My first hunting experience was from a tree stand—by which I mean a slab of wood my grandpa had nailed to a tree branch. As a little boy, I was a bit… disappointed. I had imagined hunting as an elaborate game of stalking and attacking my prey, not just sitting around waiting. Yet I was assured this was by far the most effective method.
In my experience, it’s best to hunt whitetail deer from a tree stand, especially if you are bowhunting in the dense forests of the American East and South. However, if you’re hunting other species of deer or in a more open environment, this isn’t always the case. Other factors include skill level, day-to-day environmental conditions, and personal preferences.
Decades later, I have to admit my grandpa was right. I’ve had much more success hunting from tree stands than from the ground. However, does that mean it’s better? Well, that depends.
Is It Better to Hunt Deer on the Ground or in a Tree Stand?
While there are a number of reasons hunting from a tree stand is more effective than from the ground, the biggest is simply that it keeps you hidden. Deer aren’t used to checking above themselves for danger, so hiding yourself up high gives you a considerable advantage. It also makes shooting a bow accurately much easier.
Hunting From a Tree Stand – Pros and Cons
The main advantage of hunting from a tree stand is that you hide yourself from the deer’s line of sight, but that’s far from the only one. In fact, I’d say stand hunting has a lot of pros and really very few cons as you’ll see.
- Out of sight: The top advantage is simply getting out of the deer’s line of sight so they don’t notice you.
- Out of smell: Deer can smell better than they can see, but they still have a problem smelling what’s above them because the wind disperses the scent particles before they drop to the ground.
- Elevated view: Although the deer can’t see you, you can see it even better. Being up high gives you a wider and farther field of view.
- Better accuracy: It’s better to shoot a bow from a tree stand because you can do so much more accurately. The downward angle lets you work with gravity, and you shoot over longer distances.
- Comfort: I also just enjoy sitting in a tree stand and experiencing the nature around me.
- Limited mobility: The biggest downside of a tree stand is that you’re stuck there. You have to place it in the right spot and then hope your quarry comes by.
- Fall risks: If you follow standard safety procedures and use a safety harness and line, tree stands are quite safe. Still, there’s always the risk of fall and injury.
- Setup hassle: Whether you build your own or by a hang-on model, a tree stand requires some amount of setup. Aside from the inconvenience, this can also mean noise that spooks game.
- More to carry: If you’re using a climbing or hang-on tree stand, you have to carry it with you into the woods. That might mean having to sacrifice other gear.
Hunting From the Ground – Pros and Cons
Although you don’t have to, hunting from the ground lets you move around and track your game. That is by far the biggest advantage, but there are many others, along with the corresponding disadvantages.
- Go to the game: You don’t have to wait for the deer to come to you if you’re on the ground. Some hunters do hunt from ground blind or just sit in a chair and wait (my aunt’s go-to), but you can also practice what is confusingly called still hunting where you track game and then wait in a particular area for a while before moving on.
- More options: You can practice more types of hunting from the ground such as still hunting, blind hunting or your own personal mix.
- More connection with nature: Although I concede that stand hunting is the most effective method, I have a soft spot for still hunting because it feels more natural and gives me a closer connection to the hunt.
- No assembly required: While you might choose to bring a blind with you, this is still usually easier to carry and set up than a tree stand.
- Easy to spook game: Deer can more easily see, hear, and smell you if you’re on the ground. Plus, it’s harder for you to see them. You may not even realize you’ve scared off all the deer until you hear the dreaded sneeze.
- Uncomfortable: Who likes sitting on the ground? When she taught me to hunt, my aunt always carried a single cushion with her, but that still doesn’t compare to the comfort of a tree stand.
So… Which Is Better for Hunting?
For the vast majority of people, tree stands are better for bowhunting whitetail deer and shooting bows. However, I want to lay out some specific circumstances where the decision might not be as clear.
|Hunting open terrain in the West or Midwest||Ground||The open terrain gives you better line of sight anyway, and you will likely have to move over large distances to reach the game.|
|New to hunting||Tree stand||Hunting from a tree stand is simply more effective. That said, you should practice shooting from an elevated angle if you’re bowhunting.|
|Elk hunting||Ground||Elk are migratory and tend to spend more time in open areas than whitetail deer. Being on the ground makes it easier to track and find this more elusive animal.|
|Looking for a challenge?||Ground||Still hunting in particular is more difficult than hunting from a tree stand, but that extra challenge makes it more rewarding.|
|Hunting in the mountains||Tree stand||Tree stands help you take advantage of the natural elevation in mountainous terrain while still hunting can be strenuous. That said, strategically placing a ground blind on a ridge can work well.|
Environmental conditions significantly influence the efficacy of bow hunting, both on the ground and from a treestand.
On the ground, hunters face direct line-of-sight issues and are more exposed to wind and noise, potentially alerting deer to their presence. Scent dispersion is more direct and detectable.
Conversely, treestands elevate hunters out of deer’s typical line of sight and the immediate scent path. However, treestands may expose hunters to variable wind currents at different heights.
While both methods have pros and cons, understanding and adapting to environmental conditions can optimize the hunting experience.
For more, check out A Bowhunter’s Guide to Tree Stand Heights.
Skill level plays a crucial role in choosing between bowhunting from the ground or a treestand.
For beginners, tree stands are often recommended due to their advantage in hiding the hunter from the deer’s line of sight, reducing chances of being detected both visually and by scent. This elevated position also aids in more accurate shooting.
Conversely, ground hunting demands higher proficiency as movement, noise control, and camouflage become paramount to avoid spooking game. Tracking and still hunting on the ground require a deeper understanding of the animal’s behavior and greater stealth techniques.
Thus, while tree stands provide a more controlled environment, ground hunting offers a challenging yet rewarding experience for seasoned hunters.
In the intricate dance of bowhunting, the choice between hunting from the ground and using a tree stand is multifaceted, hinging on variables like environment, target species, and personal preference.
For many, tree stands offer a strategic advantage, especially for beginners, ensuring better concealment and shooting accuracy. However, the ground presents a dynamic and immersive hunting experience that, although challenging, can be incredibly rewarding for those with the skills and patience to master it.
Ultimately, the decision rests on the hunter’s goals and expertise. Embrace the method that aligns with your hunting aspirations and enjoy the profound connection to nature that bowhunting offers.
Thanks for reading!
For more, check out How to Bowhunt From a Tree Stand | All You Need to Know.
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.