In my last blog titled "Stay on the Ground to Bag a Buck" I offered five reasons to stay on the ground to bag a deer this fall. They focused on the versatility of this option when it comes to location. Now let's talk about the benefits of being on terra firma once you're actually on stand.
- Comfort. Although Bass Pro Shops offers many fine and comfortable models of tree stands — and padded seats can make some tree stands even more comfortable — after sitting for a long period of time, you will need to stand up periodically to stretch your legs and back. This is obviously a lot easier — and safer — if you are at ground level, with the ground cover likely to do a better job of concealing these movements than the leafless treetops. Your chances of bagging a monster buck are directly proportional to how much time you spend on stand, and most hunters just get too cold, uncomfortable and fidgety up in tree stand to stick it out long enough. Ground blinds cut the wind, and you can even add a small heater when hunting in bitter cold.
- Safety. Safety should always be the prime consideration in all forms of hunting, and although a safety harness must always be worn when hunting from a tree stand, many hunters are nonetheless injured every year from falling out of a tree stand. These falls are most commonly caused from falling asleep on stand or from stepping off the edge, either while answering the call of nature or while trying to get a shot at an approaching buck. Even if you are not bothered by heights, hunting from a tree stand is inherently more dangerous than hunting from the ground, particularly when it comes to getting in and out. Hunting from a tree stand requires constant mental alertness. If the possibility of falling asleep exists, save it for a ground blind.
- Calling. Rattling can be an extremely effective way to lure a trophy buck into shooting range, but this popular technique can be difficult to execute while in a tree stand. Two hands are required to use a set of rattling antlers, and tree stands don't always offer a handy branch to hang your gun or bow on while rattling. As an alternative to antlers, rattle boxes and bags can be effective and don't require two hands, but many hunters prefer the realistic sound of antlers. Experienced hunters like to add an element of realism to rattling by using the antlers to also pound and scrape the ground and rake nearby bushes while rattling, imitating the sound of two rut-crazed bucks tearing up the surrounding real estate. This is simply not possible when hunting from a tree stand. Also, if a buck is close, he may be spooked if he can determine that the source of the sound is up in the air and not on the ground.
- Ranging. Accurately estimating shooting distances can be of critical importance, especially for bowhunters. With practice, surprising accuracy can be achieved on the ground. However, estimating range from the air is much harder, as the human eye is not accustomed to viewing things from an extreme downward angle. Many bowhunters end up underestimating range while in a tree stand, especially high ones, which can lead to misses or wounded animals. (Whether you hunt from the ground or a tree, a laser rangefinder is invaluable.)
- Shooting. Even with the range determined, hitting the target from a tree stand can be more difficult as arrow and bullet trajectories change when shooting at a downward angle (you must aim a little low). In addition, most bow sights require strict and consistent shooting form to maintain sight-ins set while on the ground. Bowhunters must practice shooting from a tree to know how their sights and arrows behave at such angles. Despite best efforts to clear shooting lanes, trees and branches often prevent clear shots, leaving the tree-bound hunter with no choice but to wait and hope the animal moves into an opening. A hunter on the ground, however, often has the luxury of simply taking a step or two to one side to gain an unobstructed shot.
Tree stands certainly have their place in deer hunting, and I certainly do my share of hunting from them, but don't make the mistake of thinking that you must be perched high up in a tree to bag a trophy buck. This fall, get back to the roots of hunting and take a stand, on the ground.