By Jeff Johnston, FE Hunting & Shooting Editor
There are three main keys to killing big whitetails consistently. One is hunting in an area where big bucks live. Two is always being conscious of the wind. And three is spending a ridiculous amount of time sitting in a tree.
I think I have 30 tree stands or so at my place, and almost all of them are the cheapest of cheapos I bought over the years from Sportsman’s Guide or whatever discount store had them on sale for $129. They worked fine back when I was 20 years old. Hell, I didn’t know any better because it was all I could afford. Today, however, when my buddies come to hunt with me they groan, “What in the wide world of Wal-Mart is this shit?” or something similar.
Now solidly in my 40s, I’ve gotta agree with them. It’s tough to sit long, cold hours when you’re leaning forward, spine against a knob, toes sticking over the platform because it’s the size of a pizza box. So over the years I’ve been upgrading my stands. For what it’s worth, I like a good ladder stand that’s quick and easy to climb, and even elevated box blinds so I can move around a bit and get away with it. But some situations way back in the timber call for a hang-on tree stand that’s light enough to carry in and hang without a forklift, but comfortable enough to snooze in.
Recently I ordered a Hawk Helium Kickback LVL hang-on stand. Here’s what I found:
First, I wish these damn things came fully assembled. I get it that it would cost the company a fortune to ship and warehouse the bigger boxes, and Bass Pro probably wouldn’t even accept them, but I’m just saying I’d pay for the luxury. It felt like Christmas Eve when my kid was five, except for the fact that one little screw up wouldn’t just mean a toy train careening off the tracks, but a broken neck for Santa. Anyway, after about four beers and holding the directions every which way so my failing eyes could read them, I got it figured. It’s not hard, but the screws should be color coded or labeled (this is a note to nearly all tree stand manufacturers, not just Hawk.) Once assembled, I hauled the 20-pound stand nearly a mile into the woods in the back of my truck, then carried it a full 35 yards on my back. Easy peasy.
Once strapped securely to the tree (both the stand and me) I clambered aboard, sat down and instantly knew what I was missing all these years: A backrest and a comfortable mesh seat that feels like a lawn chair. But to use a backrest to its full internet-surfing potential, the stand must at least be level, but preferably leaning back. Problem is, not all trees naturally lean back. This is where this stand shines. The “LVL” model features a handscrew that you can loosen to level the platform by angling it slightly up or down. It’s fantastic. It also features a footrest that’s a nice bonus, as well as little things like powder coated metal, rubber-coated strap attachments and Teflon washers that make you remember why you’re still sitting out there: Cathartic silence.
Do I think this hang-on stand is worth the money? At Hawk’s suggested retail of $350, probably not. But a quick search on the web revealed that it actually sells for much cheaper. And then I think it’s a bargain, especially when I consider that a decent easy chair costs about $1,500, and if it breaks, Santa doesn’t lay dying in the leaves, trying to slither to the truck because his legs don’t work. So yea, it’s worth it. $350 (or much less from third party vendors)
Pros: large platform, strong yet light aluminum, comfortable seat and a self-leveling platform.
Cons: Somewhat pricey