July 12, 2021
Looking back to the early ’90s, my first few Illinois deer seasons found me sitting in one of five treestands. They were all hand-constructed wooden monstrosities, strung together between forks in the treetops with 2x4’s, plywood, barn nails and sometimes baling wire. Safety harnesses weren’t commonplace yet and the portable, metal treestand industry was in its infancy. My generation of whitetail hunters is the last of the stand builders. One of us would kill a buck out of these tree houses during the rut and we’d christen the location a winner and, usually, hunt the tar out it forever. We’d never give up on these stands even after we had pressured them to death because of one reason: the sweat equity and lumber it took to build the darn things in the first place!
Factory-made, metal treestands ultimately took the place of our homebrew builds. Eventually, I began putting up several of these each season and at one point, I had 35 stand locations hung and trimmed by opening day each fall. I would occasionally move these stands if the situation called for it and got into a grove of being “semi-mobile”. The last ten years or thereabouts, the “if you build it (or hang it), he will come” mindset has given way to using, even more, portable methods.
Several companies now make very lightweight, highly portable stands, climbing aids and other devices that allow the whitetail hunter even more freedom to chase big bucks with stealth, speed, and versatility. The days of hanging three dozen fixed position stands for different wind directions and times of season are dwindling. Over the years, I’ve learned some spots are dynamite, seemingly with all the elements needed to drop a giant on any given day if hunted properly. These locations for me still get the old reliable pre-hung stand and set of climbing sticks and I’d venture to guess I still use these about 50% of my hunting time. The other half, I’m headed to the timber with a stand on my back and a weapon in my hands for a hang and hunt adventure.
The mobile, hang-n-bang approach to treestand hunting whitetails is chocked full of potential advantages. One of the most important of these being the “one and done” theory many successful hunters subscribe to. The first time in a fresh stand set is no doubt the best that stand will ever perform in my opinion. If I analyze every single quality buck my family and I have ever taken over the last ten seasons, 75% of them were taken the first time in a particular tree that season. I’m convinced the more you hunt a spot, the less likely it will produce over a long-standing timeline.
How can I say that with confidence? Simple whitetail neurobiology. Deer have the ability to learn! Their brain as a prey species is remarkable in its ability to keep them alive. And employed. The only job a deer has to do every day of its life is to not die. In this simple logic, it stands to reason that hunting the same spots over and over would have diminishing returns. Being a mobile hunter allows one to have that first sit magic every hunt if desired.
Adopting a mobile hunting approach can also save you a pile of time during the calendar year. I work a busy full-time job, and hanging 30 plus treestands every spring and summer was very time-consuming. I always felt like I was running behind! If I’m mobile, I hang and hunt the same day so I’ve got less self-imposed time pressure and I can go at my own pace. I can also cover a lot of ground during the season if I remain adaptable with a mobile stand always at the ready, a feature highly coveted by hardcore public land hunters. Committing to a mobile hunting approach can also save space and money. Reducing that fleet of aging hang-on and ladder stands for one ultra-lightweight stand and set of climbing sticks may simplify your life and your garage or storage shed.
A mobile hunting system can be a gear nerd’s dream come true. It’s great fun to tinker with and customize gear to your own liking and application. Hunters in the mobile scene wrap their stand edges in various sound dampening material, add aftermarket backpack straps and climbing stick holders, and even paint their gear to better conceal their profile. My mobile stand of choice is a Lone Wolf Assault II with four of their climbing sticks coupled with an army surplus set of backpack straps and kidney belt.
Some folks aren’t even using stands anymore. With a resurgence of saddle hunting in recent years, mobile hunting has become even more en vogue with a plethora of cool new gear and strategies. I recently acquired a Tethrd brand Phantom saddle and Predator platform and have been pleased to learn the system this summer. Likewise, I’ve recently taken my run and gun approach to a new level with the purchase of an ebike from Bakcou called the “Flatlander”. I’m impressed with how efficient the bike has made my scouting efforts thus far and am looking forward to using it in the season for the ultimate hang and hunt experience. The bike will allow me to go farther distances in less time and afford me more overall versatility in deciding where I can hang and hunt.
