Leaving treestands up for a full year is a bad idea. Leaving them up for several years is far worse. Yet, quite a few hunters do this with both hang-on and ladder stands. Not only is this unsafe, but it’s also often not the best strategy if you want to kill nice bucks.
A blank-slate strategy with your ambush sites is a much better way to approach the year, even though this does require more work. The effort is worth it, for three very compelling reasons.
Not only did Thom Yorke of Radiohead warn us about the unseen force that holds all of the matter in the universe together in the song Fake Plastic Trees, but his warning also applies to deer hunters. What goes up, like a treestand or you climbing into a treestand, must come down.
A lot of the unfortunate hunters who come down (not of their own volition), do so because of treestand neglect. The general consensus, which needs to go away, is that a stand is safe as long as the ratchet straps are in good shape. It’s common to hear hunters mention squirrels chewing on ratchet straps as the primary cause of potential failure, but that’s overblown.
It’s far more likely that the year-to-year growth of a tree is going be far more deleterious to your setup than rodent teeth. Now, you should check your ratchet straps for wear and tear, but understand that the slow growth of a tree trunk, and the pressure it puts on the hardware that fastens the straps to your stand, is where real issues often form.
Mix in years of rain, snowmelt, freezing and thawing cycles, and the general relentless nature of weather, and you can see where this is going. The failure of hang-ons and ladder stands often boils down to rust, and unrelenting stress on certain components. Pull your stands every spring if for no other reason than to avoid experiencing a fall.
And remember, harness up. Use a lineman’s belt, use a lifeline—but also remember a stand failure, even if you have done everything right, can result in an injury. I proved this about 15 years ago with a couple of broken ribs.
Aside from keeping you from being airlifted out of the woods, pulling all of your stands now does something else—it allows you to start fresh. Complacency and laziness are two traits that will absolutely kill your deer hunting success.
Now, if you have a spot that is just a year-to-year hub where deer can’t help but travel, you know where you need one stand. But most of us have spots where we go in with high hopes, only to realize for whatever reason, the area just isn’t right.
It’s also an undeniable fact that things change, and when they do, so too does deer movement. Crop rotations, hunting pressure, the prevalence of mast, and about 500 other aspects of a deer’s life can change from season to season. When they do, hotspots go cold, travel routes change, and some stand sites die a quick death.
A hedge against this is to simply start as fresh as possible with your ambush sites so that you can key in on your most recent scouting intel.
The final reason you should pull your stands involves inventory and planning. It’s easier to see the stands and sticks you’re working with when they are all leaned up against the garage wall. Not only can you do a little off-season maintenance with them, but you can start to flesh out your whole hunting season.
This might not be a big deal if you only hunt one small property, but if you hunt a few or a bigger chunk of land, options are your friend. Understanding what you have to work with, and what you might need to buy in the off-season, will help you set up more effectively.
This might seem dumb, but it’s not. Make a plan for every spot you want to set up, on however many properties you hunt. Then start figuring out what spots deserve a ladder stand, or maybe what areas only feature smaller trees that require climbing sticks and a small portable. If you have more spots to hunt than stands, you have time to work on that problem by either picking up a few more sets or maybe mixing in a mobile setup like a good saddle system.
Whatever your ultimate motivation, pull your stands now if you haven’t already. March and April are great months for this chore, which will allow you to be safe, hunt smarter, and plan for a better season.
If you want to read more about how to be an effective treestand hunter, check out these articles: 3 Tricks for Staying Warm in the Tree Stand, Can You Burn Out a Rut Stand?, and How To Pick the Perfect Tree Stand Location in the Summer.