If you decide to risk it and leave your stands in the woods until next season, heed this maintenance and safety advice
In a perfect world, once deer season ends, we'd all go back to our hunting land, pull our treestands, carry them home, and store them in a locked shed where they'll stay dry and safe until it's time to hang them again next fall. If you only use two or three stands for all your hunting, this is exactly what you should do.
But out here in the real world, many whitetail hunters, especially die-hard archers, hunt several properties miles apart and sometimes in multiple states. At any given point in the season, they might have 15, 30, or more lock-ons and ladders preset in the woods. This is a hardcore deer blog, and since you're still reading, chances are you are one of these hunters.
As is my friend Matt Cheever, expert bowhunter and land manager from Illinois.
I hunt and maintain 50 stands, and I just don't have the time or stamina to drive all over, pull them all down, and put them all back up again next fall, he says. But I'm religious about one thing ‚ how thoroughly and carefully I inspect and maintain each one. Neglecting this is not an option.
Note that we are talking strictly about treestands left out on private property. Laws vary by state, but on any public land, you are required to pull all stands at the end of every day or at least at the end of the season.
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Perils of Leaving Treestands Out
Obviously stands left in trees for months or years get rained on and, in many areas, snowed on. Some rusting of bolts, hinges, and cables occurs, and the straps weather.
Squirrels chew cloth or mesh seats and gnaw straps and ropes.
Everybody hates a thief. But when you leave a treestand in the woods, you run the risk of having it stolen.
Finally, the folks at Summit Treestands, who recommend you pull stands after every deer season, want you to remember that every tree to which you have a stand attached grows a little each year. As a tree's diameter expands, it places more tension and stress on the platform and straps, creating accelerated wear if you leave a stand out for a year or more.
Stand Care and Maintenance
The straps, chains, or cables that connect platforms and steps to trees are your foremost consideration if you decide to leave your stands in the woods. These connectors will weather and wear, and routine inspection and service is a must.
Treestand guru Matt Cheever doesn't skimp. On all 50 stands he maintains in Illinois, he uses three ratchet straps per climbing stick or ladder section, and another three straps on each hang-on stand. He recommends 500- to 1,000-pound ratchet straps.
My theory behind the three straps: If one is chewed on by a squirrel or starts to dry out, the others will still be strong, he says. On every stand every year I replace one of the three straps; it's easy to tell by fading which strap is the oldest and needs replacing. I want at least one brand-new strap on every step and stand each year.
The ratchets will run you about $5 per stand and per climbing stick, well worth it.
At the end of the season, on every stand they plan to leave in the woods, some hunters loosen the strap, chain, or cable that connects the platform to the tree. This way the tree grows and expands without putting undue tension and stress on the straps. When these hunters come back to hunt next year, they retighten the straps or chains and lock them down.
I get the idea behind this, but I don't do it. I never leave a stand up more than two years without replacing the primary strap or chain, and I add new ratchet straps to stands and steps every year. The thought of loosening a strap and leaving a stand even a little bit loose on a tree has always bothered me.
What if I forget to retighten the strap? What if a friend or stranger climbs into the stand, not knowing the strap is loose?
I've never had a problem with tree growth affecting a strap or stand, but again I understand the thinking about loosening it. This is a judgment call on your part.
The last time I hunt a stand during the season, I pack out a removable seat cushion, along with pull ropes and lifelines. Best to keep these out of the weather and away from critters.
If you're worried about some lowlife stealing one of your stands, you've got a couple of options. Secure the hang-on or ladder to the tree with a cable and lock. Or, take down and pack out the lower sections of steps, like I sometimes do. A thief could still steal the stand, but it would be a lot more work and trouble.
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When You Return Next Fall‚Ä¶
With climbing/safety harness fully engaged, check all straps on ladder sections or stick steps as you ascend the tree. Retighten or replace straps as needed.
When you top out at the platform, attach your lifeline and leave this safety device attached all season. Inspect the stand and connectors thoroughly. Replace straps or cables if noticeably worn. If you did loosen the stand at the end of last season, remember to retighten and lock everything down.
If anything about the steps or a stand doesn't look or feel right, do not hunt from that setup! Pull the set and rehang it fresh.
Disclaimer: None of the information in this blog will guarantee your safety. When you make the personal decision to leave a treestand in the woods for months or years at a time, you risk equipment failure that could result in bodily injury or death. Always wear a safety harness/climbing apparatus and use a lifeline when hanging and hunting from any treestand.