Rifles for Hunting from Tree Stands
By Ed Turner
As the allure of hunting big whitetails becomes more and more a passion for many, we are finding that the recent (historically speaking) popularity of hunting deer from a tree stand is becoming the way to do it. I'll make no statement either for or against that technique here. This will be simply a "primer" on what I feel are some outstanding rifles for tree stand use.
Before we go even one more step, let's all remember that safety is first and foremost for anyone wanting to hunt from a 'high" stand. A safety belt or harness should always be worn, and thought must be given to the safest way to get your firearm up there with you. Never compromise safety for anything when it comes to using firearms. A rifle should always be unloaded (at least the chamber) and hoisted up, butt end first, to you when you are situated and strapped into your tree. And, of course, at the end of your stay it should be lowered muzzle first to the ground (again with at least the chamber empty) before you un-strap yourself and exit your stand. Take care that the muzzle does not dig into the ground and become plugged--a fine way to blow-up a rifle.
Now that we are all clear on that let's get to the meat of our subject, what makes a rifle good, better, maybe best for that moment when a deer finally shows itself after your long wait. I feel that one very important thing to keep in mind is how easily you will be able to handle your firearm while perched 20 something feet up in a tree. I have found that a rifle on the shorter side, say one not much over 42" long, makes the handling part much easier in most types of stands. An open climbing stand is perhaps the easiest in which to maneuver a rifle. The ladder type stands with a bar across the front, or any totally enclosed stand, are the toughest to move a long rifle around in. It can be very awkward at times.
A rifle of say 38"-42", what most would call a carbine, is just about right in most tree hunting situations. Think about it, most tree stands are located in densely wooded areas, and normally have restricted fields of view. The notion of needing a far-reaching magnum length rifle to do the job is ludicrous. There is any number of very fine carbine length rifles that might fit the bill.
Let's start with lever actions. From a Marlin 336, 1894, 1895 and similar models, a Henry Big Boy, maybe one of the millions of Winchester Model 94's, or even some nice discontinued models like the Savage 99 or the sweet Winchester Model 88. To the gun, they all would make a fine choice, and please make mine scoped. A 1-4x, or 2-7x variable or a fixed power scope in the 2x to 4x range will do nicely.
There are some very nice compact bolt action, such as the Ruger M77RSI, Remington Model 7 and Model 799, and the recently discontinued but oh so special Winchester Model 70 Featherweight, and they will work splendidly as well. The types of scopes mentioned in connection with lever guns are equally appropriate for bolt guns--or any other type of rifle action. The deer can't tell the difference, and you've still gotta see 'em to hit 'em.
There are some very nice single shot rifles that fit the bill. The Ruger No. 1A and No. 1RSI models are very short and portable rifles, and pretty to look at as well, as is the Browning/Winchester 1885 Low Wall. Mossberg's SSI single shot is trim enough to be comfy, but perhaps harder to reload, being a break-open design. Ditto the NEF Handi-Rifle. Maybe the best argument for a single shot rifle, besides its inherent safety, as a tree stand rifle might be how quietly you can chamber a round after you have silently walked to and climbed into your stand, which is definitely food for thought.
One of my personal favorite action types to use while perched in a tree happens to be a semi-auto. I like this action for a reason that could seem a bit odd for most. I don't care to "throw lead" at a deer in the hopes of a hit, but rather prefer the semi-auto for it's lack of noise between the 1st and subsequent shots. Think about that for just a moment. After firing a semi-auto there is no further noise from which a deer can discern direction of danger. Many times in rolling hills and gullies, valleys and ravines, a deer's ears get fooled by direction of a sudden loud noise. Thus, if there is no additional noises from someone "racking in" another shell, the deer may continue to be confused as to where the (BANG) sound came from. I have taken a deer due to just this phenomena when my 1st shot missed and the deer ran towards me. Because I was using a semi-auto I was able to then fire again, collecting my venison.
As with most things in this life, all is not perfect with the autoloader and tree stands. Getting a round "in the pipe" can be a very loud undertaking. A hunter must make sure the bolt has fully locked up, so being very quiet in the predawn woods can be very tricky here.
I do, however, enjoy hunting from on high with a semi-auto, especially one such as the Remington 7400 carbine. Now there's a helluva deer gun: short, handy, and potent. Heck, they even make a new model 7500, and in .35 Whelen, too. Woo-hoo, talk about a drop in your tracks deer rifle! Been there, done that, liked it a lot. What I'm saying here is that the Remington semi-auto in .35 Whelen is a deer droppin' machine in the extreme.
So let's just look at what we've (okay, me) said here. Does this mean if you already own a nice 30-30 Marlin or Winchester, scoped with a 2.5x, 4x, 1-4x, or 2-7x scope that you already have a "perfect" tree stand rig? I'm voting yes. And as I have tried to make my argument here, a much better choice in many instances that your 24" or 26" barreled 7mm Magnum. Yes, it absolutely is. Take a quick look in your gun cabinet and I'll just bet you have a rifle at least very similar to the ones we've mentioned here. Give it a go, mate. See what you think. I bet you'll agree after you try it. Successful and safe hunting to all.
Copyright 2006 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.