As I slowly shuffled my feet something went terribly wrong. I no longer felt the life giving security of the stand under my feet; I was starting to tumble at an alarming rate out of my stand! I immediately thought “this is how my life will end”. Instantly my mind started to create a book of all the things that I would never get to see; my son’s baseball games, my little girl’s dance recitals, or my loving wife’s face as we grow old. Then I felt a sudden jolt; as if I had just been ejected from an F-14 fighter jet and the parachute had been deployed. The “jolt” that went through my body quickly brought me back to reality. I suddenly realized that my safety harness had stopped my fall and that I wasn’t going to die. Although scared and extremely shaken-up, I was able to climb back into my stand and collect myself before getting down. After this incident, I learned from talking to other hunters that what happened to me is a very common occurrence. Unfortunately, if you spend enough time in a treestand it isn’t IF, but WHEN an accident like this will occur.
What is more valuable than your life? A new bow sight, a dozen arrows, a package of broadheads perhaps?
I recently had an opportunity to spend some time with an expert in the hunting safety field; David Langston, Director of Marketing and Sales for Hunter Safety Systems. David has been with Hunter Safety Systems for eight years and has a wealth of knowledge. The information that follows is a result of my conversations with David. Not only will his insight provide a closer look at Hunter Safety System as a company, what he has to say may even save your life or the life of someone you love.
Question: Tell me about the early years and how HSS got started?
Answer: The thing I love about our story is that it is truly based on good old American ingenuity. Our owners consist of two brothers, John and Jerry Wydner, and a lifelong friend, Jim Barta. These guys did everything together as kids, from chasing rabbits in vacant lots with bows and arrows to fishing. John and Jerry eventually moved to Alabama while Jim still resided in Michigan, but every year these lifelong friends would get together to hunt and spend time together. On one particular deer hunting trip to South Alabama, John, the eldest of the group, found himself in a precarious position. While getting situated in his tree, he watched in surprise as the bottom piece of his tree stand went crashing down to the rocks below. The only way he could get down the tree was to slide down the bark covered trunk of the tree, a few painful inches at a time. Once he got down the tree, his brother Jerry showed up to check him out. Once he realized that, other than a few cuts and bruises, his brother was okay, Jerry’s initial response to his older brother; “You big dummy. You were not wearing your safety harness.” John quickly replied, “No, did you have yours on?” After a little thought, Jerry replied, “No , but I am not the one that fell!” That evening, back at camp, the ideas and sketches started to flow. All of the guys had dozens of different harnesses that they had received over the years with the purchase of a new tree stand. The overwhelming reason they did not wear them was because they were complicated and difficult to wear. They came up with the idea of incorporating the safety harness into a vest or jacket. Returning from their hunting trip with the ideas and sketches in hand, they enlisted the help of John’s sister in law who also happened to be a seamstress. She actually put together the first working model for Hunter’s Safety Systems. This model is currently held in a glass case at the offices of HSS. In 2001 they went to every consumer show they could think of and sold 1,800 units of the new product in the first year. This year, 2012, they will sell over 200,000 units. All because three lifelong friends created a product to help protect themselves and ensure that they would return to their wives, children and grandchildren.
The New Ultra Light Harness puts an end to the “It’s to heavy to wear” excuse. In fact, you will hardly notice you’re wearing it.
Question: How is HSS different than other hunting products companies?
Answer: Everything in the hunting industry is geared towards performance; whether it is arrows, bows or clothing. HSS is different than any other company because we are about saving lives. We are not a tree stand company selling an accessory. We are not a clothing line trying to come up with a new product. Safety and saving lives is all we focus on.
Question: What’s one thing people do not know about HSS as a company?
Answer: I believe that it would have to be the genuine way that we care. I have seen our three owners sit and read stories from loved ones of individuals that have died from falls, or from individuals that have been paralyzed from falls. The owners will have to turn away because they get so emotional and will actually cry while reading these letters. However, over the past few years, we have gotten to shed more tears of joy while reading letters that express thanks for making a product that saved someone’s life or the life of a husband’s, father, brother, etc. Those letters are what drives use to make the best product we can. Last year, we lost 24 of our fellow hunters to treestand falls because they were not wearing a full body safety harness and were not attached to the tree from the moment they left the ground until the moment they returned. Our goal is to reduce that number to zero.
