sight of deer. However, the benefits diminish when the hunter’s height becomes such that it reduces the size of the target. A narrow side-by-side deer’s vital signs actually become smaller when a hunter’s position is higher and they look at the white-tailed deer from a more acute angle.
Finally, many hunters feel uncomfortable hunting from a higher elevation. The fear of heights, after all, is based on a good sense of survival.
Currently, hunters may find elevations of 12 or even 10 feet adequate in some places where stands have contour-breaking cover. Still, some will prefer the bird’s eye view from 25 feet or more.
I generally hover around the 16-21 foot range for most of the season. Based on habitat and altitude tolerance, each to their own.
Regardless of the elevation of the tree stand, some sort of fall restraint system, what we used to call a seat belt, is mandatory. Another advantage of using a tree climbing hanger is that you can attach the safety restraint to the tree at ground level and adjust it as you climb, without ever being without retainer.
There are great benefits to hunting deer from above, but that’s a moot point if one dies trying.