When I think about the process of setting “semi-permanent” stands, top of mind for me is organization. As obvious as this may sound, in the 40 years I have been doing this and the many hundreds of pre-season stand sets that I’ve either run myself or helped a buddy with, organization isn’t something that is as easy to find as you might think. Let me be clear though, organization is really about being “effective”, and effectiveness clearly drives success so this is what propels organization to the top of my list. Said differently, after a stand has been set and I think back on how I feel about the stand and whether my gut tells if the stand will get the job done, the big pieces that come to my mind are the functionality of the stand, the thoroughness of my approach, and the impact or disturbance that I made during the set-up. All of these are clearly by-products of being “organized”, hence the priority on organization and why it is worthy of my focus.
Where and What:
I have my best success when my stand set up on semi-permanent stands is pre-engineered where-ever possible. There is simply a lot to get done and a lot variables on setting a stand and this process is made harder if I am trying to scout while trying to hang a stand in the same session. The process of defining THE location and THE tree can be very time consuming and VERY impacting on the micro-environment I am targeting to hunt. The last thing I want to do is carry in a bunch of gear, bang around as I try to define the micro-location and the right tree to sit in, and then find out that the stand system I’ve been carrying with me all morning isn’t going to fit the tree I’ve settled on too well. I do much better if I define THE location and THE tree in the spring season while the sign from the prior fall is still evident, confirm the stand system that will work and get back in there, and set the ideal stand for the tree I’ve chosen right the next time I go in.
The Way In:
Pre-defining the micro location and the precise tree also allows me to define the best and lowest impact route to and from the stand, and map this approach as I need to. I feel the right time to start to employ this defined route is immediately, which includes the day I set up the stand. “Pressure is pressure” so lowering impact is a benefit whether the season is on or not. If I need to clear brush or mark the trail so it works in total darkness etc., the day I set the stand is also the day to get this job done right as well. Basically, I want my route and path in to be dialed in well before the season just as much as I want my stands to be wired and ready to go.
When I think of the functionality of a stand set, I think about its “lethalness”. Basically the question I ask myself and confirm before I call a set good is “can the set turn an encounter into a dead deer?" While there is a lot that goes into a stand being lethal, very simply stated, I want the weaknesses of my set worked out when I set the stand, not when the moment I’ve have been waiting for all season finally arrives. A few things I consider are:
-Are the shooting and “camo” dynamics (visual or shielding benefits) that the stand provides effective?
-Will the shot and drawing opportunities the set allows on the targeted trails get the job done?
-Is the stand comfortable and safe feeling enough for long hour sits?
-How are the impacts of getting to and actually into the stand itself?
If any of these considerations feel at all marginal, in my experience adjustment is well worth it on the spot. The “weaknesses” of my stand set will become apparent at some point. I want to be the one that confirms these weaknesses prior to the season not the buck of lifetime.
One and Done:
Less impact is critical enough to making a set efficient and to also driving overall success, therefore I am more than committed to getting everything done on a stand set in one session. What is needed to get a stand set done right is not a secret. It’s simply about having the right stand, climbing system and the mechanisms to properly and safely attach these to the tree, having the right tools to clear shooting lanes, having the proper tools to cut branches in the tree and surrounding area, having the right accessories to install to support my hunting (bow holders and haul lines for example), and it’s about having the proper gear to support a safe ascent / descent such as a lifeline and handholds. If I am going to put a camera up in the area, it only makes sense to get this done on the same trip as well. While a thorough “one and done” stand set system may sound like a tough carry into the woods, it really isn’t if you define what you truly need (and not what you might need) and have the right backpack carry system to get the job done.
Reducing or limiting the impact I make is my biggest focus when it comes to my stand set system. While everything I’ve mentioned up to this point, significantly helps me in reducing the total impact of a stand set, the “audible” and the “scent” stress of set are giant dynamics I consider. When it comes to reducing noise, I purposely choose the windiest day I can (wind acts as a cover but also reduces bug issues) with the proper direction to the wind on the day I choose being a necessity as well. Having the right pack to carry the stand and the climbing system I have chosen is also a huge asset. The right pack system can take what can be very noisy and awkward gear and keep it tight, quiet and balanced on my back. A pack system also allows me to be hands free and lets me to slip through the woods much more discretely.
I reduce scent through scent free clothing, rubber boots, rubber faced gloves and a good “spray down” before I go in - pretty standard stuff. What I do that I feel many over-look though and is extremely critical is having everything I am going to leave in the woods as scent free as possible before I go in. It’s a head-shaker to me that as hunters, we will micro-manage the scent that is on ourselves and our gear when we hunt a particular stand for what may be only a few dozen hours each season but worry very little about the scent that is on what we leave in the woods that will be there 24-7 for months. I will NEVER stop by the sporting goods store on the way to the woods and grab a brand-new set of ratchet straps or a new lifeline to hang a stand that day. I buy my stands and stand support gear well ahead of time and simply “air these things out” at home (out of the sun to avoid any weakening) and get the new smell out of these items. I’ve even gone so far as to soak this gear in pond water for a few days to advance the process.
I am truly a “hang and hunt” type bowhunter at heart. The elements that I love on hang and hunt approaches are the elements of surprise and the lack of prior impact. Managing these elements in my hunt settings creates a truly natural environment I can leverage. As I simply can’t successfully hunt many of the areas I hunt with a hang and hunt approach, semi-permanent stands are a must have. I probably spend at least half of my stand hours in semi-permanent stands each Fall. My goal is to drive the same low impact and surprise elements I benefit from in hang and hunt approaches into my semi-permanent sets. To accomplish this as well as possible, to me it’s all about getting organized which translates to pre-defining my set, pre-defining my approach route, clarifying the gear I will need to complete the stand set in one session, and lowering both the short- and longer-term impact of the stand set itself. No big deal.
As always, it’s all about the little things and always remember… “everything matters” but this is what is so incredibly cool about the greatest sport on earth.