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Friday, October 14, 2011

Hunting Public Land Part 2 of 2: Treestand Selection.

So, let’s continue looking at the “challenges” of hunting public land a how this influences tree stand selection, factors to consider and some modifications I’ve made in response to experiences in the field.
Generally speaking, in North Carolina and Virginia screw in steps, lug bolts, nails or any other such “permanent” climbing aids are prohibited on public land.   Our regulations allow for the building of natural ground blinds or even leaving a tree stand attached to a tree.  Permanent structures remaining after the season are prohibited.  More importantly, you don’t want to leave something you really like in the woods too long or someone might like it better than you – hence my “carry in-carry out” rule.
The areas I hunt are spread over about 60,000 land acres of public “multi-use” land open to hiking, wildlife watching, camping, biking and fishing.  Some areas are within close proximity of residential dwelling and are limited to archery equipment.  Other areas are heavily wooded and open to deer hunting with muzzleloaders, rifles, shotguns even the use of dogs.  Highly pressured and/or mature bucks and does on public land survive by patterning hunters and making use of areas rendered ‘un-hunt able’ per human habitation, the unwillingness of hunters to take on the thick nasty stuff, or a lack of trees most hunters find suitable for many traditional tree stands.  
Given these conditions, the ideal public land set-up would be extremely portable to carry long distances over rugged terrain hunting game signs; adaptable to almost any tree, easily transitioned from area to area most of which may be unfamiliar and stealth to hide from people as much as game.  After all, if an area has ‘telephone pole’ trees and easy access it is likely to be highly pressured.   
So let’s look at the set up that I ultimately settled upon, the Gorilla Silverback Scout. 

This is an aluminum hang-on type stand that weighs in at a verified 10 pounds even (including all straps).  The stand is very light.  Light enough to hold in place with one hand as you attach the stand to the tree.   Unlike the comparable Lone Wolf or Muddy Hunter Pro stands which have adjustable seats and platforms, the Gorilla has only an adjustable seat.  The Lone Wolf is crafted from a solid one piece platform whereas the Gorilla and Muddy stands have the typical welded platforms.  In theory, the Lone Wolf’s platform should be quieter as welded platforms are known to creak in very cold weather.  I hunt in Virginia and North Carolina.  During deer season, temperatures will range between 80 and 32 degrees Faranheight with only occasional dips lower during mornings late in the season.  So, that not really a concern.  However, the Gorilla Silverback Scout costs about $100.00 less than the Lone Wolf Assault of comparable size and weight. 

To climb, I use Lone Wolf climbing sticks. 

They weigh in at about 2.5 pounds each, very quiet to climb, and solid.  They were engineered to stack and are adaptable to pretty much any tree you might encounter.  The sticks come in packs of three and most people will use 3 to 5 (I generally carry 5 sticks which weigh ~ 12.5 pounds).  I am 5’7” and 4 sticks will get me about 16’ high without any dangerous maneuvers and comfortable steps.  If you are closer to 6’ tall then you might make 18-20’.  The 5th step isn’t always needed but it does allow me to reach 20’ and step down on the stand for safety.  The single post design of the Gorilla Silverback Scout tree stand allows the Lone Wolf climbing sticks to stack lock on for portage as if they were engineered to do so.  
Regardless of the stand selected, I intended to make a few modification to “quiet the stand an enhance durability”.  Basically, I coated the stand with a rubber undercoating then sealed it with a coating of bed liner followed by a coating of camouflage paint and ACU camouflage.  In the dark things hit and bump. Metal on metal is an unnatural sound that will wake for the forest especially mid fall though winter.  As the humidity falls sounds travels better and the metal seems to attain a higher pitch. This process results in a stand that produces a light “thud” instead of a forest awakening tuning fork style “tiiiiinnnnggg!!!!!!!”.
If you are interested in quieting your stand down (highly recommended for Summit stands), here is an overview of the process:
Step 1:  Disassemble the stand, remove all, straps, cords, labels, tags and scuff up the existing paint or roughen up other  smooth surfaces with sandpaper.

Step 2: Coat the stand with a layer of roll-on Herculiner bed liner (preferred for climbing stands) or spray on Duracoat bed liner and let it dry.  The key here is to ensure the final coat dries with a roughened surface to improve grip on rainy days. 

Step 3: Add a coat of rubberized auto under liner.  This is a rubber spray on substance that can be found at almost any car parts store.  I purchased a can of the Scotch Guard brand for about $6.  This is probably the longest step.  This stuff smells pretty strong so I leave it outdoors to “cure” and loose some the odor.  It won’t totally go away, but we’ll take care of the remaining odor in step 4.

Step 4: Coat the parts with a couple coats of flat camouflage paint.  Kryon is great and runs about $3 a can, but the $0.97 flat hunter green from Wal Mart works just as well.   The critical aspect of painting after the rubber liner has cured is that the paint will seal in the odor.  From here you have options:

allow the paint to cure, reassemble, and add your carry straps or.........

add a camouflage pattern using additional "camo" colors, stencils or add a layer of camouflage duct tape.  Below, I added some ACU digital camouflage to the stand and the sticks.  Note how the climbing sticks stack on the stand.   The stands attachment belt makes a great tool for cinching it all together for portage.  Absolutely silent and with the MOLLE shoulder straps and belt you barely feel it upon your back.  Great for long hikes.

Other popular choices for hunting public land are
Climbing stands:  The first stand I purchased was called the Summit Viper Xtreme. 

 It was nearly identical to the ever popular and Summit Viper with one exception.  The Summit Viper is aluminum and weighs in at 21 pounds ready to hunt.  The Viper Xtreme is a steel version that weighs in at about 28 pounds and about $70.00 less.   With a MOLLE kidney belt and shoulder straps to distribute weight along your waist, the viper Xtreme is a great value, mobile and highly efficient.  However, as noted above, quite often the best trees for a climber are often associated with easily accessible areas and high hunting pressure.  Typically, the best forage trees are not as amenable to climbing stands as say pines.

Ground blinds: Mobile, very adaptable and great for taking out children or new hunters as they are great at hiding movement.  Scent control is critical as is and finding a place to set up.  While I have used them as a carry in and out system on public land they are at their best when they can be left in the field.
Tree Saddle: The most mobile, stealth and adaptable set up I found involved a hang-on sling type seat called the Trophyline “Tree Saddle”. 

The design allows you to hug the tree and lower your profile by keeping the tree between you and the deer, much like a squirrel.  You can use device this on any tree big enough to hold your weight and the thinner, gnarlier and forked the better.   This was my number one choice.  Unfortunately, Trophyline appears to be either out of business, out of stock or somewhere in between.  The result has been a ridiculous rush on saddles via eBay and classifieds.  I purchased a neoprene “Real Tree” version last February (wanted a leather “Roads trips” edition) on EBay for $169.00.  I shot from it a few times and it wasn’t bad.  Overall, the set up was about 20.5 pounds (saddle/accessories – 8 pounds, 5 climbing sticks 12.5 pounds).  After several sits in the saddle and looking at some of the newer ultra portable lock-ons, I realized that many of these smaller platform stands were comparable to the saddle in adaptability, stealth and portability.  For example, the Lone Wolf Assault, Muddy Hunter Pro, and Gorilla Silverback Scout HX, all weigh in at about 10-11 pounds, have adjustable seats and with 5 Lone Wolf climbing sticks they are in the same 20-21 pound range as the saddle.  


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