Treestand Hunting Basics

By Cody Larrimore


Under many circumstances, hunting from a treestand can be the most effective method of all, especially in areas with relatively high game populations, dense cover, and terrain that’s too flat to permit much glassing. Successful treestand hunting, however, involves much more than simply buying a stand, randomly picking out a tree and climbing up. It’s a chess game, a dynamic process of moves and counter-moves; the hunter selects a tree for his stand, gives it a go and then, based on his observations and changes in prevailing conditions, might choose to move the stand to increase his chances at a high-percentage shot.

Here are some guidelines that will help make you a more successful treestand hunter:


You must scout to locate areas where animal sign is abundant before choosing a stand site. For white-tailed deer, such areas can include preferred food sources like acorns, corn fields, alfalfa fields and apple trees; active trails and trail junctions; funnels, green field edges and fence lines; scrapes and rubs. Look for fresh deer droppings, tracks and signs of feeding activity like fresh acorn caps, half-chewed corncobs and places where the ends of browse like honeysuckle have been nibbled on.

As a general rule, the best treestand locations for whitetails cover trails leading from food sources to bedding areas in the mornings and are close to preferred food sources in the afternoons.

Use Your Head

The big advantage that hunters have over the game that we pursue is our ability to out-think them. When selecting a specific tree to place your stand in, put on your thinking cap and ask yourself, “Why this tree?” Have a plan. Anticipate where the game will be traveling and at what angle the stand should be set to your best advantage. Walk a 360 degree circle around the tree before erecting the stand. Decide beforehand how you’ll enter and exit the stand location, which branches and limbs to trim and which way the prevailing wind is blowing. Set the stand on the downwind side of the trails that you think the game will use.

Beware Of Hollows

If you place your stand in a hollow, you must be aware that deer might be moving on your level on the adjacent hillsides. This makes it easier for them to spot you. I always erect stands either in the very bottom of a hollow or the top of the ridge, but never on a hillside.

Hunt Deer, Not Trees

The right way to look for a place to hang a treestand is to scout the woods, find hot sign and then set up within good shooting range of that sign. The wrong way is to scout, find hot sign, and then look for a nearby tree that will accommodate your treestand. That’s like the tail wagging the dog. Never forget that the objective is to get a shot at your quarry. If your stand won’t work in a tree within range of the spot that you know will produce, it’s time to reevaluate your hunting technique and your stand.

Watch The Wind

Even if you’re 20 feet off the ground, you still have to hunt with the wind in your favor. Setting up so that game will approach upwind or crosswind of your stand and walking to your stand with the wind in your face are important. For example, when hunting a fresh scrape, it’s better to set up 30 to 100 yards downwind of the scrape and not right on it. How far depends on the terrain and thickness of the brush. A buck usually approaches a scrape on the downwind side to scent-check it before approaching; you don’t want him coming in downwind of you.


Contrary to popular opinion, deer do look up! Erect your stands so that you have as much cover around you as coverpossible so that deer and other game won’t spot your movements or your silhouette. You should at least have a backdrop of leaves and branches. Because most trees are bare by late season, place stands in small dumps of trees so that the multiple trunks offer cover. Don’t prune away too many branches around your stand and on the ground to create shooting lanes or game will have a better chance of spotting you.

Don’t Move

Just because you’re elevated and in full camo doesn’t mean that game can’t spot your movements. They can! Control your fidgeting by bringing a book to read while on stand or my personal favorite, playing games on your phone when things are quiet (Keep your phone on SILENT). You can cut and stick branches in the floor of your stand so that game can’t see your feet shuffling, too. Just remember that they are there so you don’t make a ton of noise moving your feet. The less that you move, the more game you’ll see.

Stand Height

Choose your stand’s height according to conditions. On flat, open ground, 12 feet might be enough. In thickets, 20 to 25 feet up might be necessary. Do what’s necessary to achieve the optimum compromise between cover, visibility, scent control and your height comfort level. I prefer stands set about 25 feet up to 35 feet to prevent game from seeing me, and the added height helps keep my scent floating above game.

Be Quiet

Be as quiet as possible when setting up a stand, traveling to and from the stand site and while sitting on stand. Unnatural noise is a red flag to wary game. Secure all stand parts, like chains and exposed metal surfaces when hauling the stand in. Before the season, lubricate squeaky areas to remove creaks and groans. An old piece of carpet cut to fit makes a warm, quiet foot pad. Take a few extra minutes to take care of details and you’ll increase your odds of success.

Minimize Your Gear

Some hunters aren’t comfortable unless they pack the entire Cabela’s catalog gear selection with them on stand. Come on, you’ll only be there a few hours! The less that you bring, the less that will get in the way or fall noisily to the ground. Everything that you need should fit into an average-sized day pack.

Be Flexible

If you keep seeing game from your stand, but it’s out of range, be prepared to move the stand to the area where the game is moving. By mid-morning, if there’s no action where you are or if the area’s been dead for days, climb down and scout for hot sign. When you find it, move your stand and hunt it that afternoon or the next morning.

Ground Odorground odor

Game, especially whitetails, will smell where you’ve walked and will avoid your stand site unless you take great pains to minimize the odor that you leave on the ground. Wearing knee-high rubber boots is an important first step. Avoid walking on trails that you think the deer will use to approach your stand. Do not touch anything with your bare skin and wash hunting clothes in no-scent detergent, store them in a clean plastic bag and put them on in the field.

The More, The Merrier

Like many experienced treestand hunters, I believe that the first time that you hunt from a stand is your best chance to shoot an animal from it, especially if your goal is a mature buck. So I try to place several different stands each year, hunting specific sites only under perfect conditions. I also love to scout on-the-go with a portable climber or lightweight fixed-position stand, setting it up when I find hot sign and hunting from it that afternoon or the following morning.

Scouting From Abovehunting from above

In unfamiliar terrain, I like to take a day and place a treestand in an area where I can overlook a lot of country. My main purpose is to try to observe game movements in the surrounding countryside. If I see a mature animal off in the distance that I want to hunt, I don’t hesitate; if the wind’s right, I move a stand over to where I saw him and I start hunting.

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Charles is the editor for 248 Shooter a midwest based gun news and gear review site as well as Online Content Director for On Target Magazine. He is an avid student taking classes from top tier trainers around the country. Charles shares his love for training as well as experience and opinions on some of the most talked about gear and products used by competitive shooters, military, leo and civilians.