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August 12, 2022

By Lisa Price

Wearing a safety belt whenever you leave the ground is the No. 1 way to prevent a tree stand accident. But that is far from a catch-all, no pun intended. Based on interviews with manufacturers' reps, guides, hunters and even cameramen, I've come up with many tips for tree stand safety. Some of the tips involve you spending money, less than $100, to ensure a safe hunting season. Maybe you think you don't want to spend the money, but you have to consider the alternatives.

"The best advice I can offer hunters is to invest in a good safety harness," said M.R. James, former editor of Bowhunter magazine. "They're not cheap but don't cost as much as a wheelchair or coffin."

Example A - Check Your Equipment

I had been away on a hunting trip, and my hunting buddy Billy had used my climber while I was gone. I had actually broken two rules:

1. I hadn't gone over the use of the stand with Billy, and he'd removed the connecting rope because it seemed to be in the way when he put the stand on the tree. He thought the rope was there to keep the stand together when packing it in.

2. I hadn't checked the stand over before using it (I became a tree hugger, by the way).

"Some of the most common mistakes include not using the product correctly most people never read the instructions nor do they realize that tree stands operate differently and have unique safety equipment," said John Louk. "You should inspect the stand before each use, and never loan the stand to someone else without giving them the proper instructions on how to use the product." Ouch! How would I have felt if my hunting buddy Billy had been injured using my stand? I guess I could have told his wife and kids that I was in a hurry that day.

James suggested that hunters take a little warm-up period before descending. "People forget how cold, wait-stiffened muscles don't function as well as they should," he said. "It's downright dumb to sit for hours, then stand up and immediately start to come down."

Alabama hunter Tes Jolly (Jolly's Outdoor Visions) was alert enough to save herself from a possible tree stand accident. "I was climbing down out of a fixed-position stand and noticed that two ends of the ratchet strap buckle on the top section were not firmly seated together," she said. "I would've fallen a long way if my weight had caused them to unclasp. Now, I regularly check connections."

Use A Safety Belt/Harness Whenever Leaving The Ground

"Since my incident I have acquired a climbing belt, which I always use when hanging stands," according to cameraman Devine. "I wish I hadn't been so stubborn in my early years since it actually aids the hanging of stands because it leaves both hands free too bad it took a fall to get a clue."

Did you know that 70 percent of falls from tree stands happen while the hunter is climbing up or down, and stepping to or from the stand? "The worst mistake made by people in tree stands is failing to strap themselves in," said James. "The next is failing to realize how vulnerable they are before they secure their belt or harness and after they take it off to climb down."

What can we do about this? It's easy to use a climbing belt with a stand. But I think we'd all agree that it's a royal pain in the butt to go up a set of climbing steps while hoisting a safety belt up ahead of our progress, loosening its base to get around the steps, tightening it on the tree. Which pain in the butt do you want? The extra hassle one, or the landing hard on it one? Full-body harnesses have D-rings so that they can be used lineman-style while climbing; and Ol' Man has a chest harness, which has the D-rings. "Convenience is very important when it comes to safety equipment, however, compromising is never correct," said John Louk of Ol' Man. "Practice using the safety devices before the hunt, which is the most effective way to build confidence and develop good habits."

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Practice Pays

I have a fixed-position stand hanging over my yard so that I can practice shooting at targets. Yes, it's hot in the summer and yes, it feels like overkill when I put my body harness on over my T-shirt and shorts and then inch its tail over the step sections. The first time bordered on ridiculous. But it is now ridiculously easy.

Belts versus chest harnesses or full-body harness? "I've used both extensively, and now favor a harness over a belt," James said." I know several bowhunters who have been injured by belts bruised midsections, broken ribs when they fell." If you use a belt, wear it cinched tightly just below your arms, rather than around your waist.

Don't forego using a chest or body harness because you feel they take too much fumbling in the dark, or that there are too many straps interfering with movement. Use the type with the lanyard accessible high on the shoulders, and put the harness on under your outer layer of clothes before heading out. Still, in the tree, keep your tether short.

We also can lessen the climbing and descending dangers by warming up first, and making sure our hands are free. Just being aware that this is a dangerous part of the process helps. Plus, we can easily take steps to lessen the danger of that move from steps to the tree.

Extra Tails

You can buy extra ends of safety belts or harnesses and leave them attached to the tree above your stand. There is still a critical moment when you must unhook and re-hook, but that movement is a lot safer if it doesn't involve wrapping the tail of the safety belt around the tree first. "I attach my safety line before stepping in and don't take it off until I step out," said Dave Samuel. "If the safety line won't reach for me to step off the stand when I depart, then I re-attach it to something else or even the stand itself."

Example B - Be Aware Of Conditions And Adapt

Ray Miller, a registered Maine guide, runs a bear and deer hunting business just a dozen miles from the Quebec border. He knows that as early as October, he can expect snow and freezing rain. "Safety belts are installed when we put up the tree stand and left there for clients," Miller said. "We also put non-skid material on the steps and platform."

Choosing the right type of tree also is very important. "Smooth-barked trees, such as maple and aspen, are terrible choices for those using climbing stands," according to Fred Gaumnitz of API. "Many people go in and choose a tree in the dark, which is not wise," Gaumnitz said. "Whether you're using a climber or a fixed stand, you have to be extra careful when there's moisture, or freezing conditions."

Extra Steps Eliminate Mis-Steps

We've all read and heard all the talk about tree stand safety. We've all heard all the talk about seat belt safety while driving, too, although we sometimes don't use them because we're just running to the store, or they're too uncomfortable. "People neglect to wear their safety harness because they don't think they're going to fall in that period of time," Gaumnitz said. "Whether it's while they're using steps or hanging a stand." Gaumnitz was unpleasantly surprised while giving a tree stand seminar in Corinth, MS last year. "There were 500 people at the seminar, and when I asked how many had fallen out of a tree, about 100 held up their hands," Gaumnitz recalled. "Thirty-seven of them were in wheelchairs."

That informal survey mirrors the figures from the Deer & Deer Hunting surveys. And in both cases, remember: Only the survivors have contributed those numbers.

Originally published August 21, 2018. Lisa Price is a bowhunter, dog trainer and freelance journalist who enjoys all aspects of the outdoors and has contributed articles for Guide Outdoors for more than 10 years.

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