Fall hunting season is upon us, and with that, brings the time when we start to hear about tree stand accidents.
Most hunters prefer to hunt from a tree stand for various reasons. An elevated tree stand gives you a better vantage point, a larger field of view and an earlier sighting of the game you are pursuing. This also gets you and your scent up off the ground.
Choosing your tree stand
Whether you choose a fixed-position hang-on, a ladder stand, a tripod stand or a climbing stand, always make sure it meets the Tree-Stand Manufacturer’s Association (TMA) standards. Secondly, make sure the stand has the proper weight rating. This means that it can support the total weight of you and any gear on you.
When assembling and installing your tree stand, always follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions.
Choosing a fall-arrest system
Fall-arrest systems, fall restraints, harnesses, whatever you call them … you need one. And, like tree stands, make sure your harness is approved by the TMA. While there are several good options available, I prefer and recommend the Hunter Safety System products. I have used the reversible vest and the UltraLite harness. I also utilize its Quick-Connect tree strap. I have several of these straps and I attach them to trees above my ladder stands at the beginning of season. Then, when I climb into my stand, I can check the strap to make sure it is still safe and secured to the tree. I simply reach up and hook my harness tether to the strap.
For a fixed-position hang-on stand, I recommend using a LifeLine. This is installed when you install the stand. It allows you to attach your harness tether at ground level. As you climb, you slide the Prusik knot up the LifeLine. You are connected to the fall-restraint system from the time you leave the ground.
Making sure a stand is safe to use
Whether it’s a tree stand that you installed or one that someone else put up, always check the stand before you get in it. When you get to the stand, visually inspect it. Does it look safe? Grab the stand and see if it feels secure on the tree. Are all the straps tight and not chewed by squirrels? Are the leg sections tight at the joints? If it doesn’t look safe, don’t climb into it.
When you climb up into your stand, use the 3 points of contact. One hand and both feet or both hands and one foot as you make your way up the ladder. Never carry any of your gear in your hands when climbing. Use a pull rope after you get tethered in your stand. I usually have a rope attached to each stand and always carry a spare in my pack.
While using a harness is the safest way to hunt from a tree stand, accidents can and will happen. A safety device just ensures there are fewer accidents and lower injury rates. Most statistics state that 1 in 3 hunters will have a tree stand accident. Those aren’t very good odds. You must be vigilant about safety.
As some of you may remember a few years back, I fell and broke my back while exiting a tree stand. I had unhooked from the tether. My first step out of the stand, I slipped on a wet limb and fell approximately 15-feet down. Accidents happen in a split second, sometimes even when you are trying to be careful. The moral of the story? Check the tree and its condition, too, and watch for slippery spots, loose branches, etc. Also, the owner of this property had affixed a metal hook on the pull rope hanging from the treestand, and I narrowly missed that on my descent to the ground. If you are supposed to hunt in a stand where someone else has set it up to be dangerous, don’t.
Do’s and don’ts
-Always carry your cell phone or 2-way radio on your body, in a place where you can access it if you fall and wind up on your back and not able to move easily. Not in a pack, they can come off in a fall and then be out of reach, and not on your back.
-Always let someone know where you will be hunting and when to expect you back. Leave a map of the route, and give detailed instructions. After all, you needed it, so they will, too!
-Know where you are and how to tell 911 or friends and family how to get to you.
-Think ahead and be prepared.
-Don’t use homemade stands. They will not comply with TMA standards.
-Don’t climb on limbs. They can break and they can be slick. They might break your back.
-Don’t use metal spikes or screw-in steps.
-Don’t use a single-safety belt that only attaches around your waist.
I recommend all hunters take a Hunter’s Education course, regardless of their age. Everyone needs a good refresher now and then. And, if you’re a bowhunter, take the Bowhunter’s Education course. Check out this free tree stand safety course. I recommend this TMA-approved online tree stand safety course, and it is the only one approved by this organization.
A few minutes of arming yourself with knowledge and then, practicing safe treestand techniques, might spare you months of recovery, followed by years of therapy.
RetroWON: “Marti Davis Afield: On treestand safety” originally published Oct. 8, 2013.