I like a climbing stand best. We have an abundance of straight trees in the Southeast, and so a climber is a natural, convenient choice for moving with the wind and the deer. But there’s a lot to be said for slipping into a pre-set stand, particularly on a morning hunt. And for that, I prefer a lock-on set 20 feet up in the canopy of a big hardwood.
My appreciation for ladder stands is increasing, though. Most of the permanent stand sets I use are also used by other members of my family, including Michelle, who has short little arms and legs and a moderate fear of heights. She’s proficient with a climbing stand, but virtually refuses to hunt from a lock-on. So we set a bunch of single-person ladder stands, typically 16-footers that we purchase at Wal-Mart. Those stands are inexpensive, but solid and quite comfortable for the money. Hanging them is easy enough, but it requires two people and does make a lot of disturbance. Ladder stands are fine for bowhunting, provided you accept and adapt to their drawbacks. Keep these things in mind:
- Establish them. Whether the stand itself spooks deer is up for debate. I don’t think it matters much, but deer can see them, and deer are curious. They will look up at them. Like pop-up ground blinds, I like to give deer time to get used to a ladder stand before I hunt it. Well-established, easy-to-access areas that get continuous deer traffic all season, like food plot edges and bait sites, are good ladder stand choices.
- Sweat the set. Most ladders are 15 to 18 feet tall. In the woods, that means your feet are only going to be 12 to 15 feet above a deer’s head. And that’s a handicap for bowhunting. We can debate treestand height all day, but the fact is you’ll get busted far more often, both by sight and smell, when you’re sitting that low. I like to hang my ladders on a hillside above where I’m expecting the shot whenever possible. Double and triple-trunk trees give me extra cover for standing up, drawing my bow, and avoiding being sky-lined.
- Be extra still. You need to be doing this anyway. But it’s especially important in a ladder stand. You won’t see many bowhunting TV shows filmed from ladder stands simply because it requires too much movement. You have to be much pickier about standing up and drawing on deer from a ladder stand.
- Go for broke. Last season, I nearly killed a nice 8-pointer during my first sit in a ladder stand that Michelle and I had hung over the summer. He didn’t bust me, but he didn’t give me a shot. Just before I climbed down, a grown doe strolled through, picked me out and threw a snorting, stomping tantrum. Deer were noticeably wary of that spot for the remainder of the season. Plan your ladder stand hunts with a "go for broke" attitude – you’re either going to kill something or get busted. Most of the time, you won’t do either one, but that little bit of extra caution will keep you from climbing into that stand under the wrong wind, or from fiddling with your smart phone as a deer is wandering into range.