I love my recurve bow, whether it’s shooting at the range or missing a buck across an open field, but sometimes I just want to take a deer no matter what, and that means using a tree stand. I’ve shot from a tree stand since my earliest hunting days, and there’s quite a bit I wish I’d known at the beginning.
Bowhunting is really fairly simple. But it’s best to have all the knowledge upfront. If you know the fundamentals, preparation, setup, technique, and safety precautions, you can hunt effectively right from the get-go without having to battle the learning curve.
This guide covers all you need to know to bowhunt from a tree stand, with plenty of links to my more detailed articles if you need more info. My goal is to cover everything you need to know about bowhunting from a tree stand.
Bowhunting From a Treestand 101 – The Fundamentals
A tree stand is a structure that attaches to the top of a tree and allows you to hunt from an elevated position. You sit in the stand and wait for your quarry, usually a whitetail deer, to pass by and then take a shot down at it.
Tree Stand Advantages
- Better visibility: You can see farther and over obstacles.
- Stealth and surprise: Deer don’t expect attacks from above.
- Better accuracy: The downward shot angle means the arrow diverts less from its straight trajectory.
- Increased range: Since you’re up higher, the arrow can go much farther before dropping to the ground.
- Scent control: Your odor particles dissipate more before reaching the deer’s nose.
- Improved safety in certain ways: You are less exposed to wild animals and errant shots from other hunters.
- Comfort and convenience in certain ways: It’s a place to sit out of the mud.
Tree Stand Disadvantages
That isn’t to say there aren’t any downsides to stand hunting, just that most bowhunters, such as myself, consider them outweighed by the pros. The major cons include:
- Limited mobility (and action): You have to stay in one spot.
- Risk of noise: You can accidentally bang against metal parts, especially as you carry the stand through the woods.
- Cramped space: Unless you build your own, tree stands don’t have much room.
- Weather limitations: Stormy weather is more dangerous in a tree stand.
- Financial costs: A good tree stand can be a moderate investment.
- Safety risks: Without following proper precautions, you could suffer a fall from your tree stand and be injured.
I usually tell people that a tree stand is the best way to bowhunt if all you care about is making a kill. However, if you’re worried about safety or want a little more action or challenge, hunting from the ground is perfectly fine.
In fact, you can always mix them up. Four out of five times, I hunt from a stand, but every now and then, I like to still hunt from the ground.
Types of Tree Stands for Bowhunting
There are a lot of types of tree stands. I categorize them into the following general types:
- Build-on: This is a tree stand you build yourself onto a tree, either with a kit or your own materials. It could be as simple as a board on a branch or an entire tree house.
- Ladder: A ladder stand attaches to the tree with a permanent ladder you can use to climb into it.
- Hang-on: A hang-on stand is a portable version that uses friction and leverage to hang on the tree. You usually use climbing sticks to get in.
- Climbing: A climbing stand goes up the tree all by itself, usually in an inchworm motion.
You can also divide stands between those that are enclosed in the front, either with some type of shooting or safety rail, and those that are open.
I personally recommend a hang-on stand with a large platform and an open-front design. If you can find a climbing tree stand with a big enough platform, this is also a good choice.
Setting Up a Tree Stand for Bowhunting
How you get the stand up in the tree will depend on which type it is, but you want to install it at 20 feet for general hunting purposes. If you’re hunting game larger than whitetail deer or in an open environment with few trees, 25-30 feet is also okay. Only go below 20 feet if you have concerns about safety or can’t find a sturdy enough tree to go higher.
Install your tree stand using a safety line without taking any of your gear with you. Then, use a separate cord to lift your gear and bow into the stand.
Bowhunting From a Tree Stand – How to Prepare
Necessary Bowhunting Gear for the Tree Stand
If you’re bowhunting from a tree stand, obviously, you need your bow, arrows, and the stand itself. However, there are some other accessories that are doubly helpful when hunting from a stand:
- Binoculars and rangefinder
- Safety line and harness
- Headlamp with red-light setting
- Cell phone
More importantly, there are some things you should bring that you might not consider or need if you’re hunting from the ground:
- Food and water
- Hot drink in a thermos
- Rain gear
- Heat pads
- A good book
When to Get In Your Tree Stand for Bowhunting
Whitetail deer are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk when they move between feeding areas and bedding areas. You want to be in your tree stand before they pass by, so that means before dawn or dusk.
I get in my stand 30 minutes before sunrise for morning hunts and at least an hour before sunset for evening hunts. If I want to try for the midday hunt during the rut, I hit the stand at around 11 a.m.
How Long to Bowhunt From a Tree Stand
I usually bowhunt from my tree stand for about three hours with a four-hour maximum. If you don’t see any deer during this time, then you’ve probably missed or spooked them, so staying out longer is a waste of time. The only exception is during the rut when deer behavior is erratic, and I occasionally pull all-dayers.
