Though I’ve hunted off and on in treestands over the years, I’ve never been a big fan of them. I just never got used to them and never cared for how limited I felt in them. However, I recently made a homemade version of the ambush saddle which I like a lot, so hunting from the trees is something I’m starting to do again, which is why I’ve been thinking about writing this article for awhile.
How high you put your treestand is a common question among bow and gun hunters alike. Like many aspects of hunting, ultimately it boils down to personal preference. However, there are several factors to consider when coming to your decision, so let’s work through these factors so that your decision making in the field is much easier. But honestly, there is no “absolute” height you have to have your stand at. Different situations require different methods and strategies, so instead of telling you how high you should go, I’ll explain how to think and determine where you want your stand to be at.
While hunting in the woods, I’ve seen treestands that are at head level, and some that are 30 feet high. 20 feet is considered average, and many hunters say less than 20 is worthless. But everything has a right place and time.
There are two major reasons people hunt in stand in the first place, and it’s important to keep these in mind while reading this article.
1) Deer don’t generally look into trees for danger. Unless they are older and educated, deer look for danger on the ground. And considering the average height of deer, this means they usually don’t “purposefully” look up past six feet (unless, of course something causes them to look up. Scent, movement, etc.). So the higher up you are the less likely deer are to see you or scent you. So why not go as high as possible? The major downside is the higher you go the harder angle of shot you are making for yourself.
2) The higher your stand the higher your scent that is picked up by the wind will blow over the area. Which means hopefully any scent of yours is blown well over any deer.
The type of trees
This is an obvious fact, but the reason I bring it up is because if there are no suitable trees in an area you want to hunt, you really only have two options. 1) Hunt from the ground, or 2) hunt in a different place with more suitable trees.
Does your hunting area have massive oak trees, or just scrub oak? Are they mature pines or is it a young pine forest?
Obviously in mature woods you should have a decent selection of trees to choose from. Not only are they strong enough to support your weight, but they will also allow you to get high enough in the tree to remain hidden from deer or other prey.
Another factor is simply the type of treestand you are using. Climbers will get you high easily enough, but then you can only hunt in trees without any branches for a little ways up. Or maybe you have a ladder stand which makes height not really a factor at all, simply whatever is convenient. If you are hunting far back in the woods and using climbing sticks or screw-in steps with a portable stand, then weight and distance might be a factor for you (though there are setups that allow you to go deep in the woods and setup high in trees).
Where your hunting spot is located in relation to wind currents
Hopefully you are putting everything in your favor and hunting with the wind in your face. There are times however, like when you are hunting close to a deer bedding area, that the wind might not be completely in your favor. Maybe it’s quartering off you and your scent is getting carried close by the bedding area. In that case it might benefit to put your stand up higher so that any of your scent that might go near the bedding area gets carried well above the deer.
Consider the cover
Ultimately, everything we’ve talked about relates to cover. How much cover you have in the tree will determine how high you need to go. Is there little cover low down, but a lot high up? Are you in woods with a lot of mature trees (which usually means any cover is higher up)? Or are you in an area with a lot of mixed cover? Mature trees mixed with scrub brush and trees might mean you can hunt lower down and still have ample cover. If you go to high up not only will your angle of shot be harder, you might have more work to do in clearing shooting lanes.
15 feet up with ample cover and little to no work clearing shooting lanes might be better than 30 feet up with lots of branches to clear out (for more on camouflage, check out this link).
Strategies and putting it all together
After reading these different factors, hopefully you’ve understood what I meant at the beginning when I said you can’t say there is an “absolute” height you have to be at. You want to be high enough so that you have cover and the wind is in your favor, but not so high you have bad shooting lanes and give yourself bad shot angles.
1)When you’re taking a walk or just hanging outside, look at the trees and cover around and determine what would be good stand locations. Determine exactly what height would be best.
2) Put a ladder up, or better yet your stand, and try out the locations you picked. Do you feel exposed? If you do, then you are! Try a different height and see if it makes a difference.
3) The best practice is in the field, either hunting or just observing deer movements. Learn from mistakes and always ask yourself what you can do to be improving.