Climbing Tree Stands on Public Land

By Chuck Sams

Imagine the horror of pushing aside the brush and finding that a favorite tree stand isn’t where it was hung a month ago.  That is exactly the horror that David Gates, a bow hunter from the down river area, experienced when he trekked across the Lapeer State Game Area to check on his tree stand.  The thieves cut the security chain and made off with the stand but left a much nicer folding ladder that was merely strapped to the tree.  Gates held back his anger and shook his head in disgust, then announced his plan to switch to a using climbing tree stands on public land.  Perhaps one of the wisest moves a hunter can make when hunting public land with heavy hunter traffic.

The most appealing advantage of a climbing tree stand is that they eliminate theft.  At $40.00 and up the cost of stolen hang on treestands can climb dramatically and quickly.  Losing one stand to theft and having to replace it with another now costs the hunter around $80, a cost comparable to a low-end climber at around $100.00.  Most hunters will set multiple hang on stands and use a climbing stick or portable ladder to access them.  This allows for rotating stands for each hunt while eliminating the need to carry the stand back and forth before and after each hunt.  This is a great plan for private areas or public areas that don’t see much traffic.  On heavily hunted public land, where the potential for numerous hunters to pass under stands exists, it could make for a very expensive season.

A quandary that exists with climbing stands is that they are backpacked both in and out of the woods during every hunt.  Technology has again helped solve this dilemma.  The advent of lighter, stronger materials has made the modern climbing tree stands very lightweight and stealthier over the years.  At 13 lb.-20 lb. the lightweight of modern climbers will make the transport of the stand much easier on the back.  Throw in the prospect of theft elimination and the trek in and out of the woods with a climber just gets all that more appealing.  Tree stand hunters on public land must carry some type of climbing device into the woods with them because anything that pierces the bark of the tree is illegal.   A climber is probably equal to or lighter than most climbing sticks.  Throw in the weight of security chains and locks and the climber is now lighter.  Not to mention that the rounds won’t have to be made at the beginning and end of the season to hang and collect your stands.  The climber goes in and out of the woods with the hunter every time.

The next best advantage of a climbing stand, a very close second to saving money, is that a climbing stand offers one of the most important advantages in hunting.  The element of surprise!  How many times has a stand been moved after the morning hunt only to see a buck pass under it that afternoon in its new location?  Ask any consistently, successful deer hunter and they will say that the first time a stand is hunted offers the best opportunity for success.  A climbing stand offers the hunter the very desirable option of mobility, with a climber every time a stand is hunted can be the first time.

The climber is also a much better stand for changing on the fly.  For instance, if a couple hours into the hunt all of the deer activity is on the next ridge over.  The climbing stand would offer the best opportunity for moving stealthily to the next ridge and still having a chance to score.  With a hang on stand; the chain or strap would have to be loosened, the stand lowered to the ground on a rope, the ladder removed and disassembled, and all gear packed for moving.  All of this work would have to be repeated in reverse when setting up the stand on the next ridge over.  With a climber though there is no noisy chain to loosen, no ladder to disassemble, the stand doesn’t have to be lowered to the ground on a rope, and the hunter comes down the tree with the stand instead of having to make two trips up and down the tree.

In spite of the anti theft aspect and mobility that the climbing stand offers there are still some disadvantages.  Climbers require fairly straight and limbless trees to be effective time savers.  If the tree is not straight it will make climbing in the stand very difficult and the disadvantage of having to deal with numerous limbs is obvious.  A folding saw might be practical for trimming a few small branches but numerous branches will defeat the time saving and stealthy aspects of the climber.   Also there is the problem of just not being able to find a suitable tree down wind of where the deer are expected to appear.  Modern day scent reducing or eliminating suits may be helpful for this situation but they are expensive.  While these disadvantages may loom large for some hunters, the next time in the woods take a look around.  Michigan has no shortage of straight, limbless trees.

Tree stand theft is a good possibility in most heavily used public hunting areas.  When someone steals a tree stand they are taking much more.  There is the time spent scouting the area and the elbow grease expended to carry the stand out to the woods and hang it as well.  Tree stand thieves take much more.  They have in essence taken a hunter’s solitude, his spot.  Though climbers are not without disadvantages, the cost savings and opportunity to hunt a stand for the first time every time might be just the ticket for a low cost, successful deer season.

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