When you leave a tree stand out in the woods overnight on public land, that stand becomes public domain and therefore anybody can use it.

That might be the law in most states, but in the deer hunter’s code of conduct it’s a bunch of BS. Anybody who would hunt another man’s stand, public or private, without permission is a skunk.

If it’s legal in your state and you decide to set a stand and leave it up for days, here are 3 things you can do to keep a squatter out:

  • If you use a lock-on, remove the bottom ladder step and haul it out when you leave after a hunt. A bit of a hassle, but nobody can climb easily into the stand. Bring the lower step back and use it when you return.
  • If you keep a climber at the base of a tree, definitely secure the 2 sections with a lock and cable. Nobody can use or steal the stand.
  • In response to squatter confrontations in tree stands on public ground, the Iowa Senate passed a law that requires hunters to affix metal nameplates to their stands when leaving them out overnight. This is a good thing. A nameplate denotes ownership of the stand, and will help to deter others from using it.

Also, according to the Iowa law, by putting ownership tags on their stands, hunters cannot be held liable if another person is injured while using that stand. This should be the law in all states.

Due to the pandemic, hunting license sales were up in many states last season, and I expect a good number of the new hunters to be back in the woods this fall. Most of these people will be looking for a deer on public land. If a newbie sees a stand in a tree in a good-looking spot, he might climb up and hunt, not even realizing he is breaking our code of conduct.

If you walk up to your stand one day this November and find a person in it, first thing, control your temper. In a firm but civil voice, tell the squatter he is in your stand, just look at the nameplate on it (yes, you should mark all your stands). He should come down and go.

But if he doesn’t and starts back talking, bite your tongue and leave. Nothing but trouble can come from a confrontation in the woods. Come back later, pull that stand and go find a new spot to hunt well away from the squatter.