Treestand safety

The sheriff's office says the hunter was wearing a safety harness, but it had not been attached to the tree.

I’ve never been much of a treestand guy. More often than not I prefer a ground blind. That said, I’m not opposed to treestand hunting, but I’m wary about climbing into trees for any reason. I have hunted from a treestand on numerous occasions and I’ve been successful with white-tailed deer with both compound and crossbow. On only a few occasions did I ever erect the stand myself. Other people usually volunteer to do the dirty work for me and I am always happy to oblige. Maybe it’s a certain fear of falling.

On one occasion, hunting from a stand in southeastern Ohio along the Ohio River, I hunted the “guide stand,” a favorite of some of the local guides who operated out of the hunting camp I was at in Monroe County. I’m not the most limber person in the world and when I arrived at the base of the tree at 6 a.m. it was pitch dark. I found that the climbing sticks went about 25 feet in the air and I was glad it was dark. However, when I reached the top of the stairs, it was not a stairway to heaven – it was equal with a stand that had been placed into an adjacent tree. You had to make the step (a big one at that) to the foot of the stand and then sit in the seat. Somehow you had to attach your waist strap (it wasn’t a body harness back then) and get comfortable. I did it without falling out of the tree…to my surprise. Fear can do some amazing things.

As luck would have it, the wind started to kick up in the morning and the tree I looked down on was smaller in diameter than most. In fact, it was the smallest tree I had ever stood sentinel in. The harder the wind blew, the more the tree swayed from side to side. I should have taken motion sickness pills!

After a couple of hours in the stand I caught a glimpse of brown to my right. Buck! Because I am a right-handed shooter I needed to shift to the right. No way. It just wasn’t going to happen. Unless that deer changed direction, I just wasn’t going to get a shot. It didn’t, and I didn’t. It wasn’t too long after that I climbed down to solid ground and safety, before it launched me like a catapult. I did take a deer from a different stand the next day, but it was a bigger tree and a safer stand situation.

Today, I still hunt from a treestand on occasion, especially when I am bowhunting. I wear a body harness vest and I do take every precaution I can think of, but I’m far from being an expert. I asked archery expert Joe Famiglietti of Lancaster, N.Y., for some tips on treestand safety and here’s a few he came up with:

• Installing a hang-on treestand can be dangerous. It’s a good idea to have a friend assist. Famiglietti prefers stands like Lone Wolf or Millennium because both have straps or chains that are installed on the tree first. Hooks are attached that allow you to put the treestand in position, giving you hands-free access to securing the stand properly. If you are using an old stand, check for loose fasteners and cable wear. He replaces cables every two seasons. Before he puts a stand into the air, he’ll attached the stand at ground level first to make sure there are no defects or problems – rather than finding out 20 feet in the air.

• When installing a stand, use a fall restraint certified to Treestand Manufacturers Association (TMA) standards such as a vest or safety harness. Attach yourself to the tree during installation. Joe prefers a climbing strap that attaches to my safety harness and wraps around the tree at waist level. Again, it keeps both of his hands free for attaching the treestand. The tether of the vest or safety harness must be attached to a strap or rope device that is slightly above you and is moving up the tree as you climb. Be sure the tether is attached above you and do not rely solely on the climbing strap. Never climb carrying the stand. Follow manufacturer instructions. Joe also adds a ratchet strap, even if it’s not recommended by the maker.

• Don’t place stands on dead trees or rely on tree branches for support. Don’t step on tree branches – they can break.

• Several companies now offer a rope device that can be installed from the treestand down to the ground. The Hunter Safety Systems company offers such a device which they call their Lifeline System. This rope has a positive-stop slip knot that slides up and down the rope. This allows you to attach the tether to the slip knot, offering protection from ground level until you get into the tree. When leaving the stand, the tether is attached to the slip knot to assure a safe climb down to ground level. Statistics show the majority of treestand accidents occur while getting into or getting out of the treestand, as opposed to falling from the stand while hunting.

• In the event of a fall and you find yourself suspended by your safety harness, do not panic. You must have an escape plan to get yourself out of the harness and safely to the ground. It is recommended you have a suspension relief device on you which helps to relieve the load on the lower extremities if suspended and keeps proper circulation in the legs while you figure out how to get out of this situation and back on the ground. Some hunters carry an extra tree step with them which can be attached to the tree, allowing the suspended hunter to step onto it rather than hanging suspended.

Other recommendations are to carry a cell phone and inform someone of your hunting location. Consider carrying a signal device such as a loud whistle. Avoid getting into a treestand under adverse weather conditions where ice and snow may accumulate and create unsafe climbing conditions. Never use alcohol or drugs prior to or during hunting. Use a rope to pull your bow or gun up rather than holding onto your weapon while climbing. Be sure guns are not loaded when pulling them up or down from the stand. Also, treestand hunting is not for everyone and consideration should be given to use of a ground blind. I have taken many deer in a well-concealed pop-up blind and also find them more comfortable and relaxing to hunt out of. There are several companies offering treestand safety tips on their internet sites. Hunter Safety Systems (www.huntersafetysystems.com) offers free instructional videos for viewing on the safe use of safety harnesses, climbing straps other climbing devices.

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