Bowhunting From a Tree Stand: The Technique
How the Tree Stand Affects Your Shot
The tree stand creates a downward angle between you and the target. The closer your quarry, the steeper the downward angle, which makes things difficult but also minimizes how much you have to arc the arrow.
Where to Aim From a Tree Stand
Whether from the tree stand or the ground, you aim at the deer’s “killzone.” This is the area of the deer’s body, including the heart and lungs, and, to a lesser extent, its liver and digestive organs. If looking at a deer’s side, this is about a third of the way up its flank, just behind the shoulder of the front leg.
Because you’re shooting at a downward angle, you have to aim higher on the deer’s body than you would shoot across flat ground. The arrow will travel at a downward angle through the deer’s body, which means if you aim right at the heart, the arrow will pass below it.
However, you do have to keep in mind that since you’re shooting slightly downward, you don’t have to compensate as much for the arrow’s drop. If you’re used to shooting over flat ground and arcing your arrow, this is less of a factor when bowhunting from a tree stand.
Bowhunting From a Tree Stand: Recommendations
Only Shoot Between Five and 40 Yards
Even from a tree stand, a vertical bow does not have a lot of range. I don’t take aim at quarries farther than 20 yards with my recurve bow. With a powerful compound bow, you can shoot 30 or 40 yards. If the deer is closer than five yards, the shot is difficult unless you have experience with straight-down shots.
Practice From an Elevated Position
The easiest way to learn the downward angle of tree-stand shots is to actually take shots from that height. I like to set up my tree stand in my backyard and take a few shots at my foam target. You could also shoot from the roof or take your stand out into the woods before the season.
Sight in Your Scope From an Elevated Position Too
Since you’re up there practicing, go ahead and sight in your scope. Sure, you can give yourself a challenge by having to account for the reduced drop when shooting downwards, but that’s an unnecessary hassle. Instead, go ahead and just adjust for each reticle from the height you plan to hunt from.
Still Focus on Scent Control
Tree stands help hide your scent from deer, but only to a certain extent. You still have to be vigilant. That means not using any perfumy soaps or detergents the day before and washing yourself and your kit with scent-neutralizing products. I like to go the extra mile and put all my gear in a box with leaves, twigs, and pine needles for a few days before my hunt.
As for the tree stand, new stands can often have a very industrial smell to them, resulting from the manufacturing process. I suggest airing them out outside and rubbing them with leaves and pine needles as well.
Oh yeah, and you’ve heard a lot of talk about peeing from your tree stand; don’t worry about it. Peeing out of your stand won’t spook a deer, though there may be other reasons you’re uncomfortable with the idea.
Bowhunting From a Tree Stand: Safety
Safety is one of the biggest concerns when hunting from a tree stand. There are roughly 3,000 tree-stand accidents each year, and most of these are easily preventable. If you follow best safety practices, bowhunting from a tree stand is very safe.
Best Safety Practices
- Warm Up: Make sure your muscles are loose before climbing into the tree.
- Follow manufacturer instructions: All tree stands are different, so assemble yours and then install it correctly.
- Choose the right tree: The tree should be sturdy enough to hold you and the stand, usually at least eight inches in diameter.
- Always use a safety line and harness: When climbing up the tree, you should always be attached to the tree with a safety line that will catch you if you fall. Once in the stand, secure yourself with a safety harness.
- Get your eight hours: Being well rested will keep your reflexes sharp for the hunt.
- Inspect and test your tree stand: Attach your tree stand to a tree before hunting in it and make sure everything is working correctly.
- Climb with three points of contact: If using climbing sticks, always have three points of contact on the tree.
- Don’t climb with your kit: Leave your bow and rucksack on the ground and then pull them up afterward with a rope.
- Tell someone where you’re going: In case something happens, someone needs to know where to start looking for you.
- Don’t climb under the influence: Most tree stand accidents occur because of impairment due to drugs or alcohol.
What Not to Do
There are also a lot of common mistakes bowhunters make when using a tree stand that increase their risk of injury:
- Forgetting your safety line and harness
- Leaving your cell phone at home
- Making sudden movements
- Forgetting to check the weather forecast
- Using damaged or worn-down equipment
- Overloading the tree stand’s weight rating
- Drinking or doing drugs in the stand
- Leaving your bow unsecured
- Thinking you don’t still need noise and scent control
- Leaving your emergency gear at home
Bowhunting from a tree stand is a great way to improve your chances of taking down your trophy buck. While there are some things to learn, as this article lays out, it’s overall pretty straightforward and worth it for just about any hunter. Just make sure to take the necessary safety precautions, and you’ll get the hang of it fast enough.
I hope I covered everything you need to get started having fun hunting in tree stands. Please let me know about anything I missed in the comments below, or feel free to add anything you like to the conversation.
Christian grew up in the Ozarks where he spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ homestead learning about guns, hunting, and the great outdoors.
An avid traditional bowhunter, much of his writing covers this and other similar topics, but he also covers just about everything from history and economics to motorcycles.
See more of his work at ChristianMonson.com.