Tree Stand Safety

Posted by  Tuesday, October 02 2012 7:00 am
expert

For Indiana hunter Tim, grandpa's stand always had a special meaning to it. He decided to visit the stand since he hadn't been there in a few years. Halfway up the ladder his feet flew out from under him. He started tumbling down the tree, grabbing for anything to slow him down.  

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One of the most important things to remember is to take your time when climbing into a treestand. (photo by Justin Morrissey)

"It all happened so fast and without warning. I was just ready to hit the ground," said Tim. His jacket caught a wooden step and ripped, somewhat slowing his momentum downward. On the ground, Tim glanced at the rotten chunk of wood at his side, with an old rusty nail pointing straight up.  

Events like this happen much too often; in fact, treestand accident rates are as high as one in three, according to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation. Hunters across the country are involved in thousands of tree stand related accidents every year. Believe it or not, deaths due to falling often equal or exceed firearms related hunting deaths.  

So, what steps can you take to ensure your or your loved ones safety? First, lets take a look at the various types of stands. Then, we'll cover how to be safe in those stands.  

  • Permanent Stands – As Tim discovered, permanent stands might not be so...permanent. Especially when constructed of wood, permanent stands can rot over time. While it might be grandpa's lucky spot, you shouldn't trust permanent stands.
  • Fixed or Hang-on Stands – Hang on stands, such as the API Baby Grand, are designed to be strapped to a tree trunk and remain there, secured by straps or chains.
  • Ladder Stands – Ladder stands, like this Big Game Ladder Stand, are propped and secured against a trunk of a tree. A ladder, which hunters climb up to access the stand, supports the platform.
  • Climbing Stand – A great option for mobile hunters, climbers are used to climb up a tree trunk. Simply strap it on the tree and start climbing. Take a look at the Gorilla Greyback Climber.  

Steps Toward Safety  

Go Slow. Take your time! There's no rush. Climbing into and out of stands is very dangerous and should be done carefully. Always keep three points of contact while climbing. If both feet are on the ladder, this means one hand should also be on the ladder while the other is reaching for a higher point. Whatever you do, never limit yourself to less than three points of contact when climbing into or out of your stand. The three-point rule should always be used in conjunction with a climbing line, such as the Hunter Safety System Life Line Climbing Line. If not a climbing line, a climbing belt will also suffice.  

Wear a Safety Harness. A safety harness, also known as a fall arrest system, is a must have when it comes to treestand safety. One should be worn at all times, even when climbing into or out of a treestand. The Gorilla G-20 Safety Harness features adjustable straps for a comfortable fit, plus it is sturdy enough to hold 300 pounds. For those who want a vest-style safety harness, the Hunter Safety System Reversible Vest would be a great choice. Its slim, low profile design provides a comfortable fit while providing maximum stretch and mobility. This is especially great for archers when faced with tricky shots. With all safety harnesses, don't forget to follow the manufacturers instructions; you may only have one chance, so make sure you are using the harness correctly! In fact, failing to do so could result in suffocation should you fall from the treestand. In some cases it has been reported that incorrect use has lead to shoulder straps slipping and blocking airways. This is nothing to mess around with.

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Remember the three-point rule: Always have at least three points of contact while climbing. (photo by Justin Morrissey)

Pull-up Rope. A haul line is an essential tool for treestand safety. While your gun may have a sling, it still isn't safe to throw it on your back and start climbing up. The same goes for backpacks. The best thing to do is attach your equipment to a pull up rope. Then, using a safety harness and the three-point rule, climb up to your stand. Once you are safely secured in the stand, with your harness attached to the tree, you can pull your equipment up using the haul line. This eliminates any chances of equipment sliding off your back when climbing up into the tree. Before descending, lower your equipment using the rope.  

Know Your Limits. Many accidents can be prevented. In a hurry to get to the stand, some hunters may climb too fast, resulting in a missed foot peg. In the extreme cold, your hands may not work as well – don't try to pull yourself up, especially with gloves on. Another thing, don't lean too far for the shot, as it could result in a loss of balance. Also, take time to become familiar with your stand – know where potential obstructions are when moving around. Know your limits and don't push them.  

Setting Stands. Be extra cautious when setting stands. As always, wear a safety harness and a climbing belt. For example, when setting a hang-on stand you may need both hands to pull the stand up using a pull rope and to secure the stand to the tree. By using a climbing belt in the lineman's configuration, your hands are free to work while you are secured to the tree. If possible, have a friend present when setting the stand – this makes the process much easier and safer.  

What if you Fall?  

Thank goodness you had your safety harness on! Should you fall and not have it on, it would be a long way to the ground. So, this raises a good question: If you fall, what next?  

  • The first step is to act fast. You don't want to be suspended any longer than necessary. Suspension trauma can be fatal; this is when blood flow is blocked due to pressure exerted on your legs by the safety harness.
  • Grab onto nearby climbing steps, your stand or even the tree trunk to lessen the pressure from the safety harness.
  • Keep three points of contact when climbing back into your stand.
  • If you have fallen, you are now in an emergency situation – free your hands of any hunting equipment so you can get back into your stand.  

The key thing here is to safely get back on solid ground, be it your stand or the ground itself. Long-term suspension can be fatal, and it is crucial to get some weight off your legs. So act quickly to get out of the suspended position. Also, bring a cell phone, radio or whistle to alert others in a desperate situation.  

The bottom line is that hunters fall each and every year. Think it won't happen to you? The fact of the matter is, it can. That's why it is so important to take the necessary safety steps and have a safety conscious mind. Hunters who want to learn more about how to stay safe when using a tree stand are encouraged to take an online hunter safety course at www.hunter-ed.com or www.bowhunter-ed.com. The training offered at these sites is approved by the state agencies responsible for hunter education. At the end of the day, you can only hunt if you are alive and well, so invest your efforts in safety.

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Last modified on Monday, March 24 2014 1:25 pm
Mitch Strobl
expert

Mitch Strobl is Chairman of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) — under 25 and enjoys writing, photographing and video taping his hunting and outdoor lifestyle. His true passion is archery hunting, but he also enjoys shooting trap and fly fishing. To reach Mitch, please send him an email at mitch.strobl@yahoo.com

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