Hunting from ground blinds is the name of the game nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only kid on the block. The kid that’s rapidly climbing the popularity rankings is the humble tree stand.
No hunting cover or hunting method is the ultimate one, the be-all and end-all of hunting, so because of that everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Strictly speaking from my point of view, I’m only now starting to use tree stands more often, but I’m liking it so far. The visibility and accuracy advantage that you get from using a tree stand is something that you rarely have in a traditional ground blind. However, a lot of people (especially beginners) are turned off from using tree stands because they think that it’s harder and more dangerous than normal ground blinds.
For someone unprepared, they can very well be, but if you know what to look out for then you should have nothing to worry about. On that thought, I wanted to share with everyone a bit of my first-hand experience with tree stands, and present to you what I consider the best tree stand for rifle hunting. I mentioned rifle hunting because when using a rifle your needs are a little different than when you are using a bow.
What’s the right type of stand for you?
In broad terms, there are two types of hunting cover, ground blinds, and tree stands. Both have their use, and both have advantages and disadvantages.
So, ground blinds have the advantage that they usually shelter you from the wind/precipitation, they allow you to move inside freely and if you go for the lightweight option, they are easy to relocate. The disadvantages are that they usually limit your field of view (some more, others less), they usually make noise (some make a lot), and they can get smelly after a while.
Now, tree stands have a few big advantages, namely because of your elevation, you get a full field of view, you get increased accuracy, and scent usually isn’t a problem as you are high up in a tree. Now, they do have a few minor disadvantages and a really big one. The big one is that they can be dangerous if you don’t follow safety protocols, and the other minor ones are the fact that they are harder to set up and relocate (compared with a ground blind), and that they usually don’t protect you from the elements.
Now that we are done with the extremely short intro, let’s get more in-depth about what we need to know about tree stands before committing to buying one.
What’s the best type of tree stand?
Before we go any further, we need to know that there are three types of tree stands, the ladder-type, the climbing type, and the hang-on type.
Let’s start with the ladder type, as the name suggests this type of tree stand combines a seat, a platform, and a ladder. These tree stands usually are on the heavier side and they require multiple people to set up, but once they are in place it’s really easy to get up in your spot. To compensate for their limited mobility, they usually are the most comfortable type of tree stand.
Climbing stands are two-piece stands, made up of the seat and the platform. You usually use climbing sticks to get up the tree to where you want to set it up, and then just secure it to the spot. This usually involves a bit of tree selection, as you are usually looking for straight trees that don’t have a lot of branches. Because this type of stand is relatively easy to mount and remove, they are perfect for when you want to relocate often, or when you are hunting on public grounds.
And the last type of tree stand is the hang-on type, which is the lightest tree stand you can find and it’s just the platform with a basic seat. You have to climb the tree using climbing sticks, or whatever else you have available, a then just secure them to the tree where you want using a ratchet strap. Because they are the lightest tree stand, they are the best option if you want to move a lot during your hunt.
The best type of tree stand depends on your budget, hunting location, and your prey. Usually, people prefer the climbing stand because it offers a good mix of mobility and comfort.
The optimum height for tree stands
This depends on your prey but presuming you are going for whitetail deer which is the most common target, then you can use the following as a rough guideline:
- Dense forest – 10 feet above ground level;
- Lush forest – 15 feet above ground level;
- Sparse foliage – 20 feet above ground level;
In practice, the least amount of cover you have around you, the higher you should go. Of course, everything depends on the exact circumstances, but as a guideline, the above works pretty well.
I can’t stress this enough, always use a safety harness when using a tree stand. It only takes one fall to cause serious wounds or even death, so don’t play around with safety.
Things to consider
Now that you have a good understanding of tree stands, the following topics revolve around what to look for when buying your next tree stand.
This is the most important aspect if you intend to move a lot during your hunting session. While 30-40 pounds might not sound like much, if you lug it around a couple of times up a tree it will tire you out fast. So, think about what your plans are and get something that matches your hunting style.
This goes hand in hand with the previous point I made about weight, usually, more weight decreases the overall portability, and vice-versa. Another thing that affects portability is size and bulkiness. If you want climbing stands lookout for the ones that are lighter and slimmer because those are the ones that will be easier to carry up a tree.
