To maximize his hunting time, George leaned his ladder stand against a tree instead of securing it. He climbed into the stand and sat there about an hour looking over some bottomlands — until he shifted his weight!
Later, he woke up on his back looking up at the trees and couldn’t feel his toes. Narrowly missing his head, the heavy ladder stand lay a couple feet away. His rifle stood upright with the barrel thrust into the soft ground like a war memorial missing the helmet. George never walked nor hunted again! A few extra minutes cost him dearly.
“When people think of hunting accidents, they usually envision someone getting shot,” explained Jim Barta, co-owner of the Danville, Ala.,-based Hunter Safety System Corporation, (877-296-3528), which sells a variety of harness systems and accessories. “Unfortunately, that occasionally happens, but hunters are far more likely to injure or kill themselves by falling out of trees.”
Thoroughly Inspect Your Tree Stands
Nothing ruins a good hunting trip — or a life — like a bad accident. An accident can strike even the most experienced and careful sportsman. Sometimes, straps deteriorate, a bolt breaks, comes loose or a key support snaps.
“Before hunting from a tree stand, make sure everything works properly,” advised Karen Lutto of Hunter Outdoor Communications who represents several sporting companies. “A loose bolt can not only ruin a good hunt, but ruin a life. Wear a full harness at all times in the stand. Safety is always a big issue in hunting.”
Some sportsmen also leave their portable stands in the elements for months. After the season, they drop the stand in the garage and don’t look at it again until a new season begins.
Minimize the chance of a tree stand accident with a little preparation. Before going hunting, inspect the equipment. Literally, check the nuts and bolts, plus the straps, frames, and anything else that might break. Don’t compromise on safety. Fix or replace anything necessary to maintain safety, and test the equipment.
“Put up the tree stand (a portable one) two feet off the ground and sit in it,” Barta recommended. “Better to find out if it has any weak spots only two feet off the ground than 20 feet off the ground. Check all the straps for rot or damage. Check all the nuts and bolts to make sure they are all tight.”
When buying a new stand, pick the right size. A 280-pound person may buy a tree stand capable of holding 300 pounds, but adding the weight of the gun, ammunition, refreshments, calls, boots, heavy clothes, and other equipment could push the load well over capacity.
Stay Attached To The Tree
Many sportsmen wear a safety line or harness when sitting in a tree stand, but not while climbing into or out of it. An ill-fitting rope or strap could actually cause more harm than help. A person falling from a tree might hang upside down or the strap could tighten over vital areas, cutting off a person’s ability to breathe.
“Many people wear a harness when hunting, but they don’t think to wear one when climbing the tree to hang the stand or get into the stand,” Barta explained. “About 83 percent of all tree stand related falls occur in the transition period when the hunter climbs into or out of a stand — not while in it. The most important thing sportsmen can do is attach themselves to a tree and stay attached from the time the leave the ground until they are back on the ground.”
Barta advised hunters to use a lineman’s climbing strap. For portable stands, he also recommended that people put their ladder sticks at least three feet above the tree stand so that they can more easily climb above the stand and step down into its center. With ladder sticks stopping at the bottom of the stand, a hunter must climb over the stand to get into it — frequently in the dark or when it’s raining or windy. Moisture from rain or fog could make the stand slick.
“We recommend using a lifeline installed above the tree stand,” Barta said. “When putting the tree stand up, use the climbing strap to install the lifeline and ladder sticks. After installing the lifeline, use it whenever climbing into or out of the tree stand. Stay attached to the tree the entire time.”
A little extra preparation can help prevent most accidents. Live to enjoy this season — and many more to come!