Many bowhunters hunt several properties miles apart and sometimes in multiple states. At any given point in the season, they might have 10, 20 or more lock-ons and ladders pre-set in the woods.
It’s always best to pull every metal stand down after hunting season, but sometimes this is more work than you are willing to do. If you decide to risk it and leave stands out all year, keep these things in mind.
The straps, chains or cables that connect platforms and steps to trees are your foremost consideration if you decide to leave stands out. These connectors will weather and wear, and thorough inspection and service are a must.
Tree stand guru Matt Cheever doesn’t skimp. On all 50 stands he maintains in Illinois he uses 3 ratchet straps per climbing stick or ladder section, and another 3 straps on each hang-on stand. He recommends 500- to 1,000-pound ratchet straps.
“My theory behind the 3 straps: If one is chewed on by a squirrel or starts to dry out, the others will still be strong,” he says. “On every stand every year I replace one of the 3 straps; it’s easy to tell by fading which strap is the oldest and needs replacing. I want at least one brand-new strap on every step and stand each year.”
The ratchets will run you about $5 per stand and per climbing stick, well worth it.
At the end of the season, on every stand they plan to leave in the woods, some hunters loosen the strap, chain or cable that connects the platform to the tree. This way the tree grows and expands without putting undue tension and stress on the straps. When these hunters come back to hunt next year, they re-tighten the straps or chains and lock them down.
I get the idea behind this, but I don’t do it. I never leave a stand up more than 2 years without replacing the primary strap or chain, and I add new ratchet straps to stands and steps every year. The thought of loosening a strap and leaving a stand even a little bit loose on a tree has always bothered me.
What if I forget to retighten the strap? What if a friend or stranger climbs into the stand, not knowing the strap is loose?
I’ve never had a problem with tree growth affecting a strap or stand, but again I understand the thinking about loosening it. This is a judgment call on your part.
The last time of the season that I hunt a stand, I pack out a removeable seat cushion, along with pull ropes and Lifelines. Best to keep these out of the weather and away from critters.
If you’re worried about some low-life stealing one of your stands, you’ve got a couple of options. Secure the hang-on or ladder to the tree with cable and lock. Or, take down and pack out the lower sections of steps, like I sometimes do. A thief could still steal the stand, but it would be a lot more work and trouble.
When You Return Next Fall…
With climbing/safety harness fully engaged, check all straps on ladder sections or stick steps as you ascend the tree. Retighten or replace straps as needed.
When you top out at the platform, attach Lifeline and leave this safety device attached all season. Inspect stand and connecters thoroughly. Replace worn straps or cables if noticeably worn. If you loosened the stand at the end of last season, remember to re-tighten and lock everything down.
If anything about steps or a stand doesn’t look or feel right, do not hunt from that setup! Pull the set and re-hang it fresh.
Disclaimer 1: Note that here we are talking strictly about tree stands left out on private property. Laws vary by state, but on any public land, you are required to pull all stands at the end of every day or at least at the end of the season.
Disclaimer 2: None of the information in this blog will guarantee your safety. When you make the personal decision to leave a tree stand in the woods for months or years at a time, you risk equipment failure that could result in bodily injury or death. Always wear a safety harness/climbing apparatus and use a Lifeline when hanging and hunting from any tree stand.