If you hang out with many deer hunters for any length of time, you will eventually hear the tree stand horror stories, most of which, sadly, are entirely true. You will also probably know at least one hunter who has had a tree stand-related accident.
A tree stand is simply defined as an elevated platform used for hunting deer, and prior to the early 1980s most of those were just crude platforms and boards nailed into a suitable tree – these so-called “permanent” stands were dangerous, and killed and injured trees just as effectively as they killed and injured hunters. Over the years, tree stands have gotten lighter and safer, while fall-restraint systems, aka full-body harnesses, have become more common and effective at protecting hunters.
In Ohio, there is no requirement to report tree stand-related accidents, so it is hard to determine exactly how common they are, but it is likely much higher than people realize – and it seems that the number of tree stand accidents has increased even while the numbers of hunters have decreased. However, it is generally accepted that one-in-three hunters will fall at some point during their hunting years.
According to some studies, half of falls occurred while on the stand, or entering and exiting the stand, while the other half occurred while climbing or descending the tree, and while one-in-three hunters will fall, about one-in-100 frequent tree stand users will be killed or permanently injured – that’s too high, especially for something that is easily prevented.
There are three common types of tree stands: climbing stands, hang-on stands, and ladder stands. The ladder is about what it sounds like – a ladder that leans up against the tree with a seating platform at the top. The hang-on stand is attached to the tree and accessed via a ladder or steps attached to the tree, while the climber normally consists of two sections (the seat and foot platform) and is “ratcheted” up into the tree by the hunter.
About 10 years ago I gave up on climbers and hang-on stands, mainly because I no longer cared to get that high off of the ground, and big deer just ceased being that important to me. The closest call that I ever had with a tree stand was with an old style climbing stand when the bottom portion dropped away from the top portion leaving me with a little dilemma. However, I was able to recover the bottom portion of the stand, secure it with a stronger knot, and continue the hunt.
Anymore when I do go into a tree, which is rarely, it is with a ladder stand – and not a tall one – and I always use a full body harness.
You owe it to the people who care for you to be safe; know your equipment, your tree stand and your full-body harness, and follow all of the instructions and warnings. Check everything out closely before using – looking for signs of wear, and loose or missing parts. Practice using your stand at ground level, and then finally select your tree carefully; use a live tree without dead branches, and beware our dead and dying ash trees!
Always use a haul line to raise and lower your hunting equipment. Make sure firearms are unloaded before attaching them to the haul line; attach the line to the sling so that the muzzle of the gun points towards the ground and not at you or someone else, then check the muzzle for obstructions once you get it up into the tree. Carry your cell phone or a two-way radio on your person, not in a separate pack. As always, plan your hunt, and hunt your plan; make sure that someone knows exactly where you are and when you plan on returning. Finally, consider using a ground blind.
If you do go aloft, and you find yourself falling from your tree stand, remember the 3Rs – Recover, Relief and Rescue. Attempt to recover by returning to your stand. If you cannot recover, provide relief to your legs by exercising them or using a suspension relief device until help arrives (even with a full-body harness you can only hang so long before permanent damage occurs to your body). Then call for help immediately – rescue. Notice that none of this applies if you aren’t wearing a full-body harness; so wear that harness.
Time is precious and we are often rushed and in a hurry to get out into the woods; don’t let haste make you a statistic – take your time and don’t take shortcuts.
Tell yourself this every single time you go hunting: “There is no deer worth dying for.”
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and a long-time Ohio Hunter Education Instructor. He can be contacted weekdays at the Meigs SWCD at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org