“That’s the most ridiculous thing I think I’ve ever seen.” – Greg Staggs summarizing his thoughts to a friend after watching a video on one-sticking.
Yes, that was me. The guy who’s own YouTube instructional videos on how to one-stick up a tree have now helped thousands of people across the country get started with the concept. Today, I can’t fathom walking into the woods with anything but my 12” stick, climbing as high as I want to up to 40’ high, and rappelling safely down at the end of my hunt.
If you’ve been around the mobile-hunting game as long as I have, you’re probably accustomed to ascending a tree with a climber or four sticks and a hang-on – arguably the two most popular methods of reaching hunting height. Both methodologies are easy enough, with the climber perhaps being the simplest of all. But people often lament the two biggest downsides after spending some time hunting with one: They’re limited to straight trees, which may leave them hunting a tree more so than the deer they’re after… and the weight and bulk that climbers have traditionally brought with them.
The common alternative was to lug four sticks packed on top of a hang-on stand on your back. For the most part, attaching sticks lets you go around and past limbs. But they can be cumbersome, and thought must be given in how to carry everything up in one trip, or if multiple scampers up and down the tree are going to be necessary. Along with that comes some pretty good potential for noise.
My youngest son Gabe, who was 13 at the time, had abandoned the clunky climber that kept hitting him just below his calves with every step he took in favor of a tree saddle. For a young, aspiring bowhunter it was a match made in heaven. Still, every night we hunted together I was left rather impatiently waiting for him to pack up his four sticks at the bottom of the tree and strap them all together in prelude to the walk back to our vehicle. I had already rebuffed my friend a couple times when he talked about one-sticking to me, but he persuaded me to let him show my son when he came into town to hunt with us several years back.
As I stood at the base of the tree watching my buddy teach Gabe, it all clicked. He used a different technique than the person I’d seen in the video I’d found, and it all made sense now. Gabe would be FAR safer as he was ALWAYS tethered in on the way up, and at the end of the hunt he simply walked himself down the tree via rappelling. It was literally like playing Batman. The very next day, we ordered all the equipment necessary to begin our one-sticking journey, and we’ve never looked back.
How Is It Done?
So how exactly do you climb 20 – 35’ high with one single stick? It’s a great question for those new to the concept. I think the easiest way for it make sense is to realize I climb almost exactly the same way most people do with four sticks, with one little exception. Let me explain.
When it comes to climbing sticks in the mobile-hunting game, almost no one uses “full-length” sticks any more: I’m talking about the old 32-inch sticks popularized by Lone Wolf which were seemingly ubiquitous with the word “climbing stick”. Try walking through the woods with your favorite spinning rod/reel combo and not getting it hung up in branches and you’ll have a small idea of what it was like navigating a trip into the woods with them. Hunters began cutting them down and in recent years manufacturers have followed suit, with the more popular stick sizes currently ranging from 17 to 20 inches in length.
Three or four 17-inch sticks aren’t going to allow most people to reach their “normal’ hunting height of 20-plus feet though, so hunters began pairing the shorter sticks with aiders – usually a two- or three-step ladder-style system made with nylon webbing and a rubber hose inserted inside the step to give it shape and help hold it open. With the combination, hunters were back to being able to climb to their accustomed height, but in a much more packable option.
Using that method, a hunter would affix a stick around shoulder- or head-high, depending on the length of his aider. Once the stick is “set”, he would either throw his lineman’s belt around the tree or affix his tether above everything and begin the climb. When he reached the top of the stick, he affixed a second stick and climbed up on that one, and so on.
Here’s the only real difference of how I climb. When I reach the top of my stick, and with my tether secured on the tree above my head, I use it to support my weight while I reach down and grab my stick. I simply let myself hang, while turning and reaching down to grab my stick. I then push out with my feet to give myself room and attach that SAME stick where I would have attached a second, third or fourth stick. Using this technique, I can literally climb as high as I want with the length of rope I use as my tether being the limiting factor. Why is that you may ask? Because I’m going to use that rope to walk myself back down the tree at the end of the hunt. Think anywhere from the old 1960s Batman & Robin carefully walking their way backwards in their iconic T.V. shows to modern-day renditions of Navy Seals taking a couple leaps to cover the same distance.
I will say this without reservation: Rappelling down at the end of the hunt is the absolute safest way to descend a tree, irrespective of your climbing method. Just as most treestand accidents happen when people transition to and from their treestands, a lot can happen when moving from stick to stick. When you’re rappelling down, if you slip due to frozen fingers, icy steps or anything else, you’re just there. You may swing a foot or two into the tree, but you’ll be no worse for the wear. Beyond the safety aspect of it, rappelling down is just plain FUN. I’ve received dozens of messages from people stating they can’t wait to rappel down again after doing so the first couple times.
The Four Rules of One-Sticking
So you’re intrigued… What are the main things to know?
