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Author: Mark Nelsen
If you want stability, peace of mind and comfort, the ladder stand sits atop my tree stand list. These stands are rugged and once set up, rock solid.
When I started bowhunting more than 20 years ago, I was young and reckless. Like most college-aged kids, I thought I was indestructible. I never once thought about tree stand safety, much less the consequences of a bad fall.
In those days, my hunting buddies and I would simply climb a tree in a likely looking deer spot, and stand or sit on a branch. No safety harness, no hangers for our bows or packs - no brains. We would climb into any tree fort we found in the woods. We deduced that if someone went to the trouble of hammering boards 15 or 20 feet in the air, it must be a good spot to hunt. Most often these stands were 2 x 4 frames with plywood bases and railroad spikes or gutter nails driven into the trees for steps.
Don’t get me wrong - we weren’t trespassing on someone else’s honey hole. We just figured that whoever hunted the farms and ranches before us knew what they were doing, and that the stands must be safe. When a step or board would dislodge itself under our weight, we’d just laugh it off. I don’t laugh anymore.
My first slap in the face came about 15 years ago when a local bowhunter I knew suffered a horrible, life-changing fall. My next reality check hit much closer to home. While putting in a homemade stand just prior to the archery season opener one year, I had what could have been a fatal fall from an ash tree. I was lucky. I was close enough to the trunk of the tree that I was able to "hug" the tree and slow my fall. To this day, I carry two pretty good scars on my right arm - constant reminders to what could have been much worse. I learned good lessons that day - always wear a safety harness, never trust a tree branch (even if it looks healthy), and never use a homemade or permanent tree stand that I didn’t build. These days I rarely use any type of homemade stand.
In fact, my tree stand of choice is a ladder stand. I’ve been using several different models for many years now, for both bowhunting and firearms hunting. I still own and use commercial hanging stands, but unless I have to pack in several miles, the ladder stand is my first choice.
Ladder stands aren’t light - you’re not going to pack one into elk country. In fact, you’re not going to want to pack any ladder stand very far. About ½-mile is my limit. But if you want stability, peace of mind and comfort, the ladder stand sits atop my tree stand list.
I’ve used the Cabela’s 15-foot Ladder Stand, the 15-foot Deluxe Ladder Stand, the 16-foot Deluxe Ladder Stand and the 16-foot Ladder Tower. Built using heavy-gauge steel, all of these stands are rugged and once set up, rock solid. One of the best things about using a ladder stand, and in my opinion, one of the things that makes ladder stands so safe, is their design. They attach to the tree somewhere along the ladder section, before you actually climb up to the platform to attach it to the tree. This design gives you a more stable working environment while you attach the top of the stand to the tree. Just think - no more hanging from a precarious tree step by one hand while trying to hang a stand with the other hand. I remember so many times standing on a step, leaning into the tree and using both hands to secure a stand. One false move and there would have been no way to keep from falling. I don’t worry about that using ladder stands.
Of course, safety is still number one, even with a ladder stand. I always use a safety harness and I won’t hunt from any elevated stand without one. The other thing that makes ladder stands so great is their comfort. Most platforms are generously sized with a standing platform and a seat. I can spend a lot of hours in a ladder stand. There are also a lot of accessories available for the Cabela’s Ladder Stands. I’ve used them all, and whether you are bowhunting or firearms hunting will dictate which accessories you might want to add. I highly recommend the padded seat on any model that does not include one as standard equipment. A comfortable place to sit will let you stay on stand longer and quieter since you won’t be fidgeting as much as you would with an uncomfortable seat. I also like the shooting rails for rifle, pistol and muzzleloader applications, and in many cases you can even shoot a bow over the shooting rails.
I’ve also found the ladder skirts to be a nice addition. I tend to move around a bit while I’m on stand, and the skirt helps hide most of my hand movements, especially when I’m digging in my pockets for small items or rummaging through my pack for a mid-morning snack.
One note about the 16-foot Ladder Tower: It also makes a great ground blind for deer and turkey. I can’t take credit for this discovery. While hunting with legendary turkey caller Ray Eye in Missouri on a spring gobbler hunt, he took the platforms of the 16-foot Ladder Towers off the ladders and used them on the ground. Using the ladder skirts and some underbrush, the platforms made perfect ground blinds. The swivel seats gave us freedom of movement and greater vision as we were sitting higher than we would have been in a conventional ground blind. Plus it was much more comfortable than sitting on the hard ground, and the skirting let us get away with more calling movements.
The optional bench seat on the 16-foot Ladder Tower is great for an adult and a youngster to hunt together from the same stand.
I’ve sat or stood in just about every conceivable type of tree stand out there, and for my money, and my peace of mind, these ladder stands are my top vote getter.
Click this link for a complete selection of Cabela’s Ladder Stands.