How to Set Up a Tree Stand

By: Jonathan Strickland
Isolated wood material cut out against white background.
The Summit Ultimate Viper Climbing Tree Stand

Many people enjoy hunting because it's a challenging task that requires skill and patienc­e. It also gives hunters the opportunity to be outside and enjoy the natural surroundings while getting away from everyday stress and distractions. Over the years, hunters have developed a wide selection of tools that help them pursue their hobby.

One of the most useful of the hunter's tools ­other than his of her weapon of choice is the tree stand. At its most basic level, a tree stand is a platform that you attach to a tree in order to get off the ground and improve your visibility of the area. A good tree stand location can also provide cover and prevent your game from detecting your scent. There are several kinds of tree stands available for purchase. You can even build your own -- several Web sites offer plans for different styles of tree stands.


But tree stands can be dangerous if you aren't careful. Every year, dozens of hunters sustain injuries due to tree-stand accidents. It's not hard to imagine how acc­idents could happen. The typical tree stand only provides a small platform upon which the hunter kneels, sits or stands. While some hunters mount stands at relatively low heights -- 12 feet (3.7 meters) or so -- others may go as high as 35 feet (10.7 meters) to secure a spot. A fall from that height could seriously injure or even kill a hunter.

­If you're careful and if you use the proper safety equipment and follow the instructions that came with your gear, a tree stand can make you a more effective hunter. The important thing to remember is that the tree stand is a tool -- you'll still have to develop your hunting skills to make the best use of it.

You'll need to choose the type of tree stand that best suits your needs and one that fits your budget, too. It's also important to learn how to recognize a good location to set up a stand and develop the technique you'll need to make an effective kill from above. In this article, we'll learn about the different types of tree stands and where you set it up.

First, let's look at the different types of stands you can buy or build.


Types of Tree Stands

tower stand
Tower stands like this one are good in areas where there aren't any trees that can support a stand.
Alexander Briel Perez/iStockphoto

Fixed ­stands are platforms that you attach to a tree using straps, chains, cords or rope. The stand has a large, flat side that rests against the trunk of the tree. The restraints secure the stand to the tree. Before using a fixed stand for the first time, you should attach it to the base of a tree, cinch the restraints tightly and test the stand thoroughly. You should check to make sure it will support your weight without making noise. It's better to find out about any problems while you're only a few feet off the ground than when you're 20 feet (6 meters) up. To attach a fixed stand further up the tree, you'll need climbing gear to get to the right height.

Permanent stands are a special kind of fixed stand and can be anything from a small wooden platform to an elevated shelter that looks like a tree house. These platforms stay up all year. It's a good idea to inspect a permanent stand on a regular basis -- wear and tear can make a stand unsafe. The stand's quality depends entirely upon the skills of the hunter who built it. In other words, if you don't know who built the stand you're probably better off using a different approach.


Ladder stands, as the name implies, are stands attached to the end of a tall ladder. You secure the ladder to a tree using safety restraints and then climb the ladder to get to the platform. In general, it's easier to climb up and down a ladder stand than most other kinds of stands. But there are a couple of disadvantages. One downside is that they aren't easily portable. Ladder stands are big and bulky. They can also be heavier than other stands. Another problem is that it's not difficult for deer to spot ladder stands. Some deer may become skittish if they see a ladder stand, making them difficult to hunt. But if you set up a ladder stand, leave it for a few days and then come back to it, you may find that the deer have become more accustomed to the stand's presence.

Climbing stands are becoming more popular as manufacturers improve designs. There are two big advantages to climbing stands: You don't need extra climbing gear to use them and they aren't as bulky as ladder stands. There are different styles of climbing stands, but they generally work in a similar way. Usually there are two platforms. Putting downward pressure on the platform increases tension on the tree, keeping the stand secure. Lifting the platform releases the tension and allows the hunter to slide that section farther up the tree. Some climbing stands have a lower platform that straps to the hunter's feet. To climb the tree, the hunter lifts his or her feet, pushes the foot platform against the tree, then stands up. This allows the hunter to slide the upper platform up the tree. Once that's been done, the hunter can loosen the lower platform again and slide it up the tree; by moving the two platforms up the tree incrementally, the hunter can climb up, much like an inchworm moves along a leaf. Other stands require the hunter to push up on an upper platform while sitting on a lower platform. The hunter then pulls him or herself up after the first section, then sits and repeats.

­Tower stands are freestanding platforms supported by three or more legs. These towers are a good choice for areas that don't have many trees that can support a stand. Some tower stands are portable metal frames. Others are permanent wooden or metal structures. They tend to be bulky and heavy, but they may be the best option depending upon the terrain you'll be in.

How do you know where to set up a tree stand? We'll find out in the next section.


Picking a Tree Stand Location

bow hunter on a tree stand
A tree stand can be a useful tool for bow hunters.
Beach Net Services/iStockphoto

Before you do anything, read up on the regulations for tree stands in your area. There may be certain locations that are off limits. If you plan to h­unt on someone's private property, clear the location with the owner before you do anything else.