1. You must use an aider on your stick. The gains you make while one-sticking (or another way to put it is the height you achieve with each “move”) comes from the overall distance you cover with each set of the stick. Using a multi-step aider becomes imperative to maximize that distance, especially the first time you hang your stick and leave the ground. I prefer the Ultimaider, which is infinitely adjustable in length and step configuration.
2. You must use a cam cleat. Yes, I know there are a few people who’ve managed to one-stick without a good cleat like the Harken 150 – but the emphasis is on “few”. Employ a good cam cleat and it’ll make your life MUCH easier when it comes time to reach down and remove the rope from your stick with one hand to pull it up for the next move.
3. You must rappel down. If you try to reverse the process and climb back down, you’ll quickly figure out one thing: it sucks. One-sticking is MEANT to be used in conjunction with rappelling. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Biscuits and gravy. Bacon and eggs. Batman and Robin… and, well – who hasn’t wanted to be Batman at one point in their life? My favorite rope of choice is Canyon Elite. It’s in-spec with my favorite belay device (the Madrock Safeguard) and it remains supple and isn’t prone to developing a memory like other ropes I’ve used.
4. You must use a non-stretch pull-down rope. So many people want to skimp out on this at first because they have a 40’ spool of paracord at home, or they can pick some up at their local Walmart sporting goods section. Trust me: the only people who claim you can use paracord to retrieve your rappel line from the tree after hitting the ground are people who haven’t one-sticked very long. At all. Paracord is WAY too stretchy, and it’ll eat up the energy you apply into getting your rope down. It should be an easy process – not one that makes you regret trying the technique. I highly recommend Dynaglide, though some people use a thin Amsteel rope.
Why Should I Try It?
So we’ve touched on the “How” … but what about the why? Well, because who doesn’t want to walk into the woods with about five pounds of climbing gear and be able to hunt any tree in the woods? I don’t have to unpack two halves of a climbing stand, nor do I have to worry about catching anything on limbs or bushes walking through the woods. I can climb noiselessly, because I am only managing one single 12-inch stick. I’m always in complete control of where it is and I don’t have to worry about extra sticks banging into anything.
We often deal with a full leaf canopy early in the season. During that time, I rarely make more than two “moves” -- counting me leaving the ground initially as one. There are times in late season I like to hunt a nearby national forest that has huge draws and ravines. Sometimes wind direction necessitates setting up on the side of a ridge and beginning my climb much lower than the trail I’ll be watching, and it’s nice to be able to shimmy 35’ up to be above the line of sight with the exact same setup that I hunted early season with.
There may be two nagging questions you’re left with at this point… One, does it take a lot of energy? Will I sweat a bunch doing it and wear myself out? I’ll be honest with you… that was my initial thought. Remember what I told my buddy? It looked ridiculous. But when I actually DID it, I realized all I was doing was hanging by the rope and reaching down and grabbing my stick. There is literally zero calorie burn in the action. I can climb in 80-degree weather just as easily as I can with heavy base layers on in early January.
The second question people have before they buy into the concept is “How long does it take?” I can tell you that I can climb a tree using the technique as fast or faster than I could with a climber – and in averaging over 100 sits a season with one over the 20 years prior to one-sticking that’s a lot of experience. Even if you’re slower going up one-sticking than you were with your old method, you’ll certainly be faster coming down – and a lot safer.
The Proof Is In The Pudding
Last November I walked in blind into a public conservation area an hour before light. I made three moves up the tree I chose in the dark and settled in, listening to the woods slowly come to life. It wasn’t long before a spike walked by about 85 yards to the south of me. About 30 minutes later, a forkhorn walked almost the identical path. I decided I wouldn’t watch a third buck go by.
I was packed up in a couple minutes before lowering myself to my stick and removing it from the tree. Thirty seconds later I had wrapped up its rope and clipped it onto my saddle, and it took about the same amount of time for my boots to hit the ground from over 25 feet high. I picked up my bow and wound my rappel rope around my hand and elbow like an extension cord before walking to a tree I’d watched both bucks pass by.
Less than 10 minutes later I was at hunting height with my release clipped on as I watched yet another buck approach from the same direction. Though he turned out to be a non-shooter, it wasn’t because I was in the wrong tree. I had the choice of passing him or not. And choice is what one-sticking gives me: the choice to go in further because I’m carrying less weight. The choice to hunt any tree I want, because limbs or multiple trunks don’t deter me. As ridiculous as I thought it looked at first, I now choose to hunt that way each and every day I’m in the woods.
The author is widely recognized as one of the premiere experts on the subject of one-sticking, and has a complete playlist dedicated to the subject on his YouTube channel, Staggs in the Wild. There are currently 18 videos about one-sticking there, and more to be added soon. If you want to know the exact gear Staggs uses and why, there’s a video devoted to that. Questions like “How Do I Get My Rope Out Of The Tree?” are answered in specific videos as well.