Climbing up on a tree stand and observing the nature around is a fun and relaxing experience. Get a crossbow with you and things suddenly become even more exciting - now you are just like the "Predator", equipped with technologically advanced weaponry and stalking your prey from above.
As thrilling as it sounds, hunting with a crossbow from a treestand brings some risks and assumes some extra considerations. First, you are getting 10-20 or more feet above the ground, which is high enough to cause serious injury if you fall. Second, you need to take the weapon with you, safely. And third - you'd need to do some extra calculations while aiming.
You've picked a tree stand and you are wondering where to place it. Naturally, it should be facing the area where you expect the appearance of your quarry (No way, Sherlock!?). It could be a feeder or some sort of an attractant you've set. Or a natural resource like a fruit tree.
You'd also need to choose a solid, large enough, and healthy-looking tree as a base. If there isn't one around what looks like an ideal spot otherwise, you should look elsewhere. Your safety is a priority.
Needless to say, when installing the tree stand, you should follow the manufacturer instructions strictly. This is not the time to experiment or express your creativity.
Prune the branches that might possibly happen to be on the way of your arrows when shooting from the newly put tree stand. But avoid over-trimming as it's best to leave some branches and leaves to serve as a cover. You don't want to end up sticking up there, clearly visible from afar and from all directions.
... when setting the stand and every time you climb up or down. And during the entire time you spend in the tree stand. It can be a minor inconvenience but better to be safe than sorry.
The tree stand is rigged up and ready to use? But...
A major safety rule is to never climb the ladder while carrying a loaded crossbow!
You should cock it while still on the ground and before climbing up the ladder. But do NOT place an arrow on the rail yet.
Now you can use a sling and climb up with the crossbow on your back, but a way safer approach is to climb without the weapon. Simply use a long rope, hanging from the stand all the way down.
Tie the rope to the foot stirrup of the crossbow. Make sure to adjust the length of the rope so the crossbow doesn't lay on the ground - only the back of the stock should be rested on the ground.
Climb up to the stand, sit, and take care of all the things you carry with you - backpack, drinks, etc. Put them in their designated places on the stand. Getting the crossbow should be the last thing you do.
When ready, carefully pull the crossbow up there. Make sure to not swing it too much so it doesn't slam against the tree trunk or get hooked on a branch. Do not forget that it is already cocked and even dry-firing it (without an arrow) can be dangerous - not to you, but to the crossbow itself.
Now you can untie the rope from the stirrup and put an arrow into the rail groove.
Use the same technique to lower the weapon down to the ground. Start by taking the arrow out of the crossbow, tie the stirrup with the rope, and proceed with descending the weapon, before following it down yourself.
Crossbows take a lot of space and there is not much of it in a tree stand. So they can be pretty cumbersome up there, especially if you need to hold it for hours, just sitting there and waiting. That alone can ruin the fun for most hunters.
If the stand you're in has a shooting rail, you can simply rest the crossbow on it, while having the stock in your lap. The quiver can easily get in the way when doing so and one way to deal with it is to detach it from the weapon and hang it on a nearby branch.
I there is no shooting rail, you can point the crossbow down and simply rest its stirrup on the floor of the tree stand while holding on the stock butt with your hands. Make sure to lock the stirrup between your feet to prevent it from sliding - without placing them in front of the arrow, of course.
Another thing you can do to avoid supporting the weight of the crossbow the entire time is to hang it by the stirrup on a spike or a nail in the tree trunk. The drawback of this option is the extra movement when you need to take it back and prepare for shooting. And because the arrow usually is protruding into the stirrup area, you can easily knock it out while in a hurry to unhang the crossbow.
Whatever method you use, when handling a loaded crossbow on a tree stand, it is a good idea to periodically check if the safety is on.
Okay, you've taken a shot. Most likely unsuccessful since now you are wondering how to reload the weapon instead of climbing down in a hurry to recover the animal.
The absolute best way is to use a cranking device to pull the string back. The top crossbow models these days have one built-in. If not, all crossbow manufacturers sell crank cockers that are compatible with their models, separately.
