Is a ladder stand, hang-on, climber or tree saddle best for you? That depends on where and how you hunt. Photo Credit: ATA

How to Choose a Treestand

  Joe Shead   FeaturedGear   July 13, 2021

Bowhunters have several treestand options available to suit their hunting style. Whether you like to run and gun or just set up in a comfortable stand behind the house for an hour after work, you’ll find something to fit your needs.

Ladder Stands

Ladder stands are great options for bowhunters on private land. They are a bit cumbersome to set up and take down. They’re the heaviest treestand option, and they aren’t very portable, so they’re not something you want to use on public ground if you have to remove the stand every day. And you’ll certainly make a lot of noise dragging the ladder and platform through the woods. But once you’re set up, ladder stands are quiet to climb into on subsequent hunts. Plus, they’re pretty comfortable. 

Setting up a ladder stand is physically demanding, and it’s helpful to have someone to assist you in propping the ladder against the tree. A relatively straight tree is best, but otherwise ladder stands work well with a variety of trees. Trees can have limbs protruding behind you and to the sides, but you’ll have to cut any that protrude to the ladder side.

Ladder stands are relatively cheap. You can get a basic model with no padding or shooting rail for under a hundred bucks. At that price, you can afford to set up multiple stands on your property. In a sense, that makes up for the lack of portability. Of course, stands with extra padding, armrests, removable shooting rails and two-person seating will add to the final price. 

Hang-On Stands

Hang-on stands are a pretty solid all-around option for bowhunters. They are affordable, with prices starting around $50 for a basic model, so you can buy several and place them around your property. Aluminum stands cost far more than steel stands, but they are much lighter and easier to set up. 

Hang-on stands are somewhat portable. Bowhunters with experience can probably place a stand in 15 or 20 minutes. That means you can move if a spot becomes stagnant or if you prefer to run and gun on fresh sign. 

Some hang-on stands have a larger footprint than others. Larger stands are better suited for those who get a little leery of a small platform high up in a tree. Smaller platforms are ideal for those who are a little more fearless and who want to maximize portability. 

You’ll need to have screw-in steps or strap-on climbing sticks to utilize these lock-on stands, and that will add some weight and expense to your system, depending on what you choose. 

All treestands are somewhat physically demanding to set up, but you can probably handle a hang-on yourself without much trouble or making too much noise. And hang-ons are portable enough that it’s not a huge hassle (but still inconvenient) to remove them at the end of the day on public land. One real advantage of this type of stand is you can put it in almost any type of tree, no matter how crooked or how many limbs it has. 

Tree Saddles

Tree saddles are gaining popularity among bowhunters, especially when portability counts. Saddles are a bit unconventional. You don’t really sit or stand in them. Rather, your butt is cradled and locked in. You’re a lot more maneuverable, and you still have a footrest to use as much or as little as you desire. This unique style makes some bowhunters balk at first, but if you try it, you may never hunt from a conventional stand again.

Some are nervous about the small saddle, but if you use one correctly, it’s pretty much impossible to fall. And although it may take some getting used to, a lot of bowhunters say a tree saddle is the most comfortable stand they’ve ever used.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of saddles. They are the lightest stand style on the market. You’ve got a lightweight saddle, a small platform (which isn’t even totally necessary), a lineman’s belt and a tether. You can spin 360 degrees to make a shot, and even hide behind the tree to prevent getting busted. And it’s easier to get into proper shooting position from a saddle than it is to bend at the waist from a conventional treestand. Saddles are quiet to set up, and they’ll work in any tree that will support your weight. 

You’ll also need a way to ascend the tree, whether you use screw-in steps, strap-on steps or even climbing spurs. Even with all these accessories, a saddle is still lightweight and highly portable. This setup shines on public land, but it’s even a good option on private ground for those who like the comfort and maneuverability. 

Still, saddles aren’t for everyone. Some simply prefer to have a solid seat under them. And unlike most stands, saddles aren’t one-size-fits-all. You’ll have to pick a model that fits your body size, including the bulky clothes you wear in the late season. There is a bit of a learning curve when trying to figure out how to set up the ropes, but after a time or two, you’ll get the hang of it. Lastly, saddles aren’t cheap. By the time you figure in the cost of the saddle, platform, ropes and some type of steps, you’re north of $500. But you only need one setup.

Climbing Stands

Public-land hunters or those looking for portability will probably like what climbing stands have to offer. To hunt from them, you must scale a tree and climb down from it each time, making it ideal for run-and-gun hunting. The platform and seat are used in a cam-action maneuver to scale the tree; no climbing sticks or steps required. The drawback is that using a climber is physically demanding. 

The two pieces of the climber nest together and can be backpacked to your hunting site. However, the two pieces often clang together and can be somewhat noisy. You’d have a hard time setting up tight to a bedding area with a climber. Climbers are heavy compared with portable aluminum hang-ons, but the benefit is you don’t need steps to use a climber. However, you do need a straight tree with no limbs, and it can’t be overly large or small. Climbers are pretty comfortable once set, and most models cradle you, which can be reassuring for those who are somewhat uncomfortable in a tree. A good climber is middle of the road in terms of price. Expect to pay $200 to $300. 

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