Question: Tell me about the culture of HSS?
Answer: We take a tremendous amount of pride in HSS. We love our company and our owners. It is a family oriented business. We usually arrive early to work and stay late because this is really where we enjoy being.
Question: Tell me about the struggles of developing the full body harness in the early days?
Answer: TMA had not yet started certifying harnesses, and we had to find a way to test the product in order to ensure that a 300lb man could safely use our product. We also had to engineer buckles that could handle a severe fall without failing to do their job because the weakest point of any harness is the buckles. Our owners were also told that there was no way that you could get consumers to pay $100 for a harness when they can get one free with every tree stand purchase. We also had to make safety “cool” and raise awareness that there are people dying because they are not wearing their safety harness.
Question: What is the biggest mistake hunters make when using the full body harness?
Answer: The biggest mistake hunters make is not staying attached to the tree from the time they leave the ground until they come back down. They think just because they are wearing a harness, they are okay as long as they secure themselves once they have reached their tree stand. The fact is, most falls don’t occur while sitting in the stand. In fact, 86% of the accidents occur on the climb, descent or initial set up or moving of the stand. That is why we have introduced the Tree Stand Life Line. It gives hunters the security of being attached to a safety device throughout the entire process.
Question: What makes hunters more likely to use HSS over other safety devises available?
Answer: They are more likely to use our product because of the ease of use. Our loop system design eliminates weave through buckles and dangling straps, which is what our customers have asked for. Also, our system is lighter as well. The harness will come in at two pounds while our vests will be right at two and one half pounds. This is great for the hunters that have to carry a lot of gear or walk a long way to get to their stands.
Lady Hunters are the fastest growing group in the outdoors today. Look no further than the Lady Pro for that special Female-Hunter in your life.
Question: What features of the vests and harnesses are you most proud of, from a company standpoint?
Answer: There are several features we are proud of. The loop system which allows our product to remain tangle free is one. Also, our Pro series vest has eight pockets which bow hunters absolutely love. And for the bowhunter that doesn’t want to carry extra weight, we offer the Ultra-Light Harness which is a great addition to our product line. All of our units also come with a lineman’s climbing strap, whereas most companies sell that as an additional accessory. Lastly, we have recently added binocular straps to our Pro Series, Ultra-Light Extreme and our Lady Pro Series safety systems.
Question: What types of Quality Assurance testing do you perform on your products to make sure they are safe for consumers?
Answer: In order to be certified to TMA standards, there are two independent testing laboratories that all of our products must be sent to. Once our products get to these facilities, they go through a battery of rigorous tests in order to ensure our products meet and exceed the TMA guidelines. We also do a lot of various random testing here at our office as we receive products into our warehouse. For instance, John will grab products right off of the shelf and then subject them to a series of tests that are above and beyond what is required by the TMA. We do this to make sure our products are without a doubt safe for anyone that uses them.
Question: What is HSS considering for future products?
Answer: The goal of making products that save more lives never stops. Beyond that, we are spending a lot of time looking at new fabrics and unique designs to keep up with today’s trends as far as the look and feel of the product is concerned. Also, we are constantly trying to improve the ease of use, comfort and the quality of the product as well.
Question: What excites you the most about the future for HSS?
Answer: The bad news is the good news. The bad news is that 60%-70% of hunters are not wearing a safety harness, but since our sales continue to grow that means that more and more hunters are realizing that they need to wear a harness or vest when they are in the woods. This means that we will continue to grow as a company and have a positive effect on the safety of the hunting community.
The Life-Line guarentees that you are safe from the moment you take that first step off the ground, until you climb down at the end of the day. It is THE safest way to hunt from a stand position…period.
Question: What is the main goal for HSS as a company?
Answer: Simply Put “Saving Lives is What We Do”. This is the message we want to get out to the general public. Our main goal is to save hunter’s lives….period.
Before you embark on your next hunting adventure, ask yourself this simple question…..”What is your life worth”? Is it more than a dozen arrows; or perhaps more than a new bow sight? Ask your wife or your children what your life is worth to them. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting the most important piece of equipment you can take into the woods with you this fall and ultimately becoming another heart breaking statistic. Make an effort to use the correct safety equipment and use it the right way. If not for yourself, do it for your friends and family. For more life-saving info, visit www.huntersafetysystem.com.