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Safe In A Deer Tree Stand
Since wearing a tree stand safety harness to hunt from a tree stand is not mandatory, Barta said many hunters are reluctant to do it voluntarily.
“I’ve heard all the excuses for not wearing a safety harness,” Barta said. “‘They’re not comfortable. They get in the way. It takes extra time to put them on.’ First of all, what’s your life worth compared to these excuses? And second, with the safety harnesses that are on the market today, none of these excuses are accurate any more.
“There’s nothing you can do in a tree stand without a safety harness on that you can’t do with one on except fall.”
But wearing a safety harness is not a bulletproof vest when it comes to safe tree stand hunting. Making sure your deer tree stands are installed correctly and that you are using them properly is also critical, Bentz, Barta and Dougherty agreed.
“Tree stand safety is a lot more than just wearing a harness,” Dougherty said. “If your harness comes into play, that means something else has already gone wrong.”
Following are a few easy measures – some of which are part of the Project STAND training course curriculum you can take this season to make your tree stand hunts safer:
If you attach your tree stand safety harness to the tree from the time you leave the ground until you come back down, then the only way you can fall is if your safety harness malfunctions. For hunters using climbing stands, this means simply sliding your tree tether up and down the trunk as you scale the tree in each direction.
Hunters climbing stick ladders or with screw-in/strap-on steps should include a lifeline as part of their setup. A lifeline is a safety rope strong enough to support more than a hunter’s weight that extends from the ground up above the deer tree stand. Tie one end of the rope above your head while you’re standing on the mounted tree stand’s platform and then tie the other end down near the ground. If your stand is hanging in a tree loaded with branches, weave the lifeline up through those branches along the same path you take to climb the tree.
Get a short length of rope that’s thinner than the lifeline, but still capable of supporting more than your weight, and connect it to the lifeline by tying a Prussic knot. You tie the Prussic knot by first tying your rope to make it a loop. Wrap the loop around the lifeline, pushing the knotted end underneath the opposing looped end and pulling the knotted end tight. Now the rope is grasping the lifeline.
Next, spread the two strands of the rope curled around the lifeline and wrap the knotted end a second time, passing it between the spread strands and underneath the opposing loop. When the knotted end is pulled tight, there should be a barrel-shaped stack of four curls of rope gripping the lifeline, with the knotted loop dangling below.
Hook a carabiner to your safety harness and to the knotted loop when you’re on the ground. The Prussic knot will slide up and down the lifeline with easy pressure. Should you fall, however, the Prussic knot will cinch tight on the lifeline, keeping you from hitting the ground.
The Bigger the Better
When choosing a hang-on tree stand or climbing stand, get the one with the biggest platform your bank account and your back can afford. The bigger the platform, the more foot room you have and the less chance there is of stepping off an edge.
There are deer tree stands on the market now with platforms measuring 25 inches wide by 34 inches deep. Would you rather be standing on that platform 20 feet in the air, or one that’s 14 inches wide by 17 inches deep?
Sure, the smaller stand is probably going to be lighter to haul to your hunting spot. But if you fall out of it while you’re turning around to take a shot at a deer, the benefit it afforded is suddenly negated.
Tie the Knot
If you hunt from a climbing stand, then you’re working with two pieces of equipment – a platform and a climbing aid, which might or might not double as the tree stand’s seat. When you set up these two sections at ground level, tie them together with a length of rope or strap that’s no longer than the distance from your hip to your feet.
By attaching the tree stand sections in this fashion, you’re making sure that you can always reach the platform, should it slip out from under your feet. One deer hunter was testing out a new deer tree stand behind his buddy’s house one year and lost control of the platform when he put his weight on the climbing aid. He hadn’t connected the two sections of the tree stand and his buddy had quite a laugh when he called out for him to come rescue me with a ladder.
This might seem like an extremely elementary tip, but make sure your climbing stand or hanging stand’s platform is level. Some hunters are amazed at how often they climb into a hunting outfitter’s or buddy’s tree stand and quickly find themselves listing to one side. A tree stand that leans left or right will put you off balance.
Never place a deer tree stand so that you’re leaning forward once you’re in it. That setup will have gravity pulling you toward the front edge. Beyond that edge, of course, is nothing but air. A tree stand that leans slightly back toward the tree is OK, and is actually quite comfortable.
Tighten it Down
One of the quickest ways to lose your balance climbing a stick ladder to a hanging stand, or while standing on a platform, is to have either piece of equipment shift from side to side because it’s not tightly fastened to the tree. With many of the fastening systems manufacturers provide, such as chains, it’s nearly impossible to actually get a stand or ladder completely tight to the tree – especially once it’s carrying your weight.
Use a ratchet strap at the top of the stick ladder and/or on the stand’s platform and crank it tight to instantly and easily eliminate any movement.
One of the most accident-prone points of a tree stand hunt is when the hunter is transitioning from a climbing device to the tree stand platform.
“They lose their balance or their grip and then they fall,” Barta said.
People who use stick ladders or screw-in/strap-on steps to access hanging stands should extend their climbing devices above the stand platform by the height of the individual hunter. By doing so, the hunter can step down onto the platform, rather than swing a leg up onto it from below.
“I’ve seen a lot of hunters put up tree stands where they hang the stand above or even with the end of their climbing stick,” Barta said. “To get into it, they have to stand on the top rung and then hug the tree. You have to have hand holds above the platform to get in and out safely.”
Know Your Limits
If climbing a stick ladder to a hang-on stand or using a climbing stand is difficult for you, you probably shouldn’t be hunting from those types of tree stands, Bentz said.
“Hunters should know what they are capable of and not try to exceed that ability,” she said. “A lot of tree stand accidents involve hunters in their late 40s and 50s, who aren’t able to do the things they could in their 20s.”
Have a Plan B
When you scout an area to hunt, don’t just look for good tree stand locations. Plan for ground hunts as well, in case the weather is no good for a tree stand hunt the day you head afield. High winds, rain, snow and ice are not ideal for climbing into a tree.
“If you only plan on hunting from a tree stand, then you’re going to be less likely to abandon that plan, even if conditions say you shouldn’t be in a tree,” Bentz said. “That’s when accidents happen.”
Don’t become a statistic this season. Wear a full-body tree stand safety harness and think about safety each time you climb a tree to hunt. If nothing else, your family will thank you for it.