Need I say more about this? You should always get gear that has a maximum weight capacity of at least 10% – 20% above what you weigh. Because in addition to your body weight, you also have to take into consideration all the gear you are carrying, your gun, and anything else you might be carrying.
I know, I know, everyone knows that they have to be cautious and prepared when climbing up a tree, but unfortunately in reality that’s not always the case.
As such, a few things to keep in mind whenever you want to set up your tree stand:
- Always use a safety harness;
- Always make sure that your harness is attached to the tree the entire time you are off the ground;
- Always use a lineman’s rope because it makes installing stands and climbing trees much easier and safer;
- Try to have a buddy present so even if something bad happens, you are not alone;
Good preparation and foresight should be the motto of everyone who uses tree stands because they are essential for a safe hunting experience. Be safe, and have fun out there.
Best Tree Stand for Rifle Hunting in 2021
Best Climbing Tree Stand
Summit Viper SD
Let’s start with my first pick for the climbing stand category, and that is the Viper SD from Summit. IF you have been in the hunting world for some time then you have heard about then. The Viper SD is as far as I’m aware their most popular model and the one I’ve personally seen and used the most.
The quick stats are these, this system weighs in at around 21 lbs. and has a max weight capacity of 300 lbs. That should be enough for most hunters out there.
One of the pros of this system is the cable attachment system called QuickDraw. In essence, to anchor the tree stand to the actual tree you just wrap a cable around the tree and then just tighten and strap it into place. No more bolts, pins, or other stuff, just a simple strap that connects it to the tree. And no, if you tighten it correctly, it won’t fall even if you sit on it for a year.
Another pro is the DeadMetal Technology, which helps minimize the amount of sound the system makes by filling in the aluminum tubing of the structure with a special expanding foam that helps dampen the overall noise.
Structural integrity is provided by the use of high-quality aluminum and the SummitLokt Technology which means that every joint is “locked” into place before welding and the joints themselves are designed to minimize the amount of stress the weld receives.
Truth be told, this is probably the best climbing tree stand you can find today.
DeadMetal and QuickDraw Technology
High weight capacity
Summit Goliath SD
My other choice for those that want a climbing tree stand, is another Summit product, this time it’s the Goliath SD stand.
One of the main differences between the Viper stand and this one is the fact that the Goliath is a bit larger and has more room. And it also comes with a higher weight capacity, right around 350 lbs. Luckily, all those increased stats don’t make it a lot heavier, just about 1 pound more (21 lbs. vs 20 lbs. for the Viper).
So, we get increased space at the top, higher weight capacity, the same great DeadMetal, QuickDraw, and SummitLokt Technologies all that for 1 lb. more, and a higher price tag. For those that are on the brawnier side, or just want more space, then the Goliath is the best choice for you.
Extra space and weight capacity compared to the Viper SD
Higher price tag
Same great technologies as the Viper SD
Extra comfort due to increased movement space
Best Hang On Tree Stand
Lone Wolf Assault II Hang On Tree Stand
My personal favorite in the hang-on tree stand department has to be the Assault II from Lone Wolf. And the main reason is pretty straightforward when you are using a hang-on stand, it means you probably want to move a lot, so your main concern should be weight. And luckily for you, this stand is the lightest stand that you can find, which makes it the perfect stand to carry around with you while you are out on the hunt.
So, we have a lightweight 11 lbs. setup that can hold up to 350 lbs., and is made up entirely of aluminum to save on weight. The platform is teardrop-shaped to make it easier to fit it into small spaces, and it also has a self-leveling device to help it stay parallel to the ground.
While this stand includes amenities that cater more to the bow hunters out there, don’t think that rifle users will not be able to take maximum advantage of this rig. At the end of the day, the most important consideration for this is the fact that it’s so light, anything else is a bonus.
Lightest stand in its category
It’s not as comfortable as you would think
High weight capacity
Millennium Monster Hang-on Treestand
At this point, I feel like I don’t have to introduce Millennium anymore because they are probably known by all hunters out there. While the Monster from Millennium is different in its design thinking than the Assault II, the reason I choose it was because it can give you something that the Assault cannot, and that is comfort.
