The question is: Which is best? The answer is: “It depends …” Of course, this has to do with where we go in the morning of the hunt before the Sun rises, or mid-day while animals sleep and we’d like to, or before the Sun sets in early evening. Tree stand, blind or a mix of walking about, waiting quietly from a familiar spot that overlooks good game habitat, or watching for anything moving in timber, brush or open country — in other words: To do what’s best in an unforeseen or immediate situation.
The tree stand and blind suggest there’s a strong probability of the wanted animal being drawn to a specific location by the attraction of food — natural or placed by hunters. The freedom to move about and choose prime locations suggests more self-governance to explore new territory and possibilities. While I’ve experienced all three modes, by far my preference is having freedom of choice to explore new possibilities.
All three modes of pursuing game are used in today’s world of hunting, and often under the tutelage of a pro guide who controls every movement. Recently, on a TV hunting program I watched a beautiful young lady, country singer, being so managed by a pro guide on a pronghorn hunt on the western prairies. He did everything except pull the trigger for her, though he did tell her “Now!”.
The only times I’ve hired an outfitter was early on in my bear hunts, and he was never within five miles when I pulled the trigger on bears! One thing I will never do in hunting is sacrifice the freedom enjoyed in hunting, and making self-reliance and independence an offering to someone else when I pull the trigger.
But sometimes the freedom of moving about could be at the cost of a successful hunt if some animals are the objective — such as black bears drawn to bait. Then, strict discipline in a number of ways is absolutely called for!
The TREE STAND
Its advantages: 1) Elevation above ground obstructions, such as deadfalls, brush and large boulders, that would otherwise interfere with clear viewing at ground level. Also a more panoramic view of a larger area. And ground dwelling animals don’t tend to look up into trees to see what’s “up there” unless there’s some noise associated with obvious movement; 2) The elevation of the hunter from 12 to 20 feet above ground level also elevates the human scent factor that otherwise might give away the presence of the hunter. 3) It restricts the movement of the hunter that reduces potential noises at ground level associated with stepping on dry leaves, brittle twigs, climbing over dead falls, slipping on wet rocks or falling that could immediately be detected by game animals and predators in the area.
Its disadvantages: 1) The most obvious being restriction of movement, or travel to a different location. To leave the tree stand involves considerable motion that WILL disturb any yet unseen, but nearby, game that we may be pursuing, such as deer, bear, elk or predators. 2) Tree stands are uncomfortable for very long stints… and some for very short stints! A lot depends on their size and “accommodations”, as well as the size, weight and physical condition of the hunter. Some persons (hunters in particular) just can’t sit still for fifteen minutes, let alone for endless hours! 3) Most tree stands are more or less attached to a suitable tree in a chosen location for the duration of the season in question… or even permanently! You just don’t move one to a new location in a half-hour! And the “bigger” it is to accommodate more weight and/or persons, the more challenging it will be to remove it from its present location to a new one. And depending on several more issues to be settled before the season starts, it may NOT be possible to have alternate locations available, or several alternate stands in the same general area. 4) If the wind is strong with a chill in it, that will be felt much more in a tree stand than at ground level. Also, as the strength of the Sun is diminishing as it moves toward the horizon — then sets below the horizon, or ridge and possibly behind a tree line, temps can plunge sharply! If we’re not dressed for those events, we’ll be far more focused on getting into a warm vehicle or sitting before a fire than firing our rifles on the planned and hoped for game animal or predator. How to keep from freezing for the last hour of the hunting day, which is often the most crucial — especially for big bears, will become our main concern. How do I know that? I’ll let you guess! At times I’ve had to leave the stand to go to my vehicle for more clothes and a hot drink before returning!
A tree stand view of a bear bait in the blue barrel at the bottom of the tree where the rifle’s pointed. The rifle was my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT loaded with the 300gr TSX at 2650 fps. Range was 125 yards. This was private property where I and a couple of partners had taken a total of five bears. There were two stands and this one was not always in this particular location (Right click on pic, then left click on “Open in new tab”, then L click on “new tab” for a better view).
I own a single-person tree stand that is the most basic ladder type. It is generally quite easy to set up and attach to a sturdy tree. But even then, the assistance of another hunter is greatly appreciated. I added a rest for my rifle and a pad for my butt! Also, I can stand for breaks after sitting for long periods. It’s been used exclusively for bear hunts over baits on private land with two exceptions for two seasons on Crown land where it was chained to an 18″ thick Rock Maple tree for one season, and a heavier spruce for another. On private property there’s little chance of it being stolen, which is a strong possibility on Crown land (public land).
(My ladder stand facing across the open field on the far side tree line where the bear bait barrel was located in 2015. This is private property.)
New straps were added and parts were repainted a few times. It also has a brace about midway that attaches to the tree. All in all, I’d say it’s been worth more to me than the mere dollars invested in it. When I’m seated, eye level is at about 14.5 feet above ground, and when standing eye level is about +16 feet. It came in three parts: Top part with the seat (a grid of steel about 20″ x 12″ on which I attach a pad) and attachments for straps for the tree and self. The middle section plugs into the top section and has the rest for boots with feet in them, plus a steel brace that attaches to the tree. The bottom section plugs into the mid section and is a simple “ladder” that rests on the ground. I’ve owned it for about fifteen years and it still does its job as expected. Not the most comfortable but it’s sturdy. So I highly value tree stands in certain contexts.< My partner early in the season was Ben, and his ladder stand was on the same private property. He shot two bears over two seasons and I shot three over three seasons and finished off his second that was badly wounded. My rifle was the 9.3 x 62. The first bear was the wounded one using a 286gr Hornady at a bit over 2400 fps. The second was my own 6′ bear (nose to tail) using a 286 Nosler Partition at about 2620 fps. On the third I used the 250 Accubond at just over 2700 fps. Ranges for my bears were 68 yards and 85 yards — one shot each.
Below is my first bear the following year (2013) using the 286gr Nosler at 68 yards. It was a frontal hit as it faced me in tall grass. The bullet fell out from the right flank in skinning. The bear was hung on the opposite side of the tree to which my ladder stand was attached. I’m exactly 6′ from the top of my hat to the heel of my boots — the exact same length for the bear from nose tip (if it was pointed straight up) to it’s rump. It was a relatively young, fast-growing bear with little fat. My shoulder is leaning against the boar bear, and its innards were removed the previous evening before hanging it in the tree.
My partner in 2013 was Ken, a recently retired CO, who took the photo before we tackled the skinning job about 8:30 a.m. The straps on the tree are those attached to the stand, and the top most is above the pic. While in the stand we were exempt from using hunter orange. At the time of my shot (6:47 p.m.) he was 3 kilometers from me in another stand using a bow. He heard my shot and immediately made radio contact. In about ten minutes he arrived to lend a hand in gutting and getting the bear back up from the ravine into which it had fallen, and then hanging it for the night til early the next day.
The next presentation (P2) will be about ground blinds — their pros and cons.