Treestand Safety

August 23, 2010 by  

By Nick Simonson

While in the throes of a hotly contested battle with the seat section of a new 15-foot ladder stand, I took a break from what is now becoming a late summer ritual to get a drink of water and my bearings while looking over the assembly manual. It wasn’t the antler fever-inducing periodical I had been perusing earlier, but I knew it was even more important that I get all the details down cold during assembly and installation on my tree of choice in the river bottom south of town.

A good majority of hunting magazines and TV shows stress the little things like stand placement, wind direction and scent control for a successful hunt, but rarely do they focus on safety as being the key element in determining success in the field. Because whether you come home with a filled tag, or just a good afternoon away from it all, all safe hunts should be considered successful outings. If you find yourself in a treestand this fall, there are some safety reminders to recall as you prepare your perch and climb into the canopy for the upcoming deer seasons.

As you prepare to place your stand in the woods or in the shelterbelt overlooking your favorite field, don’t forget to evaluate your chosen tree. Inspect it closely to see that it fits your stand needs. Most stands have a minimum diameter tree that they can be used with – generally 9 inches or more across – so be sure to meet or exceed that base dimension. Examine the tree to be assured of its health. If you’re placing a stand in late summer, the tree should still have a good canopy of leaves, be free of obvious blight or fungus, not have any significant structural damage, such as broken main limbs, and be as vertical as possible with little or no lean. Once you’ve found a safe tree, you can install your stand.
Be familiar with your stand and the special requirements it may warrant for safe and effective use. You should have assembled and installed the stand yourself and have first hand knowledge of it, with a solid understanding of its safety manual requirements. Whether it’s an all-in-one ladder stand, a climber or a hang-on model with ladder sticks leading up to it, make sure that every nut and bolt is in place before hauling it out to the ideal spot or toting it into the field to find the perfect ambush point. When placing the stand, follow the instructions for installation and use. Secure the stand tight to the tree, checking all tie-downs, ratchet straps and locks which stabilize it. With climber stands, inspect cables and test locking pins to assure a safe ascent and return to ground level when the hunt is done.

Don’t use stands you are not familiar with and don’t climb into wooden stands you may happen upon while in the field. Unless you assembled it, don’t get into it! If you do have a permanent stand made of wood on your property, go over it periodically looking for wind damage, rot, or other structural compromise resulting from exposure to the elements or a growing tree and make the necessary repairs or replacement.

Each type of stand brings with it a unique set of requirements for safe use, but they all have one safety element in common and that is the use of a fall arrest system to prevent a life-threatening tumble from the tree-tops. Nationwide, nearly 47,000 hunters were injured in falls from treestands from 2000-2007, according to a study done at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, based on data obtained and tracked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The injuries tracked ran the gamut from bruises and broken bones to paralysis and death. In nearly all instances reported, the hunter failed to use a safety harness and fall arrest system, despite the fact that most commercial tree stands include such a two-part system in the package.

Make a harness and a fall arrest system as much a part of the experience as your bow or firearm this autumn. At the beginning of each outing, inspect the fabric, stitching and fit of your harness before climbing into your stand. Whether it’s a basic ladder stand, or a stadium version with rails, a fall-arrest system is still required to help provide for a safe hunt. Even with a harness, have a plan in place as to how to regain the stand if you fall out and are suspended in the air. If you happen to fall while using your harness, discard it and the lanyard in favor of a new one.

The use of a harness is not without its issues, as it is only a temporary fix to a dangerous situation. Prolonged suspension may result in internal trauma caused by pressure to the groin and the pooling of blood in the lower extremities which results in a phenomenon called suspension trauma. This trauma may lead to shock, unconsciousness and death. Have a way to prevent this trauma at hand in the form of harness leggings, or screw-in tree steps to put your feet in and keep your legs loose and the pressure off until help arrives.

Should you need assistance while on stand, have a cellular phone in an easily-accessible pocket in your hunting clothes. Let someone at your home, or at the property owner’s house know exactly where you are for that hunt with a hunting information sheet, so that they can find you in an emergency, or contact you as needed. Being prepared for the worst case scenario is the best assurance that it doesn’t happen, or that when it does, you have more than one way out.
Tree stand hunting presents unique safety concerns for hunters employing these elevated ambush points. Knowing how to check them off as you prepare for the hunt in the pre-season and before each outing will ensure success, regardless of whether you climb down to track a deer, or just follow your own tracks back to camp, ready to enjoy the next day afield…in our outdoors.


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