The end of my hunts always seems to be a battle between leg cramps and guilt. I have to shift more and more to keep my butt from falling asleep, but I know that the second I climb down from the stand, I’ll feel like I didn’t stay long enough. Sound familiar? Here’s a solution based on my experience.
While the exact ideal amount of time to spend in a tree stand can vary based on different factors, the rule of thumb is three to four hours. This assumes you’re getting into the stand 30 minutes before sunrise for a morning hunt, 11 a.m. for midday hunts, or an hour before sunset for evening hunts.
But that’s just a general rule. If you hunt a lot, let’s discuss some factors that might change this time.
General Tree Stand Time Guidelines
There is an ideal amount of time to spend in the stand, after which it becomes impractical to push yourself.
For most of the season, you only need to be in your stand for three to four hours at a time. Deer actually don’t move a whole lot, so if you’re hunting when they are moving (usually dawn and dusk), then it does little good to sit in your tree stand at other parts of the day.
For example, these are the times I ordinarily hunt in Northwest Arkansas:
- 6:30 AM-10:00 AM: In the stand 30 minutes before sunrise.
- 11:00 AM-2:00 PM: A midday hunt if I think bucks may be out and about.
- 4:00 PM-7:00 PM: In the stand an hour before sunset to hunt until dark.
Once 10 o’clock comes around, there really isn’t much reason to stick it out because the deer are in their bedding areas asleep. Deer are mostly crepuscular (active during twilight hours), so your goal is to catch them at dawn or dusk when they’re walking from their feeding areas back to their bedding areas.
This table outlines general guidelines for how long to stay in a tree stand, with adjustments based on season, weather, personal endurance, and environmental conditions.
|Time||Ideal Tree Stand Time||Factors Influencing Duration|
|Early Season||3-4 hours||Stick to dawn and dusk|
|Rut||Up to 8 hours||Deer behavior unpredictable|
|Late Season||3-4 hours||Consider day activity|
|Pre-Storm||Varies||Deer move before storms|
|Personal Stamina||2+ hours||Build up endurance|
|Harsh Environments||Limited||Consider safety and warmth|
|All-Dayers||Not recommended||Except possibly during rut|
For more, be sure to check out my article titled What Time You Should Get in Your Tree Stand (10 Key Factors).
Factors to Consider
Part of the Season
Definitely stick to the three-to-four-hour rule in the early season before the rut. During the rut, deer behavior is much less predictable, and it may be worth sticking it out a little longer in the stand, possibly combining a morning and midday hunt for a long eight hours.
For the late season, deer usually return to their normal patterns. However, hunger and a lack of food may cause them to be more active during the day, particularly in colder climates.
Deer are often on the move just before a storm when the barometric pressure starts to drop. They’re heading for cover. Once the storm hits, though, they’ll be under cover and not moving at all.
For the most part, this means there’s no reason to stick it out for four hours if it’s storming. You aren’t going to see any deer anyway.
Tree stand stamina is something you have to build up like anything else. If you’re a beginner, consider cutting your time down to two hours. If you’re worn out, you’re less likely to take a successful shot anyway.
The rougher the terrain, the more seriously you should consider the time you spend in the stand. When I hunt in the Rockies, I’m much less blasé about time than in Arkansas, especially when the temperature is well below freezing. Even with adequate clothing and warm drinks, you’re still putting yourself in danger, so set an exact time you plan to get out of the stand and stick to it.
All-dayers always sound like a fun idea when you’re sitting on the couch the night before, but when you’re actually in the stand, not so much. I’ve only ever pulled one true all-dayer in my life—sunrise to sunset—and I didn’t harvest a deer.
I would only recommend an all-dayer during the rut when deer may be moving at any time of the day. Just be sure you have all the supplies you need.
Speaking of supplies, there are a lot of things you should have on hand in a tree stand, even if it’s just for a few hours. Make sure you have enough food and water, as well as an emergency kit. When it comes to food, I highly recommend bringing a hot drink or soup in a thermos and eating dense, complex-carbohydrate foods like granola bars or oatmeal. These don’t take up much space in your kit, but they have a lot of energy that will keep you warm.
Above all, know that you can always hunt another day, and there’s no reason to push yourself beyond your limits.
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.