Compared to the Assault, this one is significantly bigger and heavier, at around 19.5 lbs. It’s a much sturdier stand than the Assault because it uses more aluminum in its build, and it also has a chain-link type mesh floor to help you with slipping. All that extra metal and materials add up quickly.
The premier feature of the Monster is the fact that it has a ComfortMAX seat (20” x 17”) which is adjustable in height from 16” to 20” and can even fold up out of the way. It’s also got an Interlock Leveling System that allows both the seat and the platform to be angled up to 15 degrees to compensate for the angle of the tree.
A great safety feature is the Safelink, which is a 35-foot rope with a Prusik know and carabiner. You use this to secure yourself when ascending or descending the tree after you have secured the stand.
Great comfort thanks to the ComfortMAX seat
Heavier than the Assault
Very useful safety feature thanks to the Safelink
Has a lower maximum weight capacity than the Assault
All-around awesome build quality
Best ladder tree stand
X-Stand The Duke
Next, up we move onto the “luxury” category of tree stands, and those are the ladder version. And here, sitting comfortably in the first place we find The Duke.
The Duke is a 79 lbs. system, that offers a lot of safety and a lot of comfort. Coming from lighter stands, you would expect this one to have a huge weight capacity seeing as it weighs in at 79 lbs. but unfortunately it can only hold 300 lbs. We have to realize that a big part of that weight is because of the ladder, so we can be a bit more forgiving.
The main standout feature of The Duke is the high-tech Jaw Safety System, which allows users to mount the stand directly from the ground. It has dual jaws that lock tight to the tree while the hunter uses a ratchet strap to tighten the hold. Using this means that they have succeeded in eliminating the sway and twisting associated with traditional ladder stands.
Other features include comfort-flex seats that flip up and out of the way, padded armrests, an adjustable padded shooting rail, self-lubricating nylon washers for no metal-on-metal friction, helix tubing for extreme resistance, and powder coating to protect it against the elements.
Jaw Safety System
It’s relatively heavy when compared to similar stands
Increased comfort thanks to the increased padding
A lot of space
X-Stand The Comrade
I was a bit hesitant to mention this stand because of its overall size, but I figured that maybe someone is interested in dual-seat stands and why not help that person out.
So, here we have the same quality product that we know from the Duke, only it’s supercharged to fit two people.
So, we have two independent seats, arranged in a V shape which gives both hunters a lot of field of view, it weighs 125 lbs. and can support up to 500 lbs. What a time to be alive, right?
All the technology available in the Duke also makes a comeback here, from the Jaw Safety System to the helix tubing and powder coating, only this time they are doubled. So, we have two seats with comfort-flex mesh, two independent and fully adjustable shooting rails, one central console for equipment storage, and padded armrests for each seat.
In essence, this is a Duke tree stand for those that don’t want to hunt alone.
It’s even heavier now
A lot of space and comfort
Jaw Safety System
Before we go into the recap, I just want to say that I’m happy with the way this post has been structured because it would have been confusing if all the different types of stands would have been in just one list. I feel like this way they have a logical structure, and it’s easy to follow by anyone.
That being said, let’s start with the best climbing tree stand for rifle hunting, the Summit Viper SD. This tree stand is a household name in the business and that’s strictly because of its quality and overall utility. I feel like it’s the perfect blend between what you pay for and what you get. If you take care of your gear, it will last you a long time.
Moving on now to the best hang on tree stands, that award goes to the Assault II. The reason for that is clear, it’s the lightest system in a class that is designed to be lightweight and movable. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that it takes the top spot in my book. Beyond the fact that it’s lightweight, it also has decent features and good overall build quality, so what’s not to love about it?
The last winner, but not the least, is The Duke which takes the prize for the best ladder tree stand. I honestly love The Duke, I’ve used one many times and they are great. You have a lot of space, it feels very secure to the tree (no swaying in the wind or when you move), you can get comfortable in them, and overall, they don’t have any glaring faults.
And with that summary, I will end my review of what I consider the best tree stands for rifle hunting that you can find. As always, read all the information you can before making a purchase, know your needs, and then just decide what system from this list best matches them.
Always remember, when to be cautious and prepared when using tree stands, because you can get seriously hurt or even killed. And on that word of warning, I wish you all enjoy a great hunt!