Treestands – Portable vs. Permanent: by Lee Gatzke

Which stand is the best choice for hunting out of? Each stand has advantages that make them popular but is one stand type more effective than the other for producing deer hunting success or shot opportunities? Permanent stands are typically chained or nailed to a tree, making them immobile, where portables are carried in, set up and taken down at the hunters discretion. I’ve been successful hunting out of each type of stand, however, one type has been more productive.

Lets examine some pros and cons.

spacer Tom Gatzke with his opening day 130 inch 10 point
I gladly forgave my son, Tom, for spooking the bucks away after he explained that he just shot a 130″ ten pointer and wanted me to share the moment.

 Without a doubt, if the hunter has properly scouted an area, the first time a stand is hunted is the most productive as far as seeing and shooting deer is concerned. This is because the deer have probably not seen or smelled humans in the area for some time and feel safe in this location. A good example of this happens every year on opening day of archery deer season. When I do my pre-season scouting I’m typically glassing bucks from a distance and do not enter the chosen area until I’m ready to hunt it opening morning or evening.

A few years back my son and I employed this tactic opening day. I had two P&Y bucks under my stand, on the edge of a clover field, when my son came to pay me a visit…he needed help. I gladly forgave him for spooking the bucks away after he explained that he just shot a 130″ ten pointer and wanted me to share the moment. All of these bucks showed up at least two hours before sunset and were unaware of our stand locations. The bucks each walked close by our stands as though they hadn’t a care in the world. When a portable stand is quietly positioned downwind of travel routes, and the hunter remains quiet and still while occupying the stand, the deer have no clue you are around and they come in relaxed and unaware of the hunter. Portables offer the element of surprise each time they are set up in a different location, a huge advantage for creating shot opportunities. I expect to have a shot opportunity the first time I hunt a particular location! Portables can be positioned downwind of travel routes anytime you hunt, whereas you must wait for a favorable wind to hunt a permanent stand. It takes a little practice to set up a portable without making much noise but it can be done. Another point to consider with portables is that they are not all made such that it is possible to set them up quickly and quietly. The best portable on the market are the Lone Wolf Tree Stands, they set up quietly and are rock solid in the tree so that no noise is made by the stand while you occupy it. If the wind should change during your hunt you can re-position your portable immediately and still be hunting the spot correctly. If the wind changes while you’re hunting from a permanent stand you probably will have to abandon that spot unless you have another stand positioned correctly nearby, which is usually not the case. Portables allow you to fine tune your location, as the conditions dictate, each time you hunt which is something a hunter, especially a bowhunter, must do. Portables are the only stand you can use on most public property as stated by law.

Permanent stands are convenient because you have previously placed them in a good spot and you can access them without making any noise or expending any time or energy setting them up. Setting up portables in the dark requires time and patience to do it quietly, something a permanent stand user doesn’t have to deal with. Portables left in the woods are targets for theft, try stealing a permanent stand that has been nailed to a tree! Good shooting lanes are typically cleared from the permanent stand site well in advance of the time you’ll hunt, and yardages to trails can be determined then as well. Some of my most memorable gun hunts took place in a particular permanent stand I nailed to a swamp oak. Opening day of gun season always created a near panic in the local deer population. With the influx of many hunters causing the deer to seek safe cover to hide from them, I placed this stand in heavy swamp cover on my property. I saw a lot of deer from that stand, and they would come by all day long that first day of the season. Permanent stands can be very effective when you know a pattern will repeat itself that forces deer through a particular spot. Permanent stands are typically more comfortable to hunt from which can allow a hunter to stay on stand longer.

spacer Lone Wolf Alpha Hang-On Portable Treestand
Portable treestands, like this Lone Wolf Alpha Hang-On, give a hunter the versatility to move in right on top of the deer if necessary, something a bowhunter especially requires.

Portables take some effort to set up quietly to prevent spooking nearby deer, and if you hunt heavy cover your shooting lanes will be more limited than hunting from a permanent stand where you have previously cleared lanes. It’s frustrating not being able to get a shot when the deer don’t show in natural openings and you haven’t cleared lanes for fear of leaving your scent all around the stand you just set up. Portables also can make it difficult to walk through brush quietly while being carried on your back and getting hung up on branches. Portables are too often stolen if you leave them in trees while not hunting.

A permanent stands biggest downfall is that deer soon figure out their location, and that they spell trouble. Because deer know their surroundings as well as you know where your refrigerator is, permanents are easily discovered by them. Deer, especially mature deer, soon detour, typically downwind and around these permanent stands far enough to go by undetected by the person occupying them. You can see this by checking out how the deer trails skirt permanent stand sites. Long ago I found out that my deer sightings reduced dramatically with each time I re-visited my permanent stands. Any trail that remains heavily traveled past a permanent stand is probably being used during darkness, not the ideal time to be hunting. Too often a permanent stand will be over-hunted because it is less effort to hunt from than setting up a portable, and easier to slip into quietly so as not to spook deer. My hunting group had plenty of good spots go cold because we kept going back to the same permanent stand that originally produced so well. Each time you visit a stand site you lay down a scent trail that can last days. If you visit a stand site every few days you are leaving almost a continuous scent trail which the deer will remember and their reaction will be to avoid that area, especially during daylight hours. This is especially true for mature deer. A mature deer will be alert to danger in an area where it has smelled humans after only one exposure to the scent, and since you cannot re-locate a permanent stand the site will be spoiled for a long time. Permanent stands are not allowed on most public land.

For my preference, I’ll take the portable stand over the permanent almost every time. Portables give a hunter the versatility to move in right on top of the deer if necessary, something a bowhunter especially requires. I can strap the portable on my back and scout a given area and upon finding good sign, set up downwind of it imediately.Try doing that with a permanent stand. Portables are not as easily noticed by deer if you remove them after each hunt and change your locations frequently. I admit it can be extra work to be setting up stands and taking them down after each hunt, but this effort is what it takes to hunt mature deer successfully. When portables are properly hung and relocated each time you hunt your success will be far greater than hunting out of permanent stands.

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