September 02, 2022
In the fall of 2020, I’d been dogging a sizeable 10-pointer that sported a wide, sweeping rack. To show for my effort I had lackluster results. And that’s despite the fact I came into the season armed to the teeth with a ton of summer scouting encounters and a plethora of trail camera images of the buck. But when I finally put plans in place to hunt the buck, I ran into the same obstacle at every turn: no trees. No matter how hard I studied the terrain in a couple of spots I needed to be, there was nothing I could do to get a proper elevated tree stand hung without giving myself away to game around me.
Out of desperation, I tried bowhunting the buck from the ground the day before our first gun season, using natural cover and a milk crate as a seat. I nearly killed him while overlooking a thick creek bottom. He was using it to access adjacent doe bedding cover, but he backdoored my position. I just couldn’t get a clean look for a shot. Before sunset, I walked over to a big, towering white oak that, if I had been in, would have given me the shot angle I needed. This tree was to be my Alamo for firearm season, and I figured to be back well before first light with my orange on. But there was work to be done first.
The Case For Experimentation
The philosopher Plato has been credited with the following quote: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When selecting a tree stand position in this situation, I needed to think outside the box just a bit and get creative. The trees above this stretch of terrain were all terrible choices. Some would put the setup at eye level with approaching deer. Some would put the stand in a poor wind position. Some trees were huge; some were small. And almost every tree here was crooked as a dog’s hind leg and had zero cover at conventional hunting height.
I usually like to bowhunt at 18-25 feet above ground, but this was not an option over this particular creek bed. Hunting from the ground in natural cover nearly worked for this buck, but the underbrush and slope to the terrain put me too low to launch an arrow successfully. Likewise, at ground level, I couldn’t see the buck approaching until he was super close, and this made shot anticipation nearly impossible.
The white oak I settled on was growing out of the side of a gentle slope and would work well if I could hang it about 5-6 feet high, just above the brush line along the edges of the creek. It would give me good visibility and clear shooting lanes to approaching game. It would provide proper wind position and would serve as excellent cover to hide my human form. At face value, the notion of the setup seemed like a long shot. But I had a plan.
Just The Essentials
I set out on foot well before first light the morning our Illinois gun season opened. I packed lighter than usual but brought some essentials for when I need to hang a low tree stand. Using several Nite-Ize gear ties, I strapped a Lone Wolf Assault and one full length climbing stick tight to my pack. I used my EZ-KUT ratchet pruners to carve out some multifloral rose thorns near the base of the big oak. This took time in the dark, and I was glad to have a quality headlamp with a red lens to help me see.
Once free of the underbrush, the next trick was hanging the tree stand in a tree so large in diameter. This was accomplished by using cam buckle strap extensions to give me enough reach, one for the single climbing stick and one for the stand. Working with the large tree took some finessing, and my safety harness and an extra-long lineman’s belt helped hang the stand hands free. I eventually got the stand situated to a height of about 7 feet. Once satisfied, I took some paracord and a gear tie and tied a large limb out of a key shooting lane. I then cooled down, dressed in my outer layers and put a pair of Vortex binoculars on my chest.
I laughed as I tied the world’s shortest tow rope to the seat of the stand, tied my gun off and climbed up into my perch above the creek bed to greet the day. Once settled with my camera gear and weapon, I lowered my pack to the ground to reduce my profile in the tree and waited on daybreak.
Hanging Low: Pros and Cons
Stands set low offer unique advantages over conventional “20-footers.” Concealment is the first and foremost. A strategically hung stand doesn’t have to be 30-feet high to hide you from the prying eyes of trophy bucks. If you can identify a large diameter tree with surrounding side cover and back cover, you’d be surprised how well you can hide.
My brother Eric once called this method “the ground blind in the sky,” as the goal should always be superior concealment. A low stand also offers shot opportunities over underbrush and keeps shot angles shallow, allowing for more anatomical forgiveness on the target animal. Another plus to hanging low? Less gear to pack! If I can use one single climbing stick with a small foot aider, I can get nearly 8 feet above ground, and this makes for an ultralight, mobile setup.
Finally, I like the visibility a low stand provides. Sometimes in dense hardwoods, the higher I climb, the visibility through the timber is reduced due to the roll of terrain contour or surrounding brush line. Seeing the target approaching out of a low set is a good plan to help anticipate shot opportunities.
The prime disadvantage to hanging low is obvious: being closer to the ground means being closer to the game I’m trying to get the drop on. When I first tried hunting like this, I would often get picked off, because I didn’t temper my movements while on stand. Being used to 20-foot stands in the canopy, I quickly learned movements in a low set need to be slow and calculated, or risk being discovered.
Likewise, being closer to the ground can allow animals to intercept your wind cone much easier. To thwart this, I try to put my back against structure deer aren’t likely to use by cutting me off by catching a whiff up close. Finally, on sunny days, having the sun in your face the first or last hour of daylight is not ideal. Strive to keep the sun at your back whenever possible or practical.
Legal shooting light came drab and dreary with a stiff south wind. The visibility from the 7-foot oak stand proved to be excellent, and the surrounding cover made me feel pretty confident come daylight. An hour into the hunt, a trio of does slipped into the creek bed below me and walked by to my strong side within bow range. Not 20 minutes later, I saw the wide-racked 10-pointer coming from a mile away through my binoculars.
He followed the same trail, nose down and in a half trot. When I bleated at him, the buck stopped and gave me a can’t- miss look with my single-shot slug gun. When the hammer tripped, the buck whirled and fell quickly at 15 yards, directly in front of my short little tree stand. The trophy buck I’d been spying on for months rested at 12 o’clock and right below me in the creek bed. I was immediately dumbstruck by how effective the short stand tactic had been in this application.