In high places

Pic0303Keeping a high seat can be hard work, but it’s always worth it in the end, says David Barrington Barnes

A fine roe buck in the grass: culling done, photos taken and a rifle happy with his experience. But in truth, it was not the rifle’s shot but his position in the high seat that did the job.

I own or control almost 40 high seats. These are secured at strategic points on my various stalking grounds, and are critical to my successful deer management. Over the years I have gained valuable insight into the subject, the best of which I will share with you now.

Although some stalkers make serviceable wooden high seats, I prefer box steel seats, generally no more than 12 feet high. The lean-to seats generally come in one or two sections, which assists transportation, however the first high seat I ever bought was in three sections and could be carried in the back of an estate car. It’s still in use and I wish I had bought more like it.

Some lean-to seats are designed to allow access from inside the vertical ladder part of the seat. If the outward facing part of the ladder is covered in camouflage netting then this assists discreet access, and more than once I have climbed into the seat while deer are on the field without disturbing them.

I have recently acquired half a dozen excellent lean-to high seats manufactured by Wuffa, an independent Suffolk engineer. The rifle mounts these from the front, ascending a sloping ladder and sits on a comfortable plastic chair. Wuffa’s high seats have superb steadiness, plenty of shooting rail in front and to either side, with the height of the rail being readily adjusted.

Pic0101My criteria for good lean-to high seat design are:

-Splayed feet

-Rungs not too far apart

– Comfortable seat

-Adjustable shooting rail with wings

-Simple, sturdy design

Free-standing seats can be very useful, with the important advantage of being positioned where the deer manager wants them rather than where the nearest convenient tree is situated. Double freestanders are preferable to single, as single seats erected in the open can induce vertigo in the user, who is perched in the steel frame box.

Lightweight, ultra portable, aluminium high seats have recently come on to the market and been well reviewed – I have four of them. They have their uses, but appear to lack the durability of what are now traditional steel high seats. I know of forestry rangers who walk out with rifle and high seat for an evening session, leave the portable high seat in situ overnight and revisit it for the morning outing. This is less easily done in small woodlands where the slightest disturbance is likely to result in the deer vacating the location. In my opinion, every deerstalker with his own ground should have one or two of these portable seats to complement rather than replace the more durable steel models.

Once a deerstalker puts out high seats he must ‘manage’ them. They must be erected safely, more readily achieved by two persons rather than one. If a stalker has to erect a steel lean-to on his own, two tricks help. First, having raised the high seat to a vertical position, he can ‘walk it’ towards the tree it is to lean against by slightly lifting the bottom of each leg in turn just clear of the ground. Secondly, to avoid the danger of climbing an unsecured high seat to secure it, he can extend a telescopic ladder next to the high seat and strap or tie the high seat to the tree from that ladder.

Seats need to be secured with chains to deter theft and vandalism, and marked “NOT FOR ACCESS”. In high-risk areas other security measures may be appropriate.

Once a seat has been erected, it beggars belief how many branches will turn out to obscure the view from it. It’s rare to find a location that does not require some lopping, and the best way of achieving this is to work in pairs. One sits in the seat and directs the other as to the branches that require attention. Some of these can be dealt with by the ground operator using short loppers, but most will require the attention of telescopic pruners or saw. I use the WOLFF range of equipment, and would recommend it highly, although powered tools can now be bought. Quite simply, the object is to create clear sight and shooting lanes.


High seat management serves very well to remind a deerstalker that woods are constantly changing, and the way that branches grow and obscure views and prevent shots that were formerly available. By this time of year I will have visited most of my high seats with a trailer full of straps, ropes, netting and tools attached to the quad. I check the safety of the high seat and replace any ropes or straps that are looking particularly worn or weak.

Sometimes the angle of the high seat needs adjusting to raise or lower a fixed shooting rail. Wooden board seats may have rotted and replacements will need to be carefully measured and sawn to fit in the steel frame, without overhanging bits to catch on the rifle’s clothing and make a disturbing noise. Above all, the view and fire lanes will need to be cleared of any growing branches or vegetation.

Another worthwhile task is to clear a discreet route in to the high seat. This may involve some work with the slasher and short pruners, with the remnants being cleared off the path, together with sticks, dry leaves and any other detritus that may betray the stalker in his approach.

Over the years I have made all the mistakes there are to be made. I have fallen out of a sabotaged high seat I had not checked. I have spooked deer by making a noisy approach through bramble cover I should have swiped. I have seen deer stand up and run away, disturbed by an ill-fitting board seat banging against the steel frame. I have lost chances of shots because the target deer were standing behind cover I should have cleared. I have passed up shots because the shooting rail was too low. And I have found that, in the end, all the hard labour pays off in spades.

I put a lot of investment and work into buying and maintaining my high seats and am handsomely repaid by the deer and other wild life I see and (sometimes) shoot while using them. Any rifle who shoots a deer from his host’s high seat should be mindful that he will have done the same.

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