Dave Hurteau, who edits David E. Petzal's Q&A column, sent me this question from Petzal's overflow bin:
I am a beginner bowhunter and would like to know your recommendation for a ladder stand that is cheap but will not make me wonder how good my safety harness is? --Nick Koury, St. Louis, Missouri
What you want in a treestand is what most guys want--a model that won't break the bank, or your neck. There are some truly cheap ladders out there, but to get that added measure of security and solid construction, you need to spend just a bit more, and I think it's worth it. I've been using a lot of ladder stands in the last few years, and they keep getting better and surprisingly less expensive. Here three solid, affordable models to look at:
Big Game NextGen Stealth DX
At 55 pounds, it's light for a stand that's 17 feet to the shooting rail, but it doesn't skimp on comfort, with a roomy 19x26-inch platform and flip-up seat. It attaches solidly with ratchet straps, and right now you can get it as Bass Pro Shops for $160.
River's Edge Relax Wide Ladder
River's Edge has mastered the affordable stand niche. At about $190, this stand has a smaller platform (12x23 inches), but the extra-wide lounger-style seat and shooting rail make it a fine option for extended sits, and at 54 pounds, it's a stand two guys can put up pretty easily. It's 16.8 feet to the rail.
Summit Crush Series Solo Pro Ladder
If you're on a tight budget, Summit's Solo Deluxe model has a comfortable padded seat and the security of a shooting rail for just $130. But I think it's worth spending the extra $50 for the Pro Ladder, which has a much bigger platform (27x32 inches) and wider seat. At 77 pounds, it's a tad on the heavy side, but once you get this on against a tree, it ain't moving. Both models are 18 feet to the rail.