Using a crank would allow you to cock the bowstring with minimum effort and without making any potentially dangerous maneuvers so many feet in the air.
No crank? You might be tempted to use your foot and a cocking rope to load the crossbow in the stand. And this is generally a bad idea, even if it is a model with a relatively low draw weight so the task looks easy enough.
There is just not enough space or a solid base to ensure cocking the weapon in a safe manner. So it is best to lower the crossbow down, climb down, cock it on the ground, climb back up, get your safety harness in place, and bring the cocked crossbow up.
Since accuracy is so important when hunting with a crossbow, a minor miscalculation may result in a miss or a wounded animal. And shooting from an elevated position like a tree stand adds two important variables to the formula:
If you are not used to aiming from a tree stand, it is easy to misjudge how much you need to compensate for the arrow drop. The most common mistake is aiming higher than you need to.
And you can use a rangefinder to get the exact distance and your arrow may still land not quite where you expect. The most likely reason is that you or your rangefinder did not include the angle of declination into the drop calculation.
Let's say you are sitting in a stand that is 20 feet up on a tree and according to your estimation (or even your rangefinder) the deer you see is 30 yards away. So you shoot and the arrow hits an inch higher than where you were aiming at. Not much and not likely to make a difference, but maybe enough to notice it and leave you wondering.
How did this happen?
The thing is, gravity doesn't affect a downward-flying arrow the same way it affects an arrow that flies horizontally. If shot at a downward angle, the arrow would travel a longer distance for the same amount of vertical drop. Why? Because it is partially using the force of gravity, i.e it gets a "free bonus".
In practice, this means that if your tree stand is built on a flat ground (not on a slope), in order to get the correct aiming distance, you would need to measure the distance between the bottom of the tree and the deer, i.e. the "horizontal distance".
Wow, how am I supposed to do that?
Well, the scientific method is to use the Pythagorean theorem since you basically have a right triangle with two known side lengths and you have to calculate the third.
Still with me? It would end soon and there's an easier solution afterward.
Anyway, let's skip the geometry lesson. If you are sitting on a stand that is 20-feet tall and your rangefinder says that deer is 25 yards away, then the horizontal distance is 24 yards.
Not much of a difference, is it? One yard is not something you should be fretted about as you can safely ignore it in most cases.
And then there are situations when this could be a bigger difference - for instance, if you are on a slope and shooting at something downhill.
If you decide that you do need to know the horizontal distance to your target in order to improve the accuracy of your shots from a tree stand, simply buy a rangefinder that calculates it for you! Look for models that feature Angle Range Compensation (ARC). They are a bit more expensive than the base models, but not by much nowadays.
That's about it. A much more important thing to get into account when shooting with a crossbow from an elevated position is the...
Let's say you are taking a broadside shot at a deer from a tree stand and the angle is quite steep. And following the best practice, you are aiming just behind the shoulder bone, at the lower one-third of the animal - where the vital organs are (heart and lungs).
If you were shooting from, say, a ground blind - parallel to the ground, your arrow would pass through both lungs and possibly the heart, meaning it would do maximum damage.
But look at the picture below. The orange arrow illustrates the arrow path if shot from a tree. It would enter the deer at the same spot but would exit way lower, completely missing one of the lungs and maybe the heart. Far from optimal.
And if the deer is very close to the tree and you are practically shooting from above, the arrow would barely scratch the hide.
How to correct this?
It should be obvious - just aim a bit higher!
But do not follow this as a golden rule or anything like that. By climbing up a tree, you are effectively adding another dimension to your shooting game. It is no longer just left and right plus arrow drop compensation. You need to be familiar with the anatomy of the animal species you are hunting and to predict the arrow trajectory when aiming from a tree stand.
In other words - it is not just the arrow entrance point you should care about. You also have to plan the entire wound channel and the arrow exit before pulling the trigger. The question you'd need to ask is: Would it pass through the vitals and do enough damage for a quick and ethical kill?