Many deer seasons ago, a unique situation forced me into putting up a treestand after dark. In years prior, I’d always considered this a daytime chore. The whitetails I’d chosen to hunt were spending the majority of their time in a woodlot that most raccoons would define as “crowded and stuffy.” Nearly 20 whitetails called the tiny parcel home, and contemplating putting up treestands during daytime hours was increasing my risk for ulcers and prematurely graying my already disappearing hair.
After studying the herd and their homeland, I couldn’t come up with a solution to get in and put up a treestand without boogering the area. Then dusk arrived. The entire herd up and left their motorhome-sized bedroom and rushed to a nearby alfalfa field to feed. At dark, the woods were empty and I saw an opportunity to get down to the business of erecting treestands. Using a headlamp, I snuck into the woodlot, confirmed my hunch about travel routes and hung my stand. The next morning—very early in the dark of the next morning—I returned with a lunch in hand to beat the whitetails back to their bedroom. I was ready to wait them out until darkness once again returned.
My plan worked, except for one small glitch. When my shot opportunity arrived, a sudden cold front blew in, pushing wind speeds to more than 40 mph. I was pitching to and fro in my treestand like George Clooney in the movie “The Perfect Storm.” I attempted a shot on a 140-inch whitetail and flubbed, but my concept was proven beyond a doubt. Put up treestands in the dark and you won’t alarm homebody whitetails.
Call me crazy (and many do), but this nighttime tactic works. Keep in mind you don’t have to utilize it on every setup. For instance, if you hunt field edges, most deer are likely bedded well away from the edge, offering you the opportunity to hang treestands during midday without alarming deer. If you did try it at night, the whitetails would be taking notes as they peered at you through the darkness from the field. The same can be said of funnels and pinch points, particularly if a bedding area is several hundred yards away and separated by dense cover.
Windows Of Opportunity
When should you become nocturnal? If you find yourself hunting a miniaturized woodlot as I did, it might be your only resort. You can’t get in or out of small areas without bumping a buck or a doe that tips a buck off to your presence as it snorts through the woods. As it becomes more and more difficult for you and me to gain access to land, our hunting areas are shrinking. Hanging a treestand in the dark makes sense in these small locations. You might also find yourself hunting a nocturnal buck that never leaves its bedroom or refuge except under the cover of darkness. To invade the space of these home-alarm-system specialists, you have to visit when they aren’t home. Nighttime provides that window of opportunity.
Using the cover of darkness sounds easy, but you can’t simply walk right in and expect remarkable results. First, you need to scout the exit strategy of the deer. By using old-fashioned scouting with binoculars and modern trail cameras, determine the direction the majority of deer go when nightfall arrives. Look at food plots, adjacent agricultural fields, acorn hotspots or even riparian zones ripe with browse.
Next, look for a back door. If you want to keep your invasion a secret, avoid field edges and any routes the deer routinely use. I try to slip in from the opposite direction where the deer exit and then return during their forays out of the cover. That way, you’re less likely to bump a deer or leave an unwanted scent trail. It’s also advisable to go in right after the deer leave. After bedding all day, most deer are eager to rush out for a snack or a drink, but it doesn’t take long for them to top-off their thirst. If you wait until later in the evening or early in the morning, you might risk bumping into a returning deer or a buck wandering for a doe that’s left the prime feeding area.
When it’s time to set the stand, rely on equipment that’s quick, easy and quiet. Remember, your goal is to leave no trace, including odd noises. Look to your buddies or mentors for their treestand recommendations. I’m sure they’ll share horror stories with you of stand designs that were sweat-laborious or produced the odd, unexpected creak as a buck approached.
Today, I lean more toward nylon webbing on treestands because chains tend to clink, jingle and clang. Even so, I know several hunters who dip their chains in rubber coating to eliminate jingling. The easiest models allow you to hang the strap first, then attach the stand itself. Shop for models with padding on edges, bushings in pivot points and top-grade welding to ensure a squeak-free platform. Keep the same high criteria for treesteps. Cabela’s Kwik Step Ladder or Summit Bucksteps are aluminum step sections that strap individually to a tree and can be spaced apart to accommodate short or long inseams. Give me four or five of these sections and I can easily hang a stand at 18-20 feet.
Is there a negative to hanging treestands in the dark? It’s difficult to see your shooting lanes, although new advances in headlamps and flashlights are minimizing that problem. It’s also easier to leave human scent by brushing up against vegetation and walking where you shouldn’t, but again, good illumination and using products such as Hunter’s Specialties Scent-A-Way or scent-containment clothing can reduce the risk of spooking deer with foreign odors.
Venturing into the woods after dark, much less imitating Spiderman while scaling a tree, isn’t the safest activity to carry out. Here are some ways to make it safer.
First, light the path ahead. New technology incorporated in flashlight models by Surefire enables you to get a super bright light created from high-pressure xenon/halogen lamps. If you want to tame that light, add a red filter to ensure deer won’t see your lamp. Red filters also help prevent “night blindness” as you walk to your stand.
When hanging your stand, absolutely use a Hunter Safety System vest. Their system allows you to incorporate a lineman’s belt to hold you safely in place while climbing and setting your stand. Their Quick-Connect Tree Strap permits you to hang the Quick-Connect strap and leave it. When you return in the dark, a simple connection guarantees your safety at any height.