Tree Stand Safety
Tree stands are incredibly valuable tools in a hunter's arsenal. Whether you are hunting deer, elk or bear, an elevated position often provides a good opportunity to take a high-percentage shot. By being above an animal's natural sightline, your quarry is less likely to spot you as it moves into range. However, each year, many hunters attain serious, life-threatening injuries when using tree stands. A 1993 survey by "Deer and Deer Hunter Magazine," suggests that as many as one out of three hunters will fall from a stand at some point in their hunting lives. (Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine, 1993) These injuries are unfortunate for the suffering they cause, but also because they are very easy to prevent. By adopting a handful of common sense safety practices, you will increase your chances of staying safe while using a tree stand.
Use a Safety Harness
While a safety harness provides no guarantee of safety, research shows that it drastically reduces your risk of serious injury. A 2004 review of tree stand related injuries by Metz et al, published in the "Southern Medical Journal," found that only 4 percent of those injured were using a safety belt. (Metz, Kross, Abt, Bankey, & Koniaris, 2004) Do not wait until reaching the stand to use a safety belt - many falls occur while hunters are climbing up or down from their stands. Most modern harnesses feature an attachment that wraps around the tree and slides up or down while you are climbing. If you fall, the strap grips the tree tightly and keeps you from hitting the ground. Do not substitute a rope for your safety belt; safety belts are not expensive and your life is irreplaceable.
Hoist, Rather Than Carry, Your Gear
Never attempt to carry your gear while ascending or descending a tree. Use a strap or high-quality rope to hoist your gear into the stand once you can sit safely on the platform. While backpacks allow you to use both hands freely, the extra weight makes climbing more difficult, so use your rope to hoist them as well. If you are climbing in the dark, use a hands-free device or headlamp attachment to illuminate your path up the tree. Always make sure that your firearm is unloaded and you have engaged the safety before raising or lowering it. If you hunt with a bow, use covers for your broad heads while hoisting your gear.
Enter and Exit the Stand Safely
Entering and exiting the stand safely greatly reduces the risk of injury. Always climb higher than the stand, and step down into it. When exiting the stand, you must climb up the tree until completely clear of the stand, then descend to the ground. Place ladders or screw-in steps on the opposite side of the tree from the stand to allow safer entrance and exit. If you use screw-in steps to access your stand, be sure that you inspect them regularly for signs of fatigue or impending failure.
Even on the ground, alcohol and firearms are a combination that courts disaster. The potential for danger only increases when the hunter is standing precariously on a stand suspended 15 feet from the ground. Metz and his colleagues found that alcohol was involved in about 10 percent of the accidents in their 2004 study, and two of the three fatalities. (Metz, Kross, Abt, Bankey, & Koniaris, 2004) Simply put, leave the alcohol at home.
Only Climb Healthy Trees
Never climb dead or dying trees; if a tree has large, dead branches it is not suitable for climbing. While it is possible that the entire tree will fall over, the biggest danger comes from falling limbs. Always inspect trees - even those you climbed last season -- for large hollows or patches missing bark. Only climb trees that are at least 8- to 10-inches in diameter, and opt for hardwoods rather than pines whenever possible.
Prepare for Recoil
The recoil generated by a high-powered rifle can knock a hunter off balance - you must use proper technique when firing a shot from a tree stand. If possible, sit in your stand, which will make falls less likely to occur. If you must stand, be sure to spread your feet wider than your shoulders and hold the rifle firmly against your shoulder.