We talked recently about the importance of being mobile as a whitetail hunter. Using a saddle or lightweight hang-on stand is key to hunting better out of trees. Once you have you have decided on your stand or saddle/platform setup you need to figure out how you will be ascending the tree. The rise of saddle hunting the past few years has led to some serious innovations in the past 3 years. If you still think that the classic Lone Wolf climbing sticks are the height of ascension technology then your mind is going to be blown.
Methods Of Climbing
Climbing Sticks. This the classic method of tree climbing for the modern age of deer hunting. Essentially, it is a metal stick with sharp standoffs that brace it against a tree. The front of the sticks feature 2-3 steps. You place the stick against a tree, secure it with a weight rated cam strap, and climb up. They are extremely safe when used as directed. Lone Wolf made the original sticks. They are typically between 2.5 and 3 pounds apiece for mobile sticks and generally have a reach on the tree of 32″. 3-4 sticks are typically what you would want to carry to reach a height of 16-20 feet. Expect to pay between $130-$250 for a set of four depending on features. Lone Wolf Custom Gear, Lone Wolf, XOP, Muddy, and Hawk Helium are all awesome options to check out.
Mini Climbing Sticks. I put this in a separate category because they are very similar to full sticks, but with an important difference. Mini sticks typically only have 2 steps (rather than 3) and generally span 17-20 inches per stick. So you can’t reach as high with 4 mini sticks. However, the weight savings are significant. Mini sticks can weigh from 2 pounds on average to as light as 1.5 pounds in some cases. Be prepared to pay for the savings in weight/bulk. A set of good minis can range from $30 to $90 per stick. To get extra reach with mini-sticks a strong cable or rope is often attached to the bottom of the stick. This is called an aider and can bridge the gap between the reach of mini sticks and full sticks without adding much weight. Beast sticks, Out On a Limb Shikars, Lone Wold Custom Gear, and Hawk Helium all make great mini sticks. Some hunters have taken to buying or using full sticks and cutting them down, which is fine if you know what you’re doing. If you’re buying new, just get the size stick that better suits your hunting style.
Other Climbing Attachments. In this category, I’m going to include things like the Wild Edge Steppladder, Grade 8 bolts, and screw-in or strap on individual steps. You can save even more weight by going with one of these options. A set of 8 wild edge stepps only weighs 8 pounds. It is a triangular bracket with an offset that braces against the tree. You use a rope to strap each step on and tie a simple knot. Then you just climb the stepps like a ladder. Bolts are an interesting option. You go to the hardware store and buy some grade 8 bolts. Using a hand drill you drill holes in a tree, insert the bolts and use them to climb up. The whole system could only weigh a pound or two. However, screwing anything into trees is illegal on public land. The same goes for the individual screw-in steps. If you want to go with screw-in steps, pay a little more for the Cranford steps and avoid the cheap Ameristeps.
Ropes. Rope climbing is a really interesting way to get up and down a tree. It is not for the faint of heart or someone who is not careful and meticulous. Like any rock climbing, if you don’t know what you are doing you can easily injure yourself. I am currently experimenting with SRT (single rope technique). It is a system of tree climbing based on arborist techniques. I throw a throw bag over the crook of the tree. Using that I pull up my climbing rope and girth hitch it into place. Then I use an ascender device to climb the rope. Finally, I rappel down and pull my rope down after me. The system was a couple hundred dollars. I am using a Petzl Ascender, Petzl GriGri belay device, and climbing rated rope. If you wanna go this route be meticulous. Take some rock climbing classes. Study everything you can about arborist and rope techniques and be safe.
What I’m Using Currently
Over the past few years, I have been on a personal journey to find the simplest and lightest way to climb trees. I have tested every one of the above methods and currently have 2 that I will be using this fall. My primary climbing method will be using 4 Shikar mini climbing sticks from Out On A Limb with rope aiders. With four of them, I can get 18 feet up in a tree. Their total weight with aiders is about 7.5 pounds and they have very little bulk. I think they are the best climbing sticks on the market, but they are not cheap. Alternatively, I am getting more proficient in SRT rope climbing and will hope to be transitioning more and more to climbing with that system. The whole thing only weighs about 4 pounds, and I could climb 30 feet with it if need be. Also, getting down from the tree is very quick when you are rappelling.