Do Climbing Tree Stands Damage Trees?

Protecting the great outdoors is a natural reaction when you spend so much time in nature whether camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, or just simply enjoying what the natural world has to offer. Tree strands are a major part of hunting, especially deer hunting.

That being said, there are some concerns that tree stands can damage the trees.

Trees normally are not damaged by climbing tree stands, especially if a brace design is used. Stands that nail steps or ladders directly into the tree probably won’t damage it much directly, but can make the tree more vulnerable to disease, rot, or invasive pests.

Why does the design of the stand matter so much? What are the best designs to make sure you’re not damaging your favorite spot so it will always be there for future hunts?

Read on for the answers right down below!

deer hunting stand
Love the design of this stand alone stand – no worries about damaging a tree when you’re not relying on one at all for support.

Deer Stand Vs. Tree Stand

Obviously if we’re talking about a free-standing deer stand design versus the tree stand that isn’t free standing but relies on the tree for bracing and support, there are major differences in how those do (or don’t) affect trees.

The picture above shows a freestanding deer stand, but I’ve seen designs like this built around a tree, taking care to avoid damaging it. When you have that style then there’s no damage to the tree at all so there’s no major concern.

With an actual deer stand a lot depends on the ladder. I’ve seen ladders where each step is nailed in and you go up to the shooting blind from an open hole underneath, and while that does minimal damage, it does pierce the bark which makes the tree more open for disease, pests, or infestation if those are problems locally.

If they’re not, then there’s a good chance the tree will be fine and continue to grow.

On the other hand, if the design involves creating the blind and then having the ladder connected to the blind itself as opposed to nailed into the tree, then there shouldn’t be any of these issues at all and there’s no reason to have serious concerns about damage.

The majority of questions about whether or not a stand hurts trees will be depending on local dangers to the trees as well as how the actual method of getting to the top of the stand is setup.

Looking at The Stand Itself

An experienced hunter isn’t going to set up a deer stand on a weak tree. That doesn’t make sense on any level, which means they are looking for trees that are grown, strong, and which are not going to be affected at all from having a stand on the branch, or weight put on the stand.

Keep in mind aside from just being good environmental practice, this is a safety concern, as well. Unfortunately deaths occur each year from hunters falling, so why would you build a stand on a weak branch that potentially couldn’t hold the weight?

You wouldn’t.

Not to mention the fact that if you’re actually concerned about your safety, you can’t focus in the aim on taking the shot. It’s in the hunter’s best interest to make sure the stands are stable, solid, and don’t to damage to the nature world they love.

A Secure Ladder Is Crucial

One of the most important parts of a tree stand is the ladder, and this is most likely to be the single part of a stand that will have the most direct impact on a tree assuming the stand is well-designed and well-built. Is the ladder connected to the platform, or is it secured by getting nailed into the tree? The way the ladder is secured to the tree has a lot to do with whether the tree is actually damaged.

There’s good reason to have a ladder attached to board and free-standing supports versus being nailed into the tree, the least of which is the fact not only is it better for the tree this way it’s also safer. A tree that continues to grow could push out nails, push them out, or grow around those supports over time.

This won’t happen if there is an independent brace framework that isn’t directly connected to a tree every step of the way.

Free Standing Tree Stands Vs Climbing Tree Stands

Generally speaking, when it comes to tree stands, there are two main types: free-standing and climbing. These serve the same general purpose but have important design differences. Free-standing tree stands don’t attach to the tree in any way, while climbing tree stands use some type of attachment system to stay in place. As we’ve already discussed, this has a major effect on how they affect trees.

While it’s easy to say that free-standing designs are generally better, and in many ways when they are properly done they are, that’s not such a black and white situation. While many people believe that free-standing tree stands are better for the trees, but that’s not necessarily true. In fact, it really depends on how the stand is used.

The key to whether the design is good is whether a lot of pressure is being put on one area versus being spread out.

A free standing tree stand design, it if it closes in the area a tree is growing and expanding, can still be an issue. On the other hand, if it is properly built then it doesn’t have to be in the way of any tree making it a solid choice.

On the other side a climbing stand that is built with weight dispersal and tree health in mind can be just as good. In general, most modern designs are going to have tree health in mind. It’s only when going to really old school designs that potential issues can rear their ugly head.

If you want to dodge the ladder question altogether, many hunters have gone with a tree stand that is a reasonable amount of space up from the ground instead of the old 25 feet up models and that’s by bringing a foldable outdoor ladder. For a stand at a more reasonable height that ladder can be more than enough to reach, the portable folding ladder is a viable option, as long as you’re within the safe weight range to use it.

The Nails Aren’t the Problem

Generally speaking trees can handle a few nails. Even the weight of some hunters climbing the steps a few times a year. That’s not the main concern with how the old design of stands can cause a tree damage. It’s more that the direct piercing of the outer bark in multiple places could open the opportunity for disease, pests, or rot to move in.

This is going to be especially problematic in places that are dealing with nasty invasive species like the forest tent caterpillars, eastern tent caterpillars, Emerald Ash borer, and the Asian long-horned beetle, among many others.

Given the option between a tree stand that doesn’t hammer nails into the tree versus one that does, I’d prefer the first assuming that this could be done without giving up safety or support.

As someone who has lost older family members to accidents (falling), it’s never, NEVER okay to sacrifice safety. But if a tree stand is properly built, that isn’t an issue.

A good solid ladder build that goes to the stand in a stable way and isn’t lined up unevenly with a winding growing tree is the best design for both safety and for being able to build a reliable stand that won’t damage the tree.

Final Verdict on Tree Stands

So what’s the final verdict? The truth is that whether a tree stand damages a tree or not, or whether climbing up a tree hurts it or not, all depends on the type of tree stand, how it was constructed, and what pressure you put on the tree when climbing it as a result. Generally speaking, any newer tree stand designs are going to be fine.

Trees are resilient and will grow around all kinds of obstacles, just look at stories from sawmills of cutting old trees to find bells, cannonballs from the civil war, or other items from many decades ago. I saw that first hand in the family saw mill at one point when we ran into an old telephone (bell?) or something labeled 1931. So trees are resilient.

Choose good design and you will have no problem with a quality tree stand that doesn’t do any damage to the trees.

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