Climbing Sticks for Tree Stands
It spooked me bad. The huge, and I do mean huge, oak was the only tree in the river bottom pinch that worked. No matter how many times I scoured the area, I simply couldn’t will a better tree into existence in the spot I needed it.
The list of problems with the oak was a long one, but there were several that set off the flashing red lights and sirens in my mind.
The first was that it was way too big to use the climbing sticks I’d packed in with me. Even if I doubled the straps, they weren’t close to getting around the trunk. I believed it narrowed enough at around the 25’ height to get the stand strap around, but I also realized odds were just as good that I’d have to get to 30’ to pull it off. Still, this spot was just too good to pass up and a hang on was the only stand option I had.
Frankly, having to get that high without using climbing sticks was a distant third in the concern department to the two factors that really had me spooked. Even back the 15ish years ago, when this was playing out, I’d already hung somewhere over 1000 treestands by myself, all without any serious incident.
Never had the idea of hanging a stand spooked me before. I’d brought plenty of screw in steps, “just in case” the sticks wouldn’t work. I had enough to get 40’ up and, because of my own stupidity in not using safety harnesses back then, I was well practiced at hanging on with one hand and screwing in steps with the other.
The real spooky issue was the huge branches made it so there wasn’t a single direct path up and no matter what route I traced, I’d have to be leaning backwards at some points. Even back then I was smart enough to know that leaning back is a huge no-no when climbing treestands.
I also knew that trying to hang on with one hand and screw in a step with the other, while leaning backwards was a pants on head stupid risk, made even worse by the tree being way too big to get an arm around.
Complicating things even further was that the thick, ridged bark would have to be cut away where each step would go. If not, the threaded portion of the step would never even sniff the wood portion of the trunk.
After circling the tree at least 20 times, I finally tossed the climbing sticks at the base of the tree and went to work. It was at about the 15’ mark, leaning backwards, fingers clinging to a bark ridge when the bark gave and I started going backwards. With just enough time to make one grasp, my fingertips somehow barely found another valley in the bark. Looking down, I saw how close I’d just come to falling back first on the climbing sticks I’d carelessly tossed next to the tree.
That was it for me. I immediately climbed down, leaving the screw in steps in place, and got the heck out of there. To this day, I have no doubt in my mind that, if my fingers hadn’t somehow found that fingertip hold, I’d either be dead or paralyzed, all over a quest to get a deer.
I got lucky. Frankly, I’d been getting lucky all the way up to that point, and just wasn’t smart enough to realize it. Because of the long term management work I do for 4-5 clients each year, as well as hunting both public and private ground myself, every year since that “slip” I’ve hung between 100-200 stands.
You can double that, if you include loosening and/or taking them down after each season. I can still say I’ve yet to fall when hanging or loosening stands. The difference is that now I’d be fine if I did slip.
I get it. We are ate up with hunting and big bucks. Never forget three things though: We have loved ones that value us, bucks are nowhere close to being worth risking serious injury or death and, most importantly, we don’t have to risk either. Here’s how you can hang treestands safely and come home to your loved ones, every time!
It really is as simple as following a series of requirements. Follow them religiously and you are safer hanging stands by yourself than you are driving back and forth to your hunting grounds. Don’t and it’s just a matter of time before tragedy hits.
What follows are the steps I take to set hang on stands. All treestands involve a certain degree of risk, but setting hang-ons is considerably more risky than setting ladders or using climbers, and many of these steps address them, as well.
1. Only select trees that are straight or have a very, very slight lean. You must be climbing straight up the tree or leaning very slightly towards the tree. Leaning to either side or backwards aren’t options, period!
2. Dead trees or trees with larger dead branches are never to be used. Professional loggers call them widow makers for a very good reason.
3. Obviously, the tree must be large enough to support the hunter and the stand’s weight. Because the base of a ladder stand offers extra support, they can be used in smaller diameter trees than hang ons, but remember that you still have to shoot. Even if a tree is large enough to support the stand, that will do little good if every breeze makes you bob around like a bobber on the ocean, making it impossible to take an ethical shot.