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Whitetail How-To: Prepare and Maintain Tree Stands for Safe Hunting

tree stand hunter compressedThis pre-season blog of tree-stand tips comes from our good friend Matt “Flatlander” Cheever, an expert hunter and land manager from Lexington, IL. A must-read!

Hi Mike: When managing several properties the duty of treestand technician falls upon my shoulders. Dealing with 85 stands that I maintain and prune every year–hang-on and ladder stands and combinations of both on some places–I’ve learned a few tricks to help you work more safely and efficiently, and to keep things moving at a rapid pace. I thought I’d pass these along to the BIG DEER followers who are busy getting ready for hunting season.

The average Midwestern whitetail hunter has 12 tree stands; that’s right, a dozen, contrary to what many spouses have been told! Some folks only have 2 or 3 stands, but many have 20 or better, so you can see how preparation time can add up.

Safety is first and foremost. Always follow the stand manufacturer’s recommendations. Now that I’ve said that get this: I don’t follow them most of the time, I exceed the recommendations all the time.

For example, if a manufacturer says to use a ratchet strap at the top of a hang-on stand and a cinch strap at the bottom, I use TWO ratchet straps at the top and one ratchet on the bottom. Throw the cinch straps in the garbage or maybe use them to keep coolers in place in the bed of your truck. In my opinion cinch straps have no place on a tree stand, they fail like no other. They are cheap and slip, it’s that simple.

The theory behind 3 ratchet straps is that if one or maybe even 2 have been chewed by a squirrel, you still have at least one ratchet holding you; a cinch strap won’t do that. If all 3 ratchet straps were to fail you still have your safety vest/harness and are tied off so you’re okay, right?

You do have a tree-stand harness don’t you? Don’t get me started on that. Buy a good one and wear it at all times. A harness doesn’t make you weak it makes you alive!

Every year I replace one of the 3 ratchet straps on every hang-on stand that I maintain in the woods. That way there is always at least one brand-new ratchet strap on every stand. Nylon straps dry rot and weaken over time, especially if they are not loosened in the off season. I don’t have time to loosen 255 straps each winter, so I replace a third of them each year.

In my youth I used chains/binders on tree stands. Remember those? Well, I’ve actually had chains and binders rust out faster than nylon dries out.

Use good quality ratchet straps. I prefer a 500-pound rating, and that times 3 gives you 1,500 pounds of bite on a tree. That way, believe me, a stand is not going anywhere unless it’s stolen (a topic for another day).

I utilize 3 straps for each ladder stand as well. May be overkill but it’s safe!

You want your treestand work to be efficient, and the key is to be organized. Assemble all stands beforehand in the garage or shop; don’t wait to put them together on the tailgate at the hunting property.

Paint older stands well in advance, and allow them to air out for a while. A camo pattern made with spray cans is preferred. You can buy quality spray paint that may be even better than the original paint that comes on a stand. A better paint job can make a stand last even longer out in the weather.

Have your tools dedicated and organized for the task at hand. I’ve tried organizing tools with backpacks, rubber containers and even cardboard boxes, but the best way to keep things handy is with a 5-gallon bucket with a tool caddy ($15 total investment).

Hanback treestand blog 1

Here are things you need in your bucket: Vice grips, wire cutter, electrical or duct tape, spare bolts and clips, hammer, hatchet, box end wrenches/sockets, some extra bow rope and carabiners,bug spray, band-aides, and maybe a chain saw sharpener. Keep all this together all the time, along with about 10 extra ratchet straps bound neatly with electrical tape. This bucket tip alone will cut your prep time in half, guaranteed.

Make sure chainsaws, pole saws, hand saws that you need for treestand work are all sharp and ready. Lastly, have some help lined up—2 people can do 4 times the work of one person, I promise!  Saves time and energy.

The very best tool to have is a 40-foot piece of good rope and a pulley on a D ring ratchet strapped to a tree. Climb up your sticks or ladder and ratchet the D ring/pulley to the tree. Have your helper tie a stand on securely (or climb down and do it yourself) and then hoist it up. Have your buddy tie it off below on a nearby tree, which allows you to safely secure a stand without holding it by sheer strength. This takes a few more minutes to prep, but you can easily hang more stands in a day without being dog tired from manhandling those clunky stands.

I’ve been to a lot of places to hunt, and I’ve sat a lot of tree stands. I can say that 90% of those stands I consider unsafe, non-functional or hung in a manner that won’t allow a good shot. If a stand is not set so that you can shoot a buck easily and effectively with minimal movement, then what’s the point?

Hang your treestands safely and efficiently, and use the extra time you save with these tips for scouting and hunting.  Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. Don’t blow the opportunity due to lack of preparedness! Good luck and God bless.–Matt “Flatlander” Cheever

matt w buck

 

 

 

 

Flatlander with a great bow buck arrowed from one of his safe and efficient tree stands!

 

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Bowhunting Whitetail: 5 Great Stand Spots

early season bowhunting stand

Here are 5 great spots to set your tree stand or blind based on my 30 years of observing the movements of mature bucks in varied habitats across America.

These are places where you might slip in and have a good chance of seeing and quite possibly getting a shot at a big deer, even if you’ve not had a lot of time to scout this summer.

Search for these terrains and structures on an aerial map; if you’ve hunted a ground for several years, think back to where a few of these spots are located.

