A deer lives primarily by its sense of smell. That highly sensitive organ tells it where food and water is, where its fellow deer are, where a suitable mate is during the rut, and also telegraphs possible danger, such as an approaching or nearby predator. Although its hearing is acutely sharp, it is the deer's nose that reveals what's occurring in its territory.
Humans, regardless of how clean, emit a distinctive odor, which differentiate them from other species. This scent drifts through the downwind air much like water flows downhill. If the air is very heavy, such as occurs during rain or snow, the scent trail stays very near the ground, often settling into the lower sections of contours. However, if the air is not heavy, which is the case much of the time, the drifting scent expands in a cone-like pattern, growing ever larger the farther it goes. It dissipates eventually, but that may take it hundreds of yards from the source.
Since the bowhunter must be close — say, under 40 yards, usually less — to a deer before a shot opportunity might occur, the deer must approach the hunter to within that distance without being aware of his presence. Obviously, should any deer approach from downwind, or should a shift in the wind direction occur toward an oncoming deer, the hunter's scent is carried to the animal. However, should the hunter be well above the ground, his scent trail being carried on the winds or thermals is more apt to drift above the deer and, thus, not be as readily detected.
Stand to Deliver
Treestands have come a long way. Stands have progressively gotten lighter, larger, safer and more comfortable. Climbing stands have also gotten quieter (nothing's worse than making a loud racket climbing the tree where you hope to soon see a deer).
The Field & Stream® Outpost Ladder Stand puts you at the optimum height.
The one trend that might not be necessary is the height some hunters using stands are going to the past few years. Some climb to 25 feet or more to do their bowhunting. Although this has the advantage of placing the hunter's scent even higher in the air, making it less likely to be picked up by an approaching deer, it's probably more than offset by the almost vertical shooting angle it produces, as well as other factors.
Since most of our trees have branches on their lower stories, a high treestand placement also means there'll be more limbs and leaves to shoot around or remove to allow an unhindered arrow path to the target. Speaking of the target, a sharply downward angled shot opportunity on a deer offers a very small target area, and almost totally eliminates a double lung shot, which is the goal of the hunting archer.
Some bowhunters claim their extreme elevation allows them almost total freedom of movement when a deer is nearby. Here again, I'm not sure about those benefits offsetting what, to me, is a poor angle to make a clean, humane shot on a deer that might be standing almost next to the tree the hunter is in.
More Safety Concerns
Anyone who's hunted from a treestand is familiar with what happens when the wind begins to blow. Even in large trees, a stand that's 12 feet in the air can sway back and forth like a rocking horse, which can add a bit of challenge to making an accurate shot. Double that distance up the tree, and the ride becomes somewhat like being in a boat with 3-foot swells bobbing you up and down, only in this case, it's side to side.
Bowhunters are serious about their sporting challenge and, as such, the vast majority use treestands when hunting deer today. If you spend many days wandering the woods and fields during the archery season, the odds of seeing treestands, either empty or complete with a waiting bowhunter, are excellent. Unfortunately, there are also a few accidents, with careless hunters falling from their stands each year.
The question is, who's more apt to survive a fall without serious injury: the person who's 25 feet in the air, or the one who's 12 feet up? Ironically, if falls from treestands aren't included in the formula, bowhunting's safety record is one of the best of all outdoor recreational activities. And reaching for the stars is bound to generate increased risks and more accidental falls en route to and from that lofty perch in the sky.
Always Wear a Harness
According to statistics, one in every three treestand hunters will fall out of their stands risking serious injury or death. Sadly, many of these hunters will not be wearing fall restraint devices because they thought they were uncomfortable or not "cool" to wear, and many of these hunters will pay a high price for their decision.
Editor's note: This revamp article was originally published by Realtree.com and written by the late Bob McNitt who passed away in October 2011.