The longer you hunt whitetails, the more you appreciate just how valuable the right tree stand can be. Check out these models, designed by folks who are themselves avid hunters.
By Bill Winke
Your stand can make or break your season. I know, because I've struggled with stands that didn't fit the way I was hunting, and it didn't take long to get discouraged.
Why, then, do so many hunters take stand selection for granted? Perhaps they don't realize just how big an impact it can have on their comfort, safety and hunting results.
THE BEST STAND FOR YOUR HUNTING STYLE
Before you head out in search of a new tree stand, think about how and where you'll be using it. Not every hunter's needs are alike.
Low-mobility strategies: Each year, millions of deer hunters sit in portable stands they rarely, if ever, move. Ladder stands are perfect for this type of hunting. The best ones provide the ultimate in security and comfort, with just a touch of portability. Ladders are easy to climb and give a sense of security not found in any other style of elevated platform. Having a half-dozen such stands, covering the best travel routes in the area, will provide a hunter with options all season.
Semi-mobile strategies: By adding a small degree of increased mobility to your strategy, you can also keep up with changing deer patterns. Large, comfortable fixed-position stands are the best style for this strategy. These popular models strap or chain to the tree's trunk and offer a large, padded seat and a spacious platform for added comfort and security. They need to weigh well under 20 pounds, so you can move them easily if the need arises.
Ultra-mobile strategies: It's an accepted truth that the first time you sit a new stand represents your best chance of seeing a good buck there. Thus, if you change stand locations often, you often can have better hunting results.
Lightweight stands make the tasks of packing and hanging much easier and more enjoyable. Because you'll rarely know exactly which type of tree you're going to find, stands with mounting flexibility are required. The perfect candidate will have a long strap or chain to attach to large trees, or it will mount with a secondary system such as a pin or pre-attached strap, making it easer to install.
Climbing-stand strategies: A climber offers a good alternative to fixed-position stands for hunters who prepare a limited number of pre-scouted locations each year. They tend to weigh roughly twice as much as lightweight fixed-position stands and are best suited to relatively straight, limbless trees, but if those aren't among your concerns, give climbers a good look.
With these strategies in mind, here are two very good brands to consider:
Cast aluminum platforms and seats are a trademark of all Lone Wolf tree stands. This eliminates unwanted squeaks.
Lone Wolf stands are unlike any others on the market. The platforms and seats on all of these stands are solid pieces of cast aluminum, so there are no seams to weaken or make noise. The stands are also spacious and lightweight. Lone Wolf makes two climbers and one fixed-position stand.
The Alpha climber comes in two models. The Sit & Climb Combo weighs 17 pounds and has a platform size of 30x19 1/2 inches. It fits trees up to 20 inches in diameter and ascends using the stand-up, sit-down climbing method. The Alpha Hand Climber Combo utilizes a hand climber with the same platform. You pull your weight up, much like doing dips at the health club, as you climb. This setup weighs just 14 1/2 pounds and has the same large platform.
The Alpha Hang On attaches to the tree through an E-Z Hang Hook system you place around the tree at seat level. After hanging the stand, you tighten a strap around the tree to further secure the stand to it.
I've hunted from the Alpha Hang On quite a bit during the past three years. It is easy to put up, comfortable and extremely quiet. The stand also has slots that make it very easy to level the platform. The platform is large (30x19 1/2 inches), and the seat is 21 inches high. The Alpha Hang On weighs just 10 1/2 pounds.
Like other Summit stands, the new Clear Shot climber is made of welded aluminum.
Summit portable stands are extremely rigid and strong, and they're made entirely in the U.S. Five years ago, the company went from producing only steel stands to welded aluminum stands that feature "snap-lock" construction. The pieces snap together, then are welded into place.
Summit is the king of climbing stands, with eight of them joining two fixed-position stands in the current line. Rather than discuss all of the climbers, I've picked two models that showcase important features available this year.
The Viper has long been the most popular climbing stand in the line, and it's easy to see why. First, the stand attaches easily and quickly to the tree through the company's highly adjustable cable system. For 2004, Summit made it even more efficient with the addition of the Quick-Draw cable trigger. The trigger locks the cable in place until you pull it. That keeps the cable from accidentally coming out of its cradle.
Another unique feature of Summit climbers is the new RapidClimb stirrups. Mounted on the inside edge of the platform, they make climbing quick and easy.
The Viper climbs using the stand-up, sit-down method, and everything on the stand is padded: armrest, backrest, seat and front safety bar. The platform is 20x36 inches and weighs 20 pounds.
The Bullet Backpacker folds flat for backpacking and storage in your vehicle. In addition, it has all of the same features as the Viper. The platform is the same size, but the stand weighs 2 pounds more. Like the Viper, it will climb trees from 8 to 20 inches in diameter.
Both of Summit's fixed-position stands hang from a strap with a steel clevis. You put the strap up first and then pull the stand up and hang it in
place. This is much easier than trying to hold the stand up with one hand, feed the strap around the tree with another, and attach it to the stand with a third. (Oops, that's one too many hands. You get the picture.)
The Headhunter has a 20x32-inch platform and a padded seat, and it weighs just 10 pounds. The new 12-pound Copperhead has a 20x36-inch platform and a padded seat.
Safety, comfort and quiet reliability are the features to look for in a portable stand. If you're in the market for one this year, check out the options listed here.