Ditch It

One morning in Montana, I froze as an 8-pointer trotted toward me through the woods. He was moving fast, trying to get back to his bed along the Milk River before the sun got too high. Something flashed behind him—a 10-pointer pushing 150 was bringing up the rear!

The woods were flat as a pool table and pretty open, but I wasn’t too worried, even though I was eyeballing the impressive pair from ground zero. The bucks stepped into the ditch in front of me and disappeared. I drew my bow and stepped out from behind my hiding tree. When the 8-pointer popped out on my side, I ran an arrow through his lungs at 16 steps. Why didn’t I wait for the 10-point giant you ask? Well, the 8-pointer was a P&Y buck, and I never pass a bow shot at a P&Y buck.

Since that day, a good-sized ditch, old creek bed or dry irrigation canal that runs through a woodlot is one of my favorite bow setups. Many times I have watched bucks get down in the trenches and maneuver though the woods.

You might get a shot by hunting on either end of the runway. If you walk and scout the entire length of a ditch you will find at least 2 points where trails come together and funnel across it, and those are also killer spots for a set. I actually like the crossings better than the ends on days when the wind is right.

End Runs

Loggers bulldoze windrows of trees and logs alongside new access roads and clear-cuts in the woods. Clearing pastures, farmers often pile logs or brush along edges of the timber. These are linear structures that you should look for. Deer can’t walk through the barriers, so they skirt them on either end. Check the ends for trails curling around, like you would do with the ditches we talked about. Set up where the sign is good and the wind is right.

Ah, but once in a while deer can walk through a wind row. Scout along a line of piled-up trees or brush and look for a hole or gap in the middle of it. If deer are sneaking though there, you’ll see their tracks. My friend and TV star Mark Drury killed one of his biggest bow bucks ever—190 class—by hunting near a brush-row chute like this.

Point of Timber

One of the easiest spots to find on an aerial map is a good-size point of timber tucked in the “S Curve” of a snaking river or large stream. I hunted such a spot on the Mouse River in North Dakota once, and while I didn’t kill a buck, I spent a week watching deer use this habitat. I was close two times, but never could get a shot.

If there’s good cover in the point of timber and little pressure in the area, you can bet some bucks will bed deep in there by the water and filter in and out on several trails. It’s a gamble on which trail to hang a stand, though as a rule I usually choose one where a buck moves to or from the cover with the daily wind in his nose. Set stands or blinds at least 300 yards from the water curve so as not to pressure the bedding area. Hunt for a buck coming out in the evening or going in at dawn.

On Edge

I love to bowhunt in woods tangled with brush and dotted with pines or cedars, because that is where the old boys hang out. But I never hang a tree stand where it’s too tight, where I can see only 30 yards or so in the cover. If your setup is too constricted, a 10-pointer is apt to pop up in arrow range without your seeing or hearing him. You might make a wrong move…he might look up and bust you…you might come unglued and shoot quickly and miss or hit him poorly…

So, scout the heaviest cover in the timber and set a tree stand on a linear edge of it (there’s that word again, bucks naturally travel linear structure) where you can see a big deer coming for maybe 100 yards. That way, you can ease up your bow and make all the right moves as he closes in. What makes this setup so sweet is that since bucks travel an edge like this so much, you’ll find lots of major trails and fresh rubs and scrape lines to key on.

Field Post

A gnarly, grown-up pasture might be 60 acres, or a sprawling CRP field of 500 acres in the Midwest. Either habitat is a fantastic spot to hunt, especially in the rut when bucks cruise for does and drag the willing ones out there to breed. If you were rifle hunting, you’d just sit on a rise or in a tree stand where you could watch the cover for 300 yards or more (actually do that if you gun hunt later in the season). But with a bow, you naturally have to narrow it down.

Get on a hill and glass a weed field for a wide swale running through it. I guarantee you bucks will travel that low ground, which hides them as they cut from one point of timber to the other, or from woods to a crop field. Go down in there and look for a major trail and see where and how it runs across the field. Hang a stand on either edge of the woods where the trail dumps in, or look for a little ambush spot along a trail out in the waist-high cover. There are often a lot of cedar trees in this type habitat. Back into the low-growing branches and set up with the tree to your back for an awesome natural blind. Sometimes, if the cedar or pine trees are large, you can hack out a spot for a stand 15 or so feet up—great because you can watch pretty much the whole field and whack any buck that slinks by on the trail.

Good luck.

 

Deer Season 2016: What Kind of Year Do You Predict in Your State?

trail camera bucks alberta

My friend sent me this fascinating photo from his farm in Canada. He’s been watching the buck on the right all summer, and the 6×6 on the left just showed up. “Good sign,” he texted, “cause the really big ones up here generally don’t show up until late October.”

BTW, since I received this picture smack in the middle of the Rio Olympics, I caption it:

Whitetail Olympics, Synchronized Feeding, the Canada bucks take the gold!

I am heartened to see the nice bucks up North, where the 2015 winter was relatively mild. After some lean times, I think this could be the best rack season in years in western Canada.

How about where you live and hunt? What kind of rack year do you expect? What predictions are you hearing from your state’s wildlife agency? What kind of bucks are showing up on you and your friends’ trail cameras?

Please let me know below because I’ll be putting together a pre-season prediction blog on the upcoming 2016 season, and your specific info will help me out.

(Hint: From what I’m seeing and hearing early, this has the potential to be the best buck season across America since 2010.)

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