The first point to remember is that you start by hunting deer, not trees. You don’t look for the ideal tree and hope the deer will come within range of that tree. You need to do pre-season scouting to identify the ‘hot spots’, or if you were unable to do this, you need to quickly identify where and when the deer are moving so you can hang your stand in the best place. The skills of pre-season scouting is covered in our book Whitetail Trophy Hunting Secrets
Once you have located a ‘hot spot’, the next task is to find the most suitable tree that will put you in the correct position for the shooting lanes you have identified. The ‘ideal’ tree allows you to travel to, and leave the stand, without ruining your chances of success. You shouldn’t cross trails on your way in or out, and should be on the downwind side of the deer’s movements. Creeks make a great route to travel in and out to reduce your scent trail.
The ‘ideal tree’ will be downwind of where you expect to see the deer, based on the prevailing wind direction. An alternative tree[s] should be identified to take advantage of other wind directions. Don’t underestimate the ability of whitetail to detect your scent, even if you think you have done all you can to hunt scent-free! Remember bucks usually travel downwind of food sources to scent-check them for danger, and downwind of bedding areas to scent-check for ‘hot’ does. Cunning bucks like to stay in the shadows out of danger, so try to stay downwind of where you expect to see the deer.
How far downwind should you be? That depends primarily on the weapon you are using. If you are using a rifle, 50 – 200 yards may be appropriate depending on the type of environment [how far you can see] and your accuracy. Some people prefer to be 200-300 yards away so they can minimize being busted. Other hunters prefer to be 50-100 yards to increase the chances of an accurate kill shot. Finding suitable trees will also be a deciding factor. If hunting with a bow, 15-25 yards away is what most hunters look for.
If you have a choice of trees, choose larger trees as the smaller ones make it harder for you perched in them, to blend in with the woods. Also the trees that provide some cover to your back and sides are great as well. If you can choose a tree in the shadows – that’s even better as it helps with your concealment. It is better to look out from shadows into brighter lit areas, than to be in light, and be looking into darker areas. It also helps hide those shiny reflective surfaces we often have on parts of our equipment.
What is a good height for the stand? There is no correct answer, but a lot of hunters prefer to be in the 15-25 foot range. If you go a lot higher, the shooting angle gets worse, you have more obstructions to shoot through, and it is more dangerous. However, when high your scent is carried away higher above the deer and the deer are less likely to see you. The real determinant is where the tree provides the best cover. If that cover is at 15 feet, then that is where your stand should be. If you are choosing your tree pre-season, keep in mind what the area will look like with leaves shed!
Now that you have located your tree, remove any potential hazards away from the base of the tree, such as rocks, limbs etc. Put your climbing harness on and strap it to the tree. Start inserting the climbing steps into the tree about a foot apart and separated at 90 degrees to make it easier and more natural for climbing. Be cautious as you put your weight onto each step to make sure it is secure.
When you reach the required height, trim away any limbs or branches that will be in the way. Then, using a haul line, pull up the stand and then attach it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Attach the stand so that you step down onto it from the climbing steps. Trying to pull yourself up onto the stand may dislodge it. Once the stand is attached, carefully put your weight onto the stand, making sure you are always attached to the tree.
Once you are confident the stand will safely support you, sit or stand on it and trim away branches that will prevent you getting into or out of your stand safely. Also trim away any branches to give you the shooting lanes you require. A lot of hunters like to have 2-3 shooting lanes. These branches may also be able to be trimmed from the ground using a cutting/pruning telescoping pole.