Cruising for a fall without safety

Deer hunters should practice setting up and getting into tree stands at waist level before attempting to place one 20 feet off the ground.

Across North Carolina this month, a lot of hunters will climb into portable tree stands and remove a lot of animals from the Tar Heel state’s deer herd. However, a few of them will wind up flat on their backs or crumpled on their sides, victims of accidents that are often just as lethal as a 29-inch carbon arrow tipped with a razor-sharp broadhead.

During the 2004-05 hunting season, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reported 26 accidents involving hunters who fell from tree stands — including three fatalities.

None of the hunters who died were wearing safety or restraint systems. One apparently fell while climbing into his stand, one fell because of gun recoil after shooting at a deer, and one fell because some of the straps attaching his stand to the tree were in dismal condition and broke under pressure, plummeting him — and his stand — to the ground.

The WRC estimates a full two-thirds of hunters who will climb into tree stands this fall won’t wear any kind of safety belt or harness — a staggering statistic considering the potential for falls and the relatively low price of most restraint systems. And other states place at 50 or above the percentage of falls that occur while climbing a tree or getting into a stand.

I have used a safety belt for the past 25 years but readily admit my two near-misses with falls have occurred while climbing out of my stands — both times descending a sturdy ladder, once from a box blind, once from a ladder stand. Fortunately, I held onto the ladder long enough after one slip to catch myself and regain my footing. The other time, I was relatively close to the ground and able to control my fall enough to land without injury.

But one permanent stand from which I hunted last season required what to me was an extremely frightening climb up screw-in steps to the 20-foot level.

It cured me of free-climbing; I used a belt every time I went up, and I even used a rope to raise and lower my rifle to the stand instead of slipping my head through the sling and climbing with it on my back.

State wildlife departments and tree-stand manufacturers routinely publish tips for tree-stand safety. Some of the highlights include:

• Wear a safety harness at all times, climbing, hunting and descending;

• Maintain equipment. Check before each hunting season and replace chains, straps or supports that appear worn;

• Always use a rope to haul equipment — including your weapon — into and out of your stand;

• Don’t hang a tree stand at a dead tree;

• Read and completely understand the instruction manual when assembling a stand for the first time;

• Practice “hanging” a portable or climbing stand just off the ground several times before actually setting one at the elevation you plan to hunt. This familiarizes you with the proper procedure and gives you a chance to survive any mistake you might make;

• Once you have your stand in position, try to make sure you have enough strap-on or screw-in steps so you’re not climbing up into the stand, but instead, stepping down into it. It’s at the end of a climb that a hunter is most likely to fall; it’s better to be stepping down onto the platform of a stand than struggling to pull up into it.

• Don’t wear rings or any other jewelry on your hands. The potential for trouble if a ring, bracelet or wristwatch becomes caught on a limb or piece of equipment is much greater than the chewing-out you’ll get from your wife when you return home with your ring finger unadorned;

• Carry a small pack that includes a pair of vise-grip pliers, some sort of a Leatherman-style stool, a small hand saw or pruning shears for cutting limbs and brush, plus a whistle or cell phone to call for help in case an accident occurs. Also include a few wing nuts or bolts that fit the stand in case you lose one while trying to put it together.

Safety belts offer a measure of protection, but harnesses that connect to the shoulders or across the middle of the back are better, and restraint systems that connect to your belt or run between your legs are the most complete.

Other tree-stand basics include the following:

• Fixed-position stands can go almost anywhere and fit on almost any tree, but hunters need to be more careful when hanging and climbing into them than other types of stands. They are the most basic of stands, preferred by bow hunters for their ease of assembly, their ease of movement, and quietness. The drawback? They’re not as comfortable as some stands because of limitations on the size and shape of the seat and platform.

• Ladder stands — homemade or manufactured — are perfect for situations when a hunter is at the edge of a field, logging road or food plot, and they’re easier for older or less agile and mobile hunters to use. Many now come with shooting rails. The drawback? You can only get so high above the ground.

• Climbing stands are even better than fixed-position stands for hunters who need to be able to change areas without purchasing multiple stands.

Climbers are made for hunters to sit facing or away from the tree trunk — facing has its advantages for rifle hunters because they can brace a rifle against the trunk of the tree for a steadier aim; facing away is more suited for archery hunters who often need to stand to draw and shoot. They’re generally more comfortable than fixed-position stands. The drawback? You have to hang them on “pole timber.” They can’t climb through limbs.

• Tripods are manufactured stands that can be disassembled and moved from place to place, but not as easily as climbing stands. But they generally provide a more solid seat and shooting platform and can be set up no trees are big enough to hold a traditional fixed-platform, ladder or climbing stand.

A perfect example would be a young cutover where the tallest growth is barely 5- or 6-feet tall. A 10-foot tripod will put a hunter above everything and gives a great view.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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