Make a Safe Sport Safer; Practice Tree Stand Safety
By Jamey Graham in Wild Ohio Magazine
Picture this: You are hunting 15 feet in the air, seated comfortably in your tree stand which is hugging tightly to a sturdy white oak when you feel your eyelids falling heavily. It’s a good thing you have a full-body safety harness strapped on just in case you nod off. Or do you?
Let’s try another scenario: It’s 5:15 a.m. on a crisp November morning and you are climbing upwards to your tree stand with just two more steps to go when one step breaks under your weight. You catch yourself on the step below, but whew! That was a close one. At least you can’t blame the break on the fact that the same steps have been in this hickory since last season. Or can you?
Tree stands, basically elevated platforms, are growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, but due to human error and/or equipment failure so is the number of injuries to hunters who use them. According to an intensive study conducted by Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, one out of every three hunters will fall from a tree stand at some point in his or her hunting career.
Plenty of deer hunters head to their tree stands each season to pursue North America’s largest and Ohio’s most popular game animal. Sadly, in Ohio and nationally, we have hunters seriously injured or even killed from falls. Last year, three Ohio hunters died and several hunters were severely injured in relation to tree stand use.
Tree stands are inarguably important tools when deer hunting. A hunter 12- to 18-feet in the air is out of a deer’s normal field of view (more than 18-feet is unnecessary and unsafe), is minimizing ground scent, and is giving him or herself additional opportunities to see deer from a wide range of locations. I’m a hunter and I personally couldn’t enjoy the season quite as much if I hunted solely from the ground. Ground blinds provide advantages as well, but personal preference has me climbing trees each fall. I also know that there are precautions and a little extra effort involved when hunting from an elevated position. I practice tree stand safety not only for myself, but for my family too. It gives them some peace of mind knowing I’m playing it safe while hunting.
Is It TMA Approved?
First, tree stand selection is obviously very important. While it may tempting to use a home-made wooden platform, don’t! Do not sacrifice safety for cost. The highest number of falls reported includes stands with wooden steps or platforms. Therefore, hunters should only use stands that have been approved by the Treestand Manufacturer’s Association (TMA). So, when purchasing a tree stand keep an eye out for the TMA seal. Once a decision and purchase is made, practice mounting and using the stand at home and close to the ground in the beginning. Practice at dawn and dusk too, popular times for hunters heading to and from their stands.
Getting up to Your Stand
Climbing steps or aids follow next. There is a large variety of brands and types of steps on the market. Screw-in steps are often used, but can still contribute to falls as well as permanently damage trees if not used properly. Climbing sticks and ladder stands are other options. Research the different types of climbing options and determine what works best for you and where you hunt. Also, when climbing or descending, always maintain three points of contact.
Hunters should keep in mind that in Ohio, it’s illegal to mount permanent tree stands and steps on state land and on property where no permission has been granted.
Don't Be the Hunter that Falls
After choosing a proper tree stand and climbing aids, a fall restraint system (or fall-arrest system) should be the next item on a tree stand hunter’s safety list. A single safety belt does not count. Years ago, hunters were encouraged to wear at least a waist belt attached to the tree by a single strap. Unfortunately, this method has often caused serious injury or death as a result of a fall. An approved full-body restraint system wraps around a hunter’s chest, waist, and legs providing maximum protection from a fall. A good harness also provides a tether so the hunter can strap himself or herself to the tree. A full-body restraint system will cost more than a single waist strap, but again, do not sacrifice safety for cost. As with a tree stand, practice at home before heading out to hunt.
Dress as you would while hunting (clothing that fits is important; ill fitting clothing can catch on steps or the tree stand) and complete your attire with the harness. Some can be a bit confusing at first, but don’t give up. It took me a while to get used to mine. In warmer weather, you can put the harness on before heading to the stand. Unfortunately, once the temperature falls and you have to carry your warmer camouflage with you to the stand, you may also have to wait to dress in your harness at your hunting site.
Getting Your Gear to the Stand
Attached to your tree stand should be a very important tool, a haul line. This is a rope left hanging near the ground used to raise or haul an unloaded firearm or bow into the stand. Never attach the haul line to the trigger or trigger guard on your hunting implement!
As with any outdoor adventure, tell a friend or family member where you are and when you plan to return. Also, if service is available in your hunting location, keep a mobile phone in an accessible pocket should a fall occur. Whistles and flashlights serve as emergency signal devices and are great to have on hand as well.
Take the time before the season opens to walk or hike a few times a week. Hunters who are in good physical condition are more likely to survive a fall. Use this time to scope out new hunting locations and breathe some fresh air.
For more information read about Project STAND (Stop Tree Stand Accidents ‘n Deaths) at projectstand.net or go to the Treestand Manufacturer’s Association’s Web site at tmastands.com/safety.
Best wishes for a safe and successful season!