Sometime this hunting season, a hunter will fall out of a tree stand. Perhaps that hunter will survive, perhaps not. Most assuredly, he or she will suffer injuries. These accidents are avoidable with the proper safety precautions.
“When you leave the ground you need to be wearing a full body harness which is connected to a tree belt or tree stand safety line,” said Lt. Andy Hagerty of the DNR Division of Law Enforcement. “It is important to stay connected from the time you leave the ground until you return to the ground.”
Of the 159 hunting accident reports filed by DNR Law Enforcement over the past five years, 96 involved falls from tree stands. Over 70% of the victims were not wearing any form of fall arrest device or full-body harness, which could have prevented serious injuries.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service offers the following tree stand safety tips to hunters:
Before the hunt
- Know your equipment.
- Read and understand manufacturer’s instructions and warnings before using your tree stand and full-body harness (FBH).
- Check stands and climbing aids (including straps and chains) every season and before each use for signs of wear, fatigue, cracks, and loose or missing nuts and bolts. Replace as necessary. It is recommended to remove stands after the season ends. (See Deer Regulations for laws for tree stands on public lands.)
- Practice at ground level with your tree stand and FBH with another person present.
- Learn how to properly use your FBH with a suspension release device.
- Select the right tree for your stand.
- Find a healthy, straight tree that is the right size for your tree stand.
- Check the tree for insect nests and animal dens.
- Avoid using climbing stands on smooth-barked trees, especially during icy or wet conditions.
- Clear debris from the base of the tree to minimize injury from a fall and to ensure a safe base if using a ladder stand.
During the hunt
- Wear a FBH. Simply owning a FBH does not make you safe. You must wear it.
- Make sure your FBH is attached to the tree as soon as you begin to climb.
- For an additional level of safety, use a tree stand safety rope.
- In the case of ladder stands, attach the FBH before securing the platform to the