Tree stands

hunter in treestand

When the leaves come off the trees, it’s not unusual to find men and women sitting or standing in them, holding very still. Do not be alarmed. They are merely practicing a locally popular form of spiritual exercise — hunting meditation.

Archery season for white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania began on September 30 this year, and ended on November 11, giving the deer two weeks to lose their wariness before the onset of regular rifle season on the Monday after Thanksgiving. (See here [PDF] for a complete list of hunting seasons in Pennsylvania.)

green tree fort 2

Tree stands, as they’re called, may be as simple as a ladder of spikes and a flat spot on a limb, or as elaborate as the fanciest tree house. The tree stand above is on a neighbor’s property; I posted photos of a few other examples of fixed tree stand architecture here.

On my parents’ 648 acres of mountaintop land, we don’t allow any fixed tree stands. All stands must be portable, and can only be strapped to the trees. The only things we nail into trees are the “No Hunting Except By Written Permission” signs around the perimeter. Our hunter friends are only too happy to patrol the property and keep out the slob hunters and the local miscreants. So it’s no coincidence that tree stands are often located near the property lines, where they do double-duty as watch towers.

one tree two stands

Tree stands are a fascinating and under-appreciated form of vernacular architecture. Requiring the hunters to use portable stands seems not to have crimped their creativity too much. One black cherry tree supports two stands back to back, and is often used by a mother and daughter who, between them, command a 360-degree view. I’m not sure that the camouflage paint does much to disguise these particular stands, but it does give at least symbolic expression to the underlying ideal of blending in with nature. It is this ideal that most distinguishes tree stands from other types of tree houses — let alone from more conventional dwelling-house architecture.

two treestands are better than one

Hunting meditation is about more than just putting meat in the freezer. For some of the hunters, the two weeks of regular rifle deer season are the high point of their year, and they tell us they would rather hunt in Plummer’s Hollow than vacation in the Bahamas. Considering how cold and nasty the weather can be this time of year, and how early in the morning they have to get in their stands, that’s quite a statement.

Some of the hunters bring cameras as well as rifles into the trees with them, and often seem just as happy to get good photos or videos of non-huntable wildlife as they are to bag a deer. (Non-huntable wildlife on my parents’ property includes all predator species: bear, fox, coyote, bobcat, etc. We only allow hunting of deer — which we badly want taken off, for the health of the forest — turkey, and small game such as ruffed grouse and gray squirrels.)

Notice the green garden hose running down the inside of the ladder to the tree stand in back.

treestand funnel seat

The hose connects to a funnel, which is mounted in the seat, as shown. The top of the seat is hinged, and can be lifted to allow access to the funnel. This tree stand was designed to make a daylong sit as comfortable as possible.

high treestand ladder

I sometimes hear non-hunters make fun of those who use tree stands, implying that they’re lazy because they’re not, you know, hunting. But we’ve been keeping careful records over the past fifteen years since we posted the property, and the records show that those who are the most patient and spend the most time sitting have the best success.

Hunting from tree stands is safer for us and for the hunters — it virtually ensures that they’re firing at the ground. It’s also practically a necessity in some habitat types. Much of the mountain has a dense understory of mountain laurel, a broad-leafed evergreen common in Pennsylvania. Whenever white-tailed deer come under intense hunting pressure, their normal instincts as a prey animal kick in and they do what they would do year-round if their natural predators, wolves and cougars, were still present: they bed down in the laurel, or other thick cover, only moving about when absolutely necessary. You need to sit well above the laurel if you want to have any hope of a clear shot.

high treestand seat

Some of the hunters do use prefabricated tree stands, and some of the homemade ones incorporate lightweight, prefabricated ladders. But the wooden ones have the most aesthetic appeal, I think, especially as they age and weather and get chewed on by squirrels and porcupines. Many of the stands remain in place throughout the year, so casual hikers like me can enjoy them, too.

Sometimes “enjoy” isn’t quite the right word, though. The tree stand in these last three pictures is especially high, and is strapped to a large red oak right at the end of the ridge overlooking the Little Juniata River. It’s completely open except for two, flimsy rails on either side, and when the tree rocks in an icy blast of wind off the gap… well, let’s just say the deer aren’t the only ones stricken with terror. I have a healthy respect for anyone whose idea of a good time is spending two weeks in late autumn sitting in a tree.

view from high treestand
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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.

20 Comments


  1. I was once a virulent bambi saver, until I did a hunt survey, and talked to the bow hunters. To a man, they were the most pleasant, intelligent and decent bunch of people I have ever talked to. I’m still anti-rifle hunters, but I can’t help but like the bow hunters, such a strong impression they left me with. They honestly didn’t seem to mind at all if they didn’t get a deer, and seemed rather surprized if they did.


