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Budget Prep: Lookout Tower

Build Your Own Tree Stand to Get a Commanding View

Lowering your cache into a pond.

You can make your own lookout tower.

Photograph by Rick Austin and Survivor Jane, Aleven Goats Media, Inc.

Inspired by Brett and Shane's sniper tower, but don't need all the bells and whistles? This stripped down version may not have a retractable ladder, metal roof, or zip line, but it will certainly give you a commanding view of your property. We're bringing you budget versions of the preps inspired by our very own season three prepper builds.

Up in the Air

Being high up has always had its advantages, whether its box seats at a sporting event, a balloon ride over a beautiful landmark, or being a tall person that can see over the crowd at a concert. Height has its advantages. So why not use this advantage for our own survival purposes?

Take the use of a tree stand, for instance. As mentioned above, hunters have been using this solution to get the upper hand (no pun intended) when hunting game for centuries. Being up high is an excellent way to get a clear view of what is happening all around you. Even ships used a “crow’s nest” in the upper part of the main mast as a lookout point.

Tree stands can be as elaborate as the money you have to put into them. In this article, we will demonstrate how to make a simple, yet effective tree stand using a piece of plywood, a few 2x4’s, and the art of camouflage.

Parts and materials.

Things to Consider

Begin by looking for a suitable tree that has a good vantage point of your property. You want to make sure the tree you pick is a healthy tree with no visible signs of disease. This holds true for the trees around it as well. After all, you don’t want to spend time and energy making a tree stand only to watch it fall to the ground along with a dying tree (or be knocked over by one).

Find an area that is not too dense – you want an unobstructed view. Once you have a tree in mind, determine how high you want the platform. Keep in mind you want to be just high enough to observe, but not be observed. Mark the area by notching the tree.

The Steps:

  1. Start the building process by cutting 8’ lengths of 2x4’s in half.

  2. Then cut a standard 4’ x 8’ piece of pressure treated plywood into a 3’ x 4’ piece.

    TIP: (Your hardware store may be able to do all the cutting for you before you bring the lumber home.)

  3. Spray paint all sides of each piece of cut lumber and the plywood with different colors of ultra-flat non reflective camouflage paint. Use short bursts of paint to make splotches for a camouflage look.

  4. We used a Shadow-Camo™ pattern so that the wood would blend in with the shadows made by the surrounding trees and foliage branches.

  5. When the painted wood is dry, lay out the entire frame so that you can be sure that all your pieces will fit properly when it is time to construct your frame. If anything needs to be trimmed, now is the time to cut and repaint it.

  6. Take two of the 4’ 2x4’s and measure each halfway to the middle of the board. These two boards will be the first two cross braces that screw into the tree.

  7. Make a predrilled hole in the center for the lag screws to go into. (These holes should be slightly smaller than the size of the lag screws.)

  8. Find an appropriate sized ratchet for your lag screw and then start screwing the bolts into the cross braces. Make sure they go into the wood straight.

  9. Pre-screw long wood screws into the ends of the first (back) cross brace so that once the preassembled frame is up in the tree, you can quickly screw these in to hold the frame in place.

  10. Begin assembling the frame on the ground with the wood screws. Take one 2x4 halfway across the bottom of the frame assembly and screw it in place to tie all the boards together.

  11. When your frame is completely assembled, make sure to go back and spray paint the screw heads so they blend in with the camouflage pattern.

  12. Set up two ladders on opposite sides of the tree, so that two people can work together to put up the frame.

  13. Saw off any branches that might be in the way of the frame, or that might make it difficult to work on the ladders.

  14. Take one piece of the predrilled lumber and attach it to the tree with a lag screw and washer (where you made your initial tree notch) making sure the board is level. This will be your first cross brace.

    TIP: (You may want to partially predrill the hole in the tree to make it easier to ratchet in the lag screw.)

  15. Next, take the other predrilled cross brace and attach it to the other side (front) of the tree, but 3 ½” lower than the first (back) cross brace.

  16. This 2nd (front) cross brace will hold the weight of the frame, while bolting it in place. Again, make sure this board is level.

  17. When the cross braces are securely attached to the tree, hoist the frame up by whatever means you find easier. We tied the frame to a thick nylon rope and pulled it up. Sit the frame on top of the front cross brace and screw in the predrilled wood screws through the back cross brace into the four 2x4 frame boards of the platform floor.

  18. Use star drive screws to hold the side braces into the tree, in order to hold these side braces in place prior to lag screwing them into the tree.

  19. Predrill the lag screw holes through the two side braces and into the middle of the tree. Then ratchet the lag screw into the tree.

  20. Take two additional 4’ 2x4 braces and create angle braces by screwing these into the bottom of the frame at a 45 degree angle to the platform. Then lag screw each of them into the tree. This will provide more support and will ease the stress on both the platform and the tree.

  21. Once everything is screwed and bolted into place, make sure that all bolts and screw heads are covered with camouflage paint.

  22. Lift the plywood floor onto the platform and place the plywood on top of the frame. Once the plywood is square with the frame, top screw the plywood into the frame using your wood screws.

  23. Your tree stand is now finished.

Getting Up and Down

How to get up and down? Depending upon the height of the platform, your physical ability, and the opportunity to camouflage the entrance, you can use any number of ways to access your tree stand. Some options could be a rope, ladders, board steps nailed to the tree, or telephone pole spikes driven into the side of the tree.

The tree stand blends into the surroundings.

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