UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
Every year hunters venture out into the woods hoping to fill their tags and freezers with wild game meat. To do so, more than 90% of hunters will be hunting from an elevated platform or some sort of tree stand. Hunting from an elevated platform offers numerous advantages but also presents certain associated risks. Tree stand accidents are the leading cause of serious hunting-related injuries, and almost all of them can be minimized or avoided.
The average tree stand height ranges from 10 feet to 30 feet. That may not be far off the ground but the injuries are severe and for some, fatal. To paint the picture, a body falling from a tree can hit the ground at speeds in excess of 25 miles an hour. That’s faster and harder than being hit by a star NFL safety. These types of accidents happen so frequently statistics show that either you or someone you know has fallen out of a tree stand. To avoid being a statistic, this hunting season make tree stand safety your top priority.
It’s easy to get caught up in all of the preparation that goes into bowhunting while forgetting the most important aspect of the hunt….returning home safely. Prepare accordingly.
The most important thing you can do to minimize the risk of falling is to always use a full body safety harness system when you are hunting from a tree stand. If you use a harness system, make sure it meets TMA standards (Treestand Manufacturers Association). Also, make sure you are fully aware of how to use your harness system as well as how to make adjustments. Keep a snug fit which will require you to make adjustments from mild climate hunting to cold weather hunting based on the amount of clothing you wear.
Also be sure keep the slack of the tether strap minimal when you are in the seated position. In the event of a fall having your tether placed high in the tree will minimize the distance you travel before your harness catches you, which will allow you to easily clmb back onto your stand platform or climbing sticks. Be sure to check the expiration date on your harness as well. If it has passed, throw it away and purchase a new one.
No game animal is worth falling to your death from a tree. Many harnesses, such as the Ultra-Lite series from Hunter Safety System, cost less than a hundred dollars which costs way less than a visit to the hospital. Is a “hundo” really worth your life?
Understand Your Stand
There are four types of tree stands used when hunting; ladder stands, portable clmbing stands, fixed position “lock on” stands, and permanent stands. Climbing or portable stands are designed to be moved as the hunter climbs the tree and then secured once the desired height is reached. A lock on stand attaches to the trunk of a tree for an extended period of time such as during hunting season. A ladder stand has a ladder attached to the platform which rests against a tree. The last type of stands are permanent tree stands, these of course, are designed to remain permanent and used season after season.
Becoming familiar with everything you take into the woods with you leads to safety; especially when you become intimately familiar with your particular type of treestand.
Reading and understanding your treestand’s manual as well as its specifications are your responsibility. Prior to hunting out of your stand be sure to set it up at ground level at the base of a tree so you are familiar with how to use it. Using your tree stand inappropriately can be fatal. If you have any doubt on how to use your tree stand, contact the manufacturer.
Also, thoroughly check each stand prior to use. This is extremely important for stands that are left out in the garage during the offseason or in the outdoors exposed to the elements. If something does not look safe, don’t use it. If a stand requires nylon ratchet straps, replace them every season. I also recommend placing at least one more ratchet strap than what the stand calls for just to be safe.
Methods Of Use
When climbing a portable stand, attach your harness system’s tether to the tree belt once you get in it prior to climbing the tree. And make sure the tether is free from obstruction and not under your arm or chin. As you climb, raise the tether and tree belt and vice versa when climbing down. Don’t wait until you get to the top and attach everything. Most accidents happen when climbing up or down from your stand.
No matter what type of stand you use, the one constant should be a quality safety harness system. Skimp on everything else, but don’t climb into a stand without one.
When using “lock-on” stands, if you are using tree steps or a ladder, make sure your ladder goes above the stand so you are stepping from the steps “down” into the stand. And always step into the center of the platform. Avoid stepping up into your stand forcing you to fully rely on the security of the lock-on stand. Many hunters now utilize a “LifeLine” type system when hunting from fixed position treestands. This line is essentially a long piece of rope that is tied around the tree after your stand is in place. Using a prussic knot and carabiner you can attach yourself to this rope and slide the prussic knot up and down as you climb and descend from your stand. This way you are attached to the tree from the time you leave the ground until you return safetly at the end of your hunt.
Hunting with a friend is also highly recommended. If you are hunting alone, let someone know where you are going to be hunting and when you expect to return just in case something were to happen. Also, don’t hunt without your phone or some other method of communication.
The Sky’s The Limit
How high should you climb? That is your personal preference. If you are comfortable climbing 25 feet then do so, just make sure you are extra careful and are attached to the tree via a safety harness at all times. The higher you climb, the harder the fall. If you become nervous about how high you have climbed, don’t panic; simply climb lower. Know your physical limitations and don’t push them.
Also, it’s extremely important to make sure you choose a tree that is alive and healthy before climbing it. Make sure your tree is straight and suitable for the stand you plan to put in it. Sometimes it is harder to distinguish a healthy tree from a dead tree during the months when leaves are dying and falling. In addition, make sure you know what size tree is recommended for your stand and abide by them.
Perhaps the safest method to use, other than a life-line system, is to maintain 3 points of contact at all times when climbing.
Other Items To Remember
- Always use a haul line to pull up your gear and any unloaded firearm or bow to your tree stand.
- Make sure all your arrows are secured in your quiver.
- Never climb with anything in your hands.
- Maintain 3 points of contact when climbing up and down from the ladder or steps of a stand. This could be two arms and one leg holding and stepping on the ladder or one arm and two legs in contact with the ladder before moving.
- Pay attention to the weather conditions. Be cautious of hunting in the rain or snow, causing steps to become slippery.
- Check the security of the step before placing your weight on it.
- Before descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.
- Take your time! Climb slowly and pay attention. Nothing good happens when you are in a rush. It’s not a race.
- When climbing up or down a stand such as a climber, climb no more than 10 inches at a time.
Always use a safe and easy method for getting gear from the ground to your stand. Pull up ropes and tree hooks are great for hauling and storing gear in a tree with you.
I can’t stress enough how important treestand safety is. You don’t want your next hunt to be your last. There are loved ones at home who depend on you and want you around for years to come. You don’t want to jeopardize your life or your family’s life because you were not paying attention or not wearing a safety harness. No matter what, hunt safe.