  2. I’m waiting until you get beseiged by bambi-savers, Dave. Are you armed to protect yourself?

    What a marvelous retreat spot one of those tree stands would make during the off season!

  3. bill

    We were out driving back roads yesterday looking at the fall color. I noticed some deerhunters driving four-wheelers off the road and suddenly starting thinking about stray bullets.

    I am glad to learn that about the bullets mainly being fired downwards. I never thought of that.


  4. Zhoen – In many cases, bow hunters and rifle hunters are one and the same. And some of them are birdwatchers, too. But of course any slob can shoot a deer with a rifle, whereas it akes a certain kind of very dedicated outdoors person to hunt with bow and arrow. Then there are the flintlock hunters… There was even a serious proposal to introduce an atlatl season this year, but the Game Commissioners nixed it.

    Lorianne – Actually, one of our neighbors in the valley is a bit of a Bambi-saver. He keeps huge numbers of deer alive through the winter by feeding. He says he’s trying to atone for all the deer he killed as a hunter. But when he saw a really nice 8-point last year, he couldn’t help himself. He said he shot it so his neighbor wouldn’t have the satisfaction. Long story.

    Don’t think we haven’t thought about the retreat possibilities up here.

    Bill – I can’t speak to hunting practices in any other state. Customs and regulations vary widely. In general, though, I would say that regular rifle season is a good time for non-hunters to stay out of the woods, or wear plenty of blaze orange if they do go for a walk. We feel safe here because we control access to the property, and everyone who hunts here is very safety-conscious.


  5. Nice post. I’ve seen all sorts of stands in and around my woods as well.


  6. Am I reading that pdf correctly…? The bag limit is one deer per season?!

    Here it’s one per day most of the time — two per day at certain times. (And there are still too many deer.)

    They’ve lengthened rifle hunting season here. Used to start either on Thanksgiving or the day after.. I can’t remember which but I remember a lot of irate women. (Their husbands skipped Thanksgiving dinner to go deer hunting).


  7. Pablo – Thanks. Interesting that Missouri has a tree stand tradition, too.

    Karen – You’re looking at the limit for antlered. With bonus tags, one can also bag up to three antlerless (does or bucks with undeveloped antlers). There is also a special program that lets landowners apply for additional tags based on their acreage and hand them out to hunters, to be used only on that property. We participate in that program as well.

    PA has been lengthening the season by extending archery and muzzleloader and instituting a special youth hunt, but most of us who care about conservation feel that hunting should last for months, rather than weeks.


  8. My old mentor, Herm, was a bow-hunter who used hunting season as an excuse for his favorite pastime – meditating in the woods. I know he’d often let a fine deer walk by under his tree stand without taking a shot. In fact he used to tell me that he “shot some really fine saplings,” though he usually got a deer if he really wanted to. I agree with Zhoen – I respect bow hunters too.


  9. I’ve been meditating for years and hadn’t ever heard about hunting meditiaton….quite extraordinary! ;-)

    Visiting from the Festival of the Trees here, and I’m gald to have stopped in. I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who hunts, though I attended an interesting persentation once by a bow-hunting fellow in a Public Speaking class we shared.

    Thank you for a great post…I learned a lot!


  10. Thanks for stopping by, Michelle. I’m glad you weren’t put off by my tongue-in-cheek comparison of hunting with meditation.

  11. Robin

    Funnel and hose. You guys really take your tree stand hunting seriously. Thanks for the photos. I’ve never hunted from a stand with a rifle, only a bow. Didn’t know it was even legal. Different states, different rules.

    Thanks for the interesting post.


  12. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I guess a lot of states outlaw hunting with rifles altogether. And then there are those that allow hunting over bait, or hunting bear with dogs, and so on. Probably the only thing all the states have in common is that the game regulations book is an inch thick and changes every year!


  13. Unfortunately, I do alot of meditating and no trigger pulling. :( I need to move my tree stand to a better spot! Thanks for the interesting read!

  14. chase

    I am a teenager that loves to hunt .I was brought up around guns of all kinds I own 4 myself my favorite is my marlin 30/30 lever action i have ben hunting alot but ive never shot one . The reason i keep going is not the murderous way some people think i go to enjoy the outdoors but of coarse getting a nice deer isnt to bad by the way i eat the meat

  15. chase

    I hunt in georgia which is one of the purtiest places to hunt and yes i use rifles i see no reason not to use a rifle


    1. Me neither. Thanks for speaking up. I wish more teenagers could learn to spend quiet time in the woods.

  16. chase

    and i dont consider myself a slob

  17. Hunting Guy

    I never trust these “tree stands”. they easily gave up after a couple of months and you’ll so bad. if you’re above 190lbs don’t bother to climb after you’ve installed the stand for about 3 months. rain leaves it weak with rust… and slippery too! :(

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