If you are a bowhunter, you most likely hunt from some type of a tree stand. Climbing into a hunting stand attached to a tree gives the archer a vantage point. Being above the deer’s line of sight helps hunters to see movement sooner with less chance of the deer seeing them.
While being in an elevated stand has its advantages for bowhunters, there is reason for caution. Falls from tree stands are the most common among hunting accidents and injuries. However, with the proper precautions and a quality safety harness serious falls can be all be eliminated.
It can happen to you
We know of an avid bowhunter who was injured in a tree stand accident several years ago. He often hunted a few times a week on public and private lands. One morning he was running late and decided to hunt only a short distance from his parking spot off a dirt road on public land. That’s a decision that probably saved his life.
He hurriedly climbed up tree, but not as high as he usually does. After a few hours of no activity, Jones settled back in his climbing stand. Work and early morning hunts were taking its toll on Jones’ alertness. What happened next is anyone’s guess.
Jones awoke on the forest floor in agonizing pain. The cable guard on his bow had pierced his left shoulder. He couldn’t stand and could barely breath. After what seemed like forever Jones had realized he had fallen from his stand and landed on his bow. No one else was around and his truck was a few hundred yards down the trail.
With no other option Jones began to crawl toward his truck. Fortunately, the terrain was fairly flat. It took Jones a few hours to make it to his truck. He reached up an opened the door and pulled himself into the driver’s seat. He was able to drive his truck down the forest road until he came upon another hunter at his vehicle. Jones survived his injuries and was able to hunt again.
Many hunters who fall from tree stands are not as fortunate as Jones. Some are crippled and others leave behind family and friends. Wearing a safety harness and practicing proper tree stand safety protocols is a must every time you leave the ground.
“Falls from tree stand are the leading cause of injuries of hunters,” said Marisa Futral, hunter education coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Hunters should always wear a safety harness or fall-arrest system when in a tree stand.”
Before the hunt
One of the first thing hunters should do is to inspect their tree stands before the hunt. Climbers, ladder stands and lock-on models should be checked closely. Each type of stand has certain areas that should be inspected before use.
“Check all welds on the stand,” Futral said. “Straps, buckles and pins should be inspected for any type of wear. On lock-on stands that use straps look for fraying or tearing.”
With climbing stands it is a good idea to check the lock pins, cables or chains and seat straps. Also, check the points where the stand grips the tree. On most stands these parts are welded and they can have a lot of stress.
Hunters should be familiar with their climbing stand. They should understand how the stand operates and attaches to the tree. On new stands or ones that have been used since last season, hunters should practice placing the stand on the tree and climbing before the hunt. Some things could be overlooked on the pre-dawn darkness on opening day.
Lock-on style stands that use a strap to attach to the tree require a close inspection. Check the condition of the strap and buckle connections. These are high stress areas. Wear and fatigue can cause these to fail and that can be trouble. If the strap or buckles need replacing, make certain to use original replacement parts for the tree stand manufacturer.
Ladder stands also require a close inspection. Many hunters leave their ladder stand out all year. Weather, wear, and critters can damage the locking strap. Also, check the welds at each step. Rain water can enter the tubing causing rust weakening the material.
“Most tree stand falls occur when climbing into or out of a tree stand,” Futral said. “Always use your safety harness strap and have it attached to the tree.”
Safety harness manufacturers supply a safety strap or climbing rope that is attached to the tree. The harness tether can be attached easily to the strap and moved along as the hunter climbs or descends in a tree. One slip or turn of the stand can cause a fall.
Tree stand hunters should select the proper tree. Look for a healthy, live tree. Never climb and dead or rotten tree no matter how large or solid it may appear. Also, make certain the tree is of sufficient size to support you and the stand. Most climbing tree stands have a minimum recommend tree size.
Another area hunters should take note is the maximum capacity of the tree stand. All tree stand manufacturers list a maximum weight capacity for the stand. This listing includes the weight of the hunter and all of the gear that will be in the stand. Over loading a stand can cause it fail.
Never make any modifications to a tree stand. Drilling holes or mounting extra parts to a stand can result in a stand failing and will also void any warranty. Never attempt to use parts from one stand to another. Even though it may appear they fit, they could cause other parts on the stand not to function properly.
Into the season stands that have been in place should be inspected before use. Ladder stands and lock-on models can be loose or damaged from storms or high winds. Check the strap tension and lock points before using the stand.
When setting up lock-on type stands always have a safety harness on and attached to the tree. Make certain your tether is attached before placing all of your weight on the stand.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org.