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Tree Stands – Northwest Hunters Are Re-Thinking Their Point of View

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Changing a Point of View – Tree Stands in the Pacific Northwest

I moved to the Pacific Northwest over twenty-six years ago.  Having grown up in Central Illinois, I had to adjust to vastly different methods of big game hunting in the West.  Arriving in December, I had approximately three-quarters of a year to prepare for my first western deer and elk archery seasons.  Over the next nine months I drove countless miles on endless logging, forest service and BLM roads, slowly learning the turf.   

Initially I would examine areas attempting to determine where I might place a tree stand.  But, the mountains and forests were so vast it seemed an enormous challenge. 

Let’s face it; in Illinois there would be hundreds of acres of tilled soil, with a patch of timber along ridge tops or creek bottoms.  If the deer weren’t standing in the field…they had to be in the trees.  On the far opposite end of the spectrum, in Oregon the Cascade and Coast Range mountains extend virtually unbroken from Washington to California, creating hundreds of miles of wildlife habitat.  If they aren’t camping in the woods, Oregonians think nothing of driving fifty to one hundred miles each day, just to get to their preferred hunting location.  Determining where the bear, deer or elk will be tomorrow morning or this evening was a daunting task. 

I quickly learned to remove the words “tree stand” from my vocabulary.  Many people I spoke with believed the use of tree stands was illegal in Oregon.  Most others told me it was impossible to determine what trail a big game animal would utilize at a given time.  All thought the use of a stand of any kind was silly, lazy and useless.  After all, real men walk up and down mountains for twelve hours a day when hunting, just hoping to see game – before being seen.  And, baiting bears is not allowed in Oregon, Washington or California.  But, with the help of modern game trail technology, a myriad of hunting programs using tree stands on television, and some other factors, changing deeply entrenched mindsets may be possible.

I’ve got to admit that although television’s bear and whitetail hunting programs got me thinking about stand hunting, it was my brother who finally convinced me of its viability in the West.  He still resides in Illinois and is an accomplished whitetail archer. 

Mike has joined me to hunt in Oregon, allowing us a great deal of time to discuss the topic.  He readily admits that with thousands of square miles of nearly identical ground cover, deciding where to place your stand is difficult, but the principles used by millions of whitetail hunters and thousands of northern and eastern bear hunters remains the same.  Place the stand at a food source or along a trail to-that food source.  So long as they are unmolested, animals drawn to a particular source of food should return to it each day, until the food is no longer available or their palate requires a different food staple.

With that in mind, utilizing a tree stand for bear hunting in Oregon works best when you consider seasonal applications.  In the spring, bears munch on new green grasses, skunk cabbage and other new green plants, which contain plenty of fiber.  Grass is often planted along mountain roadways to aid in the prevention of erosion. 

Most spring bears I’ve taken have been on old, virtually unused logging roads, where grass grows along the sides and in the middle of the roadbeds.  I know of dozens of isolated roadway locations where stand placement would be viable.  Also, grass generally grows freely along creek beds and in swampy areas along seasonal creeks and springs.  Since skunk cabbage is often found in these same locales, these areas have great potential for stand placement.  In 2004, Neil Scheu of Medford, Oregon harvested a great west coast bear from a tree stand in just such a location.

Neil’s tree stand was mounted in a swampy area, which produces heavy grass growth each spring.  There was a good deal of bear sign in this particular grassy flat.  It didn’t take long for Neil to get some exciting black bear action under his perch.

During one of his first sittings, a big bear slowly began feeding into the grassy area in front of his stand.  Neil is an accomplished big game archer, and he readied himself for a shot.  The bear looked to be an exceptional boar, over six feet in length.

As he waited for the bear to shorten the distance between them, another bear suddenly entered the flat.  When the bears became aware of one another, a ferocious battle of brute force played out less than 100 feet in front of him.  He told me he was spellbound by the incredible show he was so privileged to have witnessed.  The roaring of the big boars was deafening as it reverberated across the flat and into the timber.  Neil did not attempt a shot as the fighting bears moved out of bow range. 

A few days later he would fill his tag in this location.  Sitting in the stand he observed a big bear enter the grassy flat and begin feeding.  When it was twenty-five yards from the base of his tree, Neil released an arrow, striking the bear hard.  It traveled less than 30 yards before coming to rest.  This bear measured about 6′ 4″ from nose to tail and squared 6′ 5″.  His weight was estimated at around 400 pounds. 

Neil told me he was in the stand for portions of five days.  He said he spent about eighteen total hours in the stand.  Using the spot and stalk method, I have often spent many back-to-back days without seeing a bear I wished to harvest.  Neil Scheu will certainly tell you about the feasibility of using a tree stand for bear hunting in Oregon.

When hunting bears in the fall, seek out berry patches, which have trees sufficiently close to the berries and large enough to safely support a stand.  You can also use elevated ground blinds for concealment.  Berries often grow along creeks or springs.  A hill or mountainside often borders one or both sides of the creek.  Since vegetation grows along and above the creek’s banks, bears use creek beds as sidewalks to access berry patches.  Hunters can climb up these tall banks and create a comfortable location from which to view the “creek-side” of the berry patch.

A friend of mine named Shay Mann is the co-owner of SMP Outdoors, (http://www.smpoutdoors.com/).  Part of Shay’s business is contracting to film hunts for television or to create hunting DVD’s for guides and outfitters to share with clients.  Shay is an accomplished archer.  He has hunted throughout Oregon, Alaska and other western locales.  He has taken bear, deer and elk with his bow, and he often utilizes a tree stand.  Shay and I have spent many an hour in camp discussing hunting tactics, including tree stands.  He will be the first to tell you that utilizing stands is the-most-reliable method of hunting big game.  Using tree stands aids in keeping your scent off the ground, it allows for a better view of the area, and you are not at eye level with game animals.

Trail-cams have revolutionized hunting across the country.  Western hunters have always said that stands of any type were a waste of time, as you had no way of knowing when or where a big game animal may utilize a trail.  That is no longer the case.  The use of digital cameras inside trail-cams is an especially important break-through in hunting technology.  If the bear on your trail is small or only passes to the food source under the cover of darkness, you can pull your camera and move on. 

Tree stand technology has improved by leaps and bounds over the stands in use twenty years ago.  Safety is always the first issue, but ease of installation is a big factor as well.  In the mountains, the weight of a portable tree stand is paramount considering you may have to carry it a mile or more off the roadway. 

Spot and stalk is still one of the most exciting and trustworthy methods to seek a big bear.  For those who are unwilling to sit motionless in a tree stand or ground blind, spot and stalk is your only option in the Pacific Northwest.  You will still find me glassing canyon walls for bears, watching for the movement of a powerful arm pulling a berry vine or berry laden bush towards mouths filled with sharp white teeth.  But, I’m happy to say I have changed my point of view and I am shopping for a comfortable tree stand or two.

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March 21, 2008 - Posted by | Hunting Stuff

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