Hunting > Whitetails

Setting a Treestand

Follow these steps for setting up your treestand so the big one doesn’t get away this season. (photo by Bill Buckley)

1. Narrow the Possibilities
First realize you're looking for the best ambush location, not necessarily the spot with the most buck sign. Begin by considering the wind. In November the prevalent wind is from the west or northwest in most of North America, so begin by highlighting a segment of the terrain south or southeast of the trail(s) you want to cover. Pick a location that receives a true wind direction; avoid the topography of bottoms and large drainage ditches because they can cause wind to swirl.

Sun: Next consider the sun. Many hunters forget about the sun's arc from the east to west when choosing a stand location-until they find themselves looking into the sun from a leafless tree in November. In the northern hemisphere, the sun's arc dips farther toward the south as autumn progresses. Ideally, you want the sun in the buck's eyes, not yours.

Entry/Exit Strategy: Unless you only plan to hunt a location once, you'll need to plan an entry and an exit route that won't spook deer from the vicinity of your stand. Look for a stream, fencerow or another terrain feature that can get you in and out with little disturbance to the whitetails' bedding and feeding areas.

2. The Right Tree
Size: A tree with a diameter of 20-30 inches is ideal. The tree shouldn't move as you do, nor should it be too big for your climbing or lock-on treestand. It should be just big enough for you to hide behind. A tree with a slight lean toward where you expect deer to come from can give you more elbowroom. If it's an oak or maple, all the better; shagbark hickory can be maddening to climb, as can sappy white pine.

Cover: Naturally, choose a live tree (unless of course you aspire to win a Darwin Award), but also consider what deer will see when they look up. Limbs located behind and above you that will break up your outline are important. You shouldn't position yourself so that you're silhouetted against the sky or the horizon. Think of stand hunting as hiding in a tree; just make sure you have adequate gaps for shooting lanes and be sure you can draw and swing your bow or gun freely.

A Tip on Cheating: If a bottleneck constricting deer movement is too wide to cover with your bow from the downwind edge, you can consider hanging a stand toward the middle of the funnel if you climb high enough or where the downwind area drops away. Use a wind indicator that allows you to watch how the wind carries your scent-a talc or milkweed indicator will do this.

3. The Right Height
How high should you go? A bowhunter should typically plan on climbing 20-25 feet, but let the cover determine precisely how high. If you have limbs for cover, you may easily get away with 15 feet, but anything less makes it difficult to climb out of a whitetail's cone of sight. Some bowhunters go as high as 30 feet. The downside to going higher is that the shot angle (to get both lungs with an arrow) gets smaller. When hunting with a firearm, just go to the height that gives the best visibility.

4. Side of the Tree
Gun: When hunting with a firearm, a right-handed hunter should be positioned so that a buck is most likely to approach from his left side, as it is easier for a right-handed shooter to swing left.

Bow: Ideally, a bowhunter should be standing, facing the tree as a buck approaches from the opposite side of the tree. This position gives you cover to draw your bow unseen and then to shoot as the deer passes and quarters slightly away. If you're right-handed the ideal scenario is for the buck to pass on your left side, as it is easier to swing the bow that way. Your climbing harness needs to be just loose enough to allow you to get your bow between you and the tree so you can shoot from either side without having to turn.

5. Make the Kill
Ranges: When setting up, a bowhunter should determine the precise distances to obstacles (trees, rocks ...) at various ranges everywhere he can possibly shoot; however, when in a treestand the line-of-sight distance can be difficult to determine. To get accurate readings take your range readings on tree trunks at your height or use Bushnell's new ARC (Angle Range Compensation technology) rangefinder; also, if possible, sight in and practice from an elevated stand.

When to Draw: Deciding when to pull back your bow is dependent on the buck's behavior and the terrain. Judge a buck's speed and, before the buck shows, make decisions about when you'll draw given different scenarios. Be aggressive and take the first shot you know you can make. If you have to stop a cruising buck, draw first, then grunt with your mouth. Shoot as soon as the buck stops.

Shot Angles: When you're in a ground blind on the same level with a buck, the size of a whitetail buck's "kill zone" (the area behind the shoulder that allows you to pierce both lungs) has an average width from top to bottom of about 9 inches. If you're 20 feet up and a deer is 10 yards from your stand this kill zone shrinks to about 7.5 inches. If the buck is 20 yards from your stand its kill zone grows to about 8.5 inches. These numbers grow smaller as you move up a tree and as a buck gets closer to your perch.


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