Another advantage mobility has to offer is stealth in trying to target an individual buck right down to his bedroom. You wouldn’t want to post up a pre-hung set right by a mature buck’s suspected bedding area, would you? How many times can you get away with entering and leaving that spot without the Big Guy using his Big Brain, reckoning that you might be getting too familiar and trying to do him harm? Going into his lair with a stealthy approach and hanging a fresh stand with weapon in hand is a fantastic way to keep the element of surprise in your corner. I’ve grown fond of trying this the last several years for this reason but also because of the immersive nature of the hunt itself. If I go into a known target bucks suspected bedding area with a stand to hang and weapon in hand, the experience of the hunt seems to be more intense.
I put a lot of pressure on myself in these situations but when I’m able to watch a big buck stand up out of his bed for a big stretch from a stand hung just an hour earlier, the confidence I have in myself elevates drastically. Similarly, I never go into a fresh hang and hunt-style adventure and get bored in the tree. It’s easy to remain laser-focused when I put the noise discipline and work effort required to notch a buck tag in this manner.
If I’m being honest about the “hang-and-bang” approach to chasing whitetails, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages but I can certainly appreciate both. One drawback to becoming a mobile hunter is the learning curve it takes to get proficient in the process. The first several times you slip into the timber in the early morning darkness, the process of locating, hanging the stand, and getting all the essentials up the tree with you is a daunting task when just starting out. Taking the stand down at the end of the hunt is also factored in, making this hunting method a bit labor-intensive. Scent and sweat control is also a challenge especially when the temperatures are below freezing and you’ve got to prevent overheating and sweating to remain dry for the vigil.
In extreme cold, your hands are tough to mitigate when hanging and hunting so I’ll use some hand warmers and go slow to prevent both overheating my body and freezing my fingertips. Noise discipline can be a factor in mobile hunting whitetails as well. I like to cover my metal cam strap buckles and other metal surfaces to dampen any metal on metal mistakes I might make while hanging before a hunt. Finally, the cost can be seen as a deterrent for hunters new to the concept but I feel this is a moot point if the transition from pre-hung setups to mobile gear yields more consistent big buck results.
Ever hear of the term “Bug-out-Bag”? Well, I like to keep a couple “Bug-out-Sets” ready to roll out when duty calls. For starters, my first hang and hunts of the year are usually done in the summer over beans or alfalfa with an optic in hand instead of a gun or bow. Long-range observation in pressure-friendly locations helps me profile a mature buck for the season. Once the opener comes and goes, the use of my hang and hunt system is all situational. If I have historical data on a mature buck from a previous year or two, I may hang and hunt the area he was noted in previously during the same dates on the calendar.
The week of Halloween, I like to hone in tight on suspected target buck bedding in hopes to catch him daylighting. If I’m getting deeper into peak rut, I will sometimes just raid a doe bedding area or crash a certain terrain feature or pinch point. Unexpected heat wave or drought year? It’s simple to do a run-in over a busy water source with a mobile system at the ready. Minus wind chill and four inches of snow? A mobile system affords me the ability to pounce on the hottest food source in the coldest weather for a quick evening hunt. Gun season pressure causing tough hunting? To quote MLB hall of famer Willie Keeler, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t.” I’ll roll out the mobile setup, and hunt a location where the only orange I see is my own. Find some thigh-sized rubs near a fresh scrape the size of a car hood by accident? I’ll hammer it immediately with a hang and hunt. Forecast calling for heavy winds? I’ll go jump into some sheltered cover and make the best of it. The take-home message on mobile hunting systems is very simple: the landscape is an open canvas and you’re only limited by your own creativity and woodsmanship.
Mobile hunting systems are great resources for the whitetail hunter looking to take their hunting strategy from passive to active. If I could give younger hunters any advice on mobile hunting it would be, "simply be safe at all times and don't be afraid to get started."
I was somewhat intimidated at the prospect of hanging a stand in the dark, hunting the stand, and pulling it down in the dark. A lineman’s belt harness is an absolute must for safety. A headlamp and some gear ties are also helpful. With repetition and patience, taking care to use a fall restraint harness at all times, I’ve got fairly efficient in the process and have taken some great trophy bucks with it. In 2013, I arrowed a solid target buck from a stand hung not two hours before. I had worked very hard finding this particular buck in the summer and I was getting nowhere with him. All it took was a well-placed stand with a solid, covert approach in November and he was in the truck bed by sundown. That experience nudged me towards the mobile game and I’m in love with it.
My family and I have since taken some really nice bucks using this method and I keep learning more and more about the process every single season. The more hang-n-hunts I do, the more I regret not trying this mobile hunting thing back when my two brothers and I were still building our treestands with hammer, nails, and scrap lumber from the farm!