Hunting from above the ground

Dec. 13, 2012 @ 02:49 PM

As a beginner bow hunter in my upper teens, the late sixties and early seventies offered limited opportunities for deer hunting in the mountain county of Yancey.  As fate would have it, one of the best little herds around was not far from my home in the shadow of Mount Mitchell.  Having an older friend that was more experienced at bow hunting as well as owning the first and only compound bow in the area was a great training resource as well.  While I was an old hand at being in the woods and hunting small game and even bear, my friend Franks experience and advice pertaining to the why and wherefores of deer hunting was invaluable.

On our first scouting trip prior to the actual hunt, we enter the thick unique forest that lies between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mt. Mitchell State Park.  The mile high landscape is full of lush unique vegetation.  Absent are the typical tall hardwood trees of the lower elevations.  Instead there are clusters of thick burley evergreens, slender beech, birch and mountain ash.  In addition, the ground is almost entirely covered with various ferns, grasses and berry bushes.

While admiring the surrounding October paradise, Frank begins pointing out the evidence of being in deer woods.  Some old horning on small bushes indicated bucks had been removing velvet or letting out some steam during past ruts.  A close look at chest high bushes indicated the nipping and browsing of stem tips by the hunters favorite herbivores.  A few pillow sized depressions in some of the sun soaked grasses indicated a recent bedding area.  Locating a couple of narrow but freshly used trails, it was now time to strategically figure out where we were going to build our tree stands.  After all, when it came to deer hunting, especially with a bow, it was a no brainer that we would be hunting from above the ground.   

There is probably little doubt that the history of man using various means of elevating himself above the ground while in the pursuit of his quarry goes back in time a long way.  Since primitive man found himself needing to be very close to his meal ticket, the benefit of lying in wait above the ground would have been easily to figure out.  However, it was not always an easy accomplishment, especially in the best spots.  Since necessity is the mother of invention, the need for a better tree stand has always been on the front burner of most deer hunters.  Even before archery hunting reached the level it is today, gun hunters throughout the state have been using everything imaginable to build and erect in order to get them off the ground.  In so doing, it is easy to come across everything from suicidal hair brain contraptions to virtual penthouse apartments.

In reminiscing some of my life’s close calls that truly could have resulted in a life changing or even a life ending outcome, a near fall while trying to erect a homemade lock-on tree stand high above the ground in a big oak tree back in 1969, is certainly one of the top.  Back then, the most common portable tree stand for archery hunters was the lock-on stand.  A small standing room only metal platform would use a chain or cable that wraps around the tree, then connecting back to the platforms left and right sides that touch the tree.  The stand then uses a built on or portable brace that sits below the platform against the tree.  While much improved from earlier models and still used today, they are inherently one of the more unsafe portable stands.

While all above the ground stands have added risks, the most popular portable ones are the two piece climbing stands.  These stands are basically made up of the standing platform piece and the combination seat and upper body enclosure piece.  Both sections are assembled around the tree while standing at its base.  With the standing platform attached to your feet and the upper body section in your hands, the hunter slowly works like an inch worm up the tree. 

Since the number one cause for hunting accidents today is self-inflicted from the hunter falling from tree stands, like hunting from a tree stand is a no brainer for most deer hunters, it should be a no brainer for them to wear and use a safety rope as well.  Again, the hunting industry has recognized this need as well and has stepped up to the challenge.  Today’s tree stand hunters have a large assortment of extremely safety minded harnesses and safety ropes that are adjustable, comfortable and even camouflaged colored.  When used properly, these rigs use a slip noose that is eased up the tree at the same time the hunter and his stand is inching upwards.  Another important safety practice is to also use a weapon and gear tow rope.  This allows the hunter to safely bring his weapon and gear after he is safely and comfortably situated in his stand. 

Besides actually building some type of ladder or platform stand in a tree or on freestanding legs, commercially made ladder stands have become very user friendly and affordable.  These stands are made in one and two person models and resemble an inverted letter L.  These stands usually come in about five foot sections with fifteen foot being the standard.  They are made up of a metal ladder that runs up the tree and is connected to a metal platform with attached seat.  

Hunters can use or build whatever tree stand they want on private lands that they have permission for.  However, on the states game lands, the law requires they only use portable non-permanent type stands that do not use or leave any type of nails or metal that remains attached to the tree.  While hunting from a tree stand certainly has its advantages, many a trophy deer has been bagged by hunters with both feet on the ground. 

• Tony Robinson can be reached at decoydoc@charter.net