Choosing the right tree stand depends largely on individual hunter preferences and capabilities, the style of hunting and the geography.
Tree-stand quality and designs have come a long way in the past 20 years. Some of the earliest models were accidents waiting to happen, and tree-stand mishaps began overtaking all other forms of hunting injuries. Mishaps still occur today, but they are more often caused by hunter error than failure of the equipment to reliably perform as designed.
Climbing stands: Many older climbing stands had boomerang-shaped blades that wrapped around the back of the tree and easily slipped. Today’s stands — which range in price from $100 to $300 — attach to the tree with plastic- or rubber-wrapped aircraft cables or stout chains, with locking pins holding everything in place. Additional ratchet-tightened straps are often available to further secure against slipping once the stand is in position.
A hunter uses the portable stand to move into position at the desired height on his chosen tree. This affords flexibility, allowing the hunter to match stand location to the habitat and conditions, and prevents game from patterning the hunter, as they do those who faithfully sit in the same tree day after day.
Fixed stands: Traditional lock-on or hang-on stands are less common than the increasingly popular climbing stands. A lock-on stand is typically fastened to a tree with a ratcheted strap and then accessed via a ladder or screw-in steps.
Although portable stands provide maximum options, fixed stands offer the advantage of not having to haul your stand in and out of the woods every day and tend to be considerably lower in price — typically $50 to $150 — than the climbers. Hunters on private property often place a number of hang-on and ladder stands around the property.
Ladder stands: Today’s steel ladder stands are stretching to greater heights, with some as tall as 20 feet. The climb can be challenging, but transitioning to a sitting position on either the bench or swivel seat atop most ladder stands is easier. They range in price from $80 to $200.
Many ladder stands also come with shooting rails that somewhat enclose the seat. The sitting area can be surrounded by burlap or camouflage blinds that further conceal your position. A number of ladder stands are designed to accommodate two people on the bench seat, making them popular among hunters who want to take a young person to the field, keeping them in close proximity while allowing them a view from the higher vantage point.
With a ladder stand, it takes at least two and often three people to safely place the stand on the tree, which can present a challenge. Make sure stabilizer bars and straps are tight to firmly secure the stand in position.
Ron Waller is the mechanical engineer for Summit Treestands, a company founded by his father, John Waller, in 1981. Once a Marine Corps long-distance shooter, the elder Waller became bored with rifle hunting and began designing products that he could use for bow hunting, including a two-piece climbing tree stand.
Waller strongly recommends that hunters try a stand — especially climbing and lock-on fixed stands — before buying. This can often be done at outdoor shows or at larger stores that carry hunting products.
Because comfort is key to your ability to sit quietly for any duration, Waller advises checking the seat and backrest. Will you be able to sit relatively motionless in this for a few hours? Check out the ease of climbing and the level of stability during that critical transition from climbing to turning and sitting.