The next step to picking a tree stand location is finding a place where you'll find game. When hunting deer, this is called looking for deer sign. Deer sign includes scat (deer feces), deer tracks, shed antlers and scars along tree trunks where deer have rubbed their antlers against the bark. You can also look for signs of feeding -- are the plants in the area clipped short? That's a good sign that deer have been using the area to feed.


Once you've found an area that has a lot of game traffic, it's time to look for a good tree. You need a strong, live tree. Avoid trees that have lots of dead limbs or other signs of disease or decay. Try to find a tree that has bark with a semi-rough texture. Tree stands don't work well with trees that have smooth or flaky bark. If you're using a climbing stand, you'll need a straight tree that doesn't have a lot of branches low to the ground or you won't be able to climb up. You can clear some branches away using shears or a small handsaw.

­When you've chosen the tree, you need to decide which direction you'll be facing when you're hunting. Pick a direction that faces most of the deer sign. Try to avoid a position that has limited visibility -- you want as much flexibility as you can manage. If you're planning on hunting the same day that you're setting up your stand, you'll want to be upwind of the deer (or other game) if possible. You don't want your target to detect your scent and run off. Tree stands help mask your scent, but taking the wind's direction into account can also help.

You may need to clear some brush out of the way to give yourself some shooting lanes with clear lines of sight. Try to pick a position that gives you multiple shooting lanes. This will give you more options when you have an opportunity to make a kill.

Some hunters prefer to set up a stand several days in advance of a hunt. That way, the deer have a chance to become accustomed to the gear the hunter leaves behind. As an added benefit, the hunter won't have to carry as much equipment on the next visit. It's also a good idea to try to mask your scent as much as you can -- otherwise you may frighten off your quarry.


Setting Up the Tree Stand

ladder tree stand
A ladder tree stand.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

So you've picked out your location and you're ready to set up your tree stand. Now you'll need to make sure you have all the equipment neces­sary to set up your tree stand. Not all tree stands require lots of equipment -- climbing stands and ladder stands reduce the amount of extra gear you'll need. But here's some gear you'll need no matter which stand you choose:

  • Safety harnesses, straps and ropes
  • Your rifle or bow
  • A strong rope with which you'll lift your rifle or bow once you're in your stand

Because a climbing stand has its own mechanism for ascending and descending trees, you don't need to worry about climbing gear. Just make sure the tree you select is relatively straight, doesn't have limbs lower than where you plan to sit and isn't too thick or thin. Unlike other stands, when using a climbing stand you can (and should) use a safety strap attached to the tree as you climb up to your position.


Although ladder stands are bulky, they're relatively easy to set up. They come with safety straps at regular intervals along the ladder. You should cinch the straps tightly around the trunk of the tree to secure the stand in place.

Tower stands are also relatively easy to set up. Several manufacturers offer portable hunting stand towers that consist of a platform on top of a simple metal frame. Homemade wooden towers take longer to build and require standard construction tools such as drills, hammers and saws.

Fixed and permanent stands also require you to carry some extra tools. Most fixed stands use straps, ropes or chains to hold fast to a trunk. You may need other tools like power drills and hammers to build a permanent stand. You'll also need a way to get up the tree to secure your stand. The most common tree-climbing tools include tree steps, climbing sticks and tree ladders.

climbing stick
Guide Gear's 20-foot climbing stick

Tree steps are small bars that protrude horizontally from the trunk, giving you a foothold. Some tree steps have straps that you cinch around the trunk. Others have a sharp, threaded end that you must screw into the trunk of the tree. There are a few ways you can do this. You can use an auger to bore a hole in the tree, or if you prefer power tools, you can use a cordless drill with a bark drill bit. As you can imagine, it can take a while to set tree steps in place. And you should always check local laws or landowner preferences before you drill into a tree.­

Climbing sticks are long poles that have horizontal footholds protru­ding off the side. You attach the stick to the trunk of the tree using safety straps. Climbing sticks are similar to tree ladders, which are just like a typical ladder, except that ladders have safety straps.

You should always use a safety harness securely fastened to the tree while fixing your stand in place. If you lose your footing, the harness could save you from serious injury or death. Always wear a secured harness while you are in your stand.

Finding the perfect spot for a tree stand can be a challenging and rewarding experience. It teaches you to recognize the signs of recent game activity and take the surrounding terrain into account. It gives you the opportunity to work with your hands in a natural setting. And it just might give you your chance to make the perfect shot later on.

To learn more about hunting and related activities, scout out the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Rel­ated HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Clancy, Gary. "Treestand Hunting Strategies: A Complete Guide to Hunting Big Game from Above." Globe Pequot. 2002.
  • International Hunter Education Assocation. (Dec. 2, 2008)
  • Leiby, Dave. "Plans for a Homemade Wooden Tree Stand." 2005. (Dec. 8, 2008)
  • Metzler, Ray. "Don't Let Your Treestand Safety Restraint Leave You Hanging." Outdoor Alabama. (Dec. 3, 2008)
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "Tree stand safety." (Dec. 1, 2008)
  • Murray, Jeff. "How To Set Up Your Tree Stand." Field & Stream. 2007. (Dec. 9, 2008),13355,1215996,00.html
  • Perrotte, Ken. "How to choose a stand." ArmyTimes. (Dec. 8, 2008)
  • South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. "Types of Elevated Stands." (Dec. 1, 2008)