By Bob Humphrey
Tree stands generally come in three different configurations: fixed-position (fps) or hang-on, climbers and ladders. Each has its particular applications, advantages and disadvantages. What follows is a brief synopsis that may help you decide which will work best for your specific application.
Ladder stands are best suited to situations where you plan to erect them well in advance of your hunt, and leave them there for some time. They’re heavy, bulky and require a good deal of effort to erect. However, once installed they provide a stable, and often spacious platform. They can also be used in some situations where other types cannot (smaller trees).
Options run the gamut from a basic standing platform to a two-man bench seat. Heights generally range from 10-16 feet. Some have a single ladder unit, while many come in three or four-foot sections for greater portability and the option to make them taller. Some ladders have a single rail, while others have a heavier but more stable double rail.
Platforms and seats are usually made of expanded-steel, which keeps them light, yet stable. You can add a padded seat and back rest for comfort, though these often come as standard equipment. Some have an enclosed safety rail, which doubles as a shooting rail. Bowhunters might prefer one with an open front. If you want one stand for both seasons, go with a removable or fold-up shooting rail.
Fixed Position Stands
FPSs represent a sort of middle ground between ladders and climbers, and are better suited to semi-permanent locations – situations where you hang them well in advance of your hunt, leave them in place and perhaps don’t plan on hunting as long. They are much easier to transport and install than ladders, but lack the comfort and security of a larger platform. They’re generally lighter and slightly more portable than climbers, but require more effort (and usually noise) to install.
Like the other types, they come in an array of shapes and sizes. The basic concept is a platform and a seat, which you attach to a tree. They attach either with a hook and chain, or a ratchet strap, and some models feature both. Some models also feature a mounting bracket system that allows the hunter to utilize multiple locations with a single stand. While most you must climb up to or slightly above to enter, at least one type features a bottom-entry design.
FPSs also require a means to access them - steps. Tree steps come in an array of forms ranging from simple, screw-in types to full-blown ladders. Screw-ins are the least expensive option. However, they’re usually prohibited on public lands and some landowners would prefer you not use them (always ask first). Fortunately, strap-on steps, which do not damage trees, are also available.
A bulkier, more expensive but more stable and secure option is ladders or climbing sticks. Most come in sections for easier transportation. Some are collapsible or detachable while others are made up of separate three or four-step units.
Climbers provide for greater flexibility and mobility. You can carry them in, select the right tree and climb up quickly and quietly in minutes, and with minimal effort. They’re a little heavier and bulkier than hang-ons, but offer the advantage of being able to make quick or last-minute changes in your set-up location. They also tend to be among the most comfortable.
Most utilize some sort of adjustable cable or belt attachment with the better ones tending to be quieter (reinforced rubber or coated cable) and more rigid. More attention has been given to making the size adjustment systems quieter and easier to use, with fewer loose pins, knobs, nuts or bolts to fumble with in the dark and possibly lose. Some stands even feature adjustable leveling systems so you can change your adjustment as you climb to stay level.
Comfort options include padded seats, back and arm rests and shooting rails. Stands with an open front or removable or convertible rail are a better option for the bowhunter, and like the other types, the rails on several climber models can fold out of the way or down to become a foot rest. Some stands even fold flat for easy transportation.
Portions of this were excerpted from Bob Humphrey’s book Pro Tactics: Whitetail Hunting, available in better bookstores, sporting goods retailers or online at http://www.bobhumphrey.com/