Tree stand safety begins now
It was approaching noon when a pair of white-tailed does darted out of a treeline and pranced across the snow-swept ag field, oblivious to our task just 100 yards away. Four of us had gathered at the farm where we deer hunt to take down our tree stands for the year.
My friend Alex was 20 feet up in a hickory tree undoing a ratchet strap on a hang-on tree stand when I told him to look to the south – where the deer had entered the field.
“Man, where were they when we needed them,” I joked as the deer headed across the field to a neighboring wood lot.
We generally hunt through the end of the late archery season then try to pick a decent day in January to remove all of our hang-on stands. Since we have a group of friends hunting the farm, we work together to hang a couple dozen stands each year so we all have several options – regardless of which way the wind is blowing – on any particular day of hunting.
The recent break in the Arctic-like weather we enjoyed early in the month provided us with some relatively mild, sunny days, which were perfect for the task at hand.
Some hunters leave their tree stands up for the entire year, making visual inspections of their gear just prior to the start of the season. We like to take them down each year, not only to reduce weather-related damage, but also so we can inspect each stand up close, make any necessary repairs or “tweaks,” then re-hang the stands in July and August in preparation for the upcoming seasons. It’s a big job, but one that’s worth doing.
A conversation I had earlier this month with a professional angler at the Ultimate Fishing Show in Novi reaffirmed, with me at least, that we’re doing the right thing.
Tommy Skarlis is a crappie and walleye professional fishing champion and a world-record holder. His talent on the water is unquestionable, but he’s not just one-dimensional. In the fall, he also loves to hunt whitetails (and other species) in his native Iowa. Unfortunately, two seasons ago, tragedy struck.
He’d climbed into his tree stand and was preparing to attach his safety strap when both ratchet straps, which were securing his stand to the tree, snapped. He tumbled 20 feet to the ground, landed on his head and broke his neck.
Relying on a strong faith in God, talented surgeons, and grueling rehabilitation, Tommy is back in the saddle. Despite lingering pain and restricted motion due to plates and screws that were added to his spine, he’s back on the water and back on the seminar circuit, appearing at shows and fishing in pro tournaments. In fact, he returned to action in top form as he and his partner won a Walleye Anglers Trail tournament early last year on the Mississippi River.
“The doctor came in one day (while he was still in the hospital), looked at me and said there was no medical reason that I wasn’t paralyzed or worse,” Tommy said. He attributes his miraculous recovery to his strong faith.
His story resonated with me while we were removing our stands and reaffirmed our mission that day. You can’t be too careful when recreating 20 feet above the ground. Man-made devices like tree stands and ratchet straps have limited lifespans and need, at times, to be repaired or replaced. They will fail.
Take the time to remove your stands and inspect all the moving and stationary parts for excessive or unsafe wear and tear. If it can’t be repaired to superior quality then replace it. There isn’t a deer in the woods worth taking a chance for when your health, and possibly life, depends on it.
Tree stand safety begins now.