David Barrington Barnes shares the benefit of a properly chosen hunting high seat and the pitfalls to beware of.
I own or control approaching fifty high and low seats. These vary from free standing to lean to, inside and outside access, doubles, singles and a whole host of other different styles. Over the years I have learned a lot about the pros and cons of different models and can comment with some authority on these.
I prefer free-standing high seats to lean to because you can position them where you want – your options are not dictated by the nearest suitable tree. When I started, I spent hours trying to position lean to high seats against trees only to find that branches and other trees blocked the view.
It’s unbelievable how so few trees provide a suitable lean for a high seat. Another advantage of a free stander is that it does not sway in a high wind as a lean to does when fastened to a tree trunk. Their disadvantage is the cost – often far more than the lean to alternative.
The engineer who currently manufactures my high seats insists on outside access. His ladders are inclined to make them easy to climb into and are positioned at the front of the seat.
I like this design as it makes access quiet and easy. It’s also safer to ascend a sloped ladder than it is to climb a vertical ladder from the inside of the high seat particularly if attempted in the dark of a wet or frosty winter morning.
I have both single and double free-standing high seats. A single high seat can be slightly disconcerting to sit in as the occupant feels as if he is perched up in the air in the middle of nowhere.
Also, the front and side shooting rails will likely be closer to him than is ideal, denying him the excellent lean that is frequently a feature of the two seater version.
Having at least some two seaters provides opportunities to host tyros and interested persons – not to mention the occasional boy or girlfriend! Double free standers tend to be bigger, heavier and more awkward to move. This can cause them to be moved less often than they should be.
Turning to other design details, some D-I-Y enthusiasts construct their own high seats using suitable timber. These can be good and relatively less expensive than their steel equivalents. However, they are likely to deteriorate and rot and so require more ongoing maintenance.
One marked advantage of wooden seats is that the stalker can get in and out of them more quietly than he can a steel seat. This could make all the difference when an accidental coming together of shooting rail and rifle barrel alerts every deer in the wood.
With steel seats it’s desirable to have the feet of the legs splayed and cuffed with a plate no more than six inches from the bottom, which increases stability and prevents one leg burying itself deeper than the other.
This applies whether or not the ladder is designed for an outside or inside ascent. The rungs need to be reasonably close above each other. Lowering oneself into a void, in which the sole of the boot can’t locate the next rung is a disconcerting business.
The seat itself is usually ply and needs to be a quality marine exterior spec as low quality ply soon rots. The best seats I have sat in have had plastic “village hall” chairs securely fixed to the steel structure and very comfortable they were too.
Each of these chairs had holes in the seat to enable rain water to drain away. Minor details like these make the stalker much more likely to stay in his seat, from which he has the hope of a shot, rather than sloping off for breakfast.
The best seats have adjustable shooting rails. A rail that is too high denies the stalker a shot. One that is too low results in him having to engage the deer from a scrunched up, uncomfortable position that turns a routine shot into a difficult one.
When I was supplied with several high seats with short wing rails to left and right I had extensions made which slid over the end of the wings and provided a lean for shots to my right and left and back a bit on either side.
These have paid for themselves many times over. Using the rails as a base I have also tied lengths of wood to these to gain extended rests and comfortable shooting positions.
No comments on high seats can ignore the dangers inherent in erecting and using them. Putting up a high seat is at least a two-man job as the seat has to be held by one man on the ground while it is secured by another on the ladder.
I have a telescopic ladder from which this can be achieved at less risk. I know of cases in which a lone stalker has fallen from the high seat which he was attempting to erect.
In the course of this, it’s easy to leave items such as loose boards and hand tools on the seat of the high seat which can fall on anyone underneath. One day I forgot a 7lb hammer which fell off the seat and landed a few inches in front of me when I tested how securely the seat was fixed. A lucky escape!
Another tip is to check the high seat before climbing it. It may have been sabotaged. I had ascended half way up one of my high seats when it spun round, so that I came off – landing on my back.
Inspection revealed that securing ropes had been severed and the high seat repositioned slightly so that one leg was on the corner of a tree stump and the other out of contact with the ground. Another lucky escape.
Space prevents me from detailing the formal aspects of health and safety in relation to high seats. However, working at height, lone worker provisions and maintenance impose legal obligations that I will address in a future article.
More from David Barrington Barnes
- The off-season with David Barrington Barnes
- Stalking Century: David Barrington Barnes hits a three-digit target number on a deer cull
- David Barrington Barnes on the Macnab
- Tipping the scales with David Barrington Barnes
- Roe rut advice: Why turning bucks down is more important than shooting them