Deer Season in Michigan is rapidly approaching. It is now midway through July and you want to start thinking about how you will be hunting this fall. If you are going to make any changes to your setup this is the time to do it. Aside from practicing with your weapon, scouting locations, and getting permission on potential properties, you also need to consider whether or not you will be hunting from the ground or an elevated position. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.
Arguably the oldest method of hunting, all ground hunting requires is a weapon. Still hunting is the original form of hunting from the ground. You walk quietly through the woods stopping at regular intervals to listen and look. The best still hunters move very slow while moving through the woods. Still hunting allows the hunter the ability to cover a lot of ground and adapt quickly to new information such as tracks, sign, and animal sightings. However, when hunting intelligent animals such as deer, it takes a tremendous amount of stealth and woodsmanship to still hunt in the woods. The other downside is that you are potentially exposing a wide area of the forest to your scent and presence. If you do not still hunt carefully you risk blowing out the deer in an area.
Ambush hunting involves taking an educated guess of where you expect a deer to be and getting there first. You then stay quiet and wait for the animal to approach. Most modern deer hunting is based around the ambush strategy. The benefits of lying in wait for a deer include the ability to remain silent, play the wind, and potentially see the deer before it sees you. The main disadvantage is that if a deer does not come where you are you will not kill one.
Modern ambush hunters generally rely on camouflage and either artificial or natural blinds to conceal their presence. Using a blind can help contain your scent, hide small movements, and provide some shelter from wind and precipitation. Blinds are also generally easy to set up and relatively safe. They are a great choice for taking along new hunters or for those who prefer not to climb trees. Portable blinds add some convenience but do add a significant amount of weight when hiking a long way back to a spot.
When ambush hunting for deer, many hunters choose to do so from an elevated position. There are several advantages to getting up in a tree to hunt. The elevation can help mask some of your scent, you gain an improved view of the woods, can often see farther away, and animals may be less likely to see you because they don’t expect danger to come from above ground level. Of course, the benefits of elevated hunting do come at the very real risk of injury from a fall. One-third of hunters will be injured in a fall at some point. You do not need to live in fear of elevated hunting, but do need to respect the fact that you are off the ground and could potentially fall if you do not follow safety guidelines (using your stand properly and wearing a harness).
The main type of elevated hunting is to use a tree stand, though the hunting saddle is rapidly becoming a popular choice as well. Tree stands generally come in 3 distinct styles: Ladder stands, Hang-On stands, and Climbers.
Ladder stands consist of a metal ladder attached to some type of stand. They are positioned on a tree and then strapped on to prevent them from moving. Ladder stands are generally pretty comfortable, safer than other tree stands (if secured to the tree properly), and can be large enough for multiple hunters. Drawbacks include them being very heavy and bulky. They also typically only elevate the hunter by a maximum of 15 feet. Ladder stands can be a good choice if you will be hunting with a partner or using the stand on private property where you plan on leaving it up for a while.
Climber stands add mobility to treestand hunting. A standard climber is comprised of a top and bottom. The top features a seat generally and the bottom is the foot platform. You wrap them around the tree at the base and use them to walk up the tree. While standing on the foot platform you raise the top up and lock it in place. Then you insert your feet into straps on the bottom and while resting your arms on the top, raise the bottom platform with your feet. This motion is repeated until you have reached your desired hunting height. At this point, you perform your safety lock on the tree and hunt. Climbers are a safe way of mobile hunting when used properly. Their disadvantage is that typically they weigh more than a hang-on stand and sticks. Climber stands can also be a bit on the bulky side.
The Hang-On stand has become the tree stand of choice for the mobile hunter. It features a flat platform with a seat attached that folds down flat for transport. You use sticks or steps to climb a tree and then raise the platform up and lock it to the tree. The open design of the hang-on stand gives you excellent mobility and freedom of motion for bowhunting, but does mean that there is no railing on the stand. Using a safety harness is a must with any treestand, but especially with a hang on as a wrong step could have you fall off the platform. Besides the freedom of movement, a hang-on stand and sticks can be as lightweight as only 12 pounds and easily straps onto a pack.
A well-rounded hunter should have multiple tools in his kit to improve his chances of killing an animal. Hunting from the ground and an elevated position both provide distinct advantages and disadvantages. A ground blind is easy to set up and gives you a bit of cover from the elements and a deers vision. It is also a great way to hunt with a partner or for someone who is not physically able to climb a tree. However, they can be heavy and bulky and can encourage bad habits (fidgeting or making too much noise) as they lull a hunter into a false sense of security. Still hunting is a lot of fun, but requires a tremendous amount of patience and self-control to properly execute. Most hunters should focus on hunting deer from an ambush position when possible. If not done properly, still hunting has the potential to drive deer away to neighboring properties. Hunting from a treestand is a great way to get your silhouette and scent away from a deer’s direct line of sight and smell. The view you get of the woods from 20 feet off the ground is awesome compared to ground hunting. However, the benefits of a stand carry the potentially deadly consequences of a fall if proper safety precautions are not followed. As you gear up for deer season this fall, adapt your style to the area you will be hunting. Analyze the terrain and movements of deer during scouting and tailor your approach to best take advantage of the information you learn. Whether you hunt from a tree or the ground, stay safe, have fun, and bring home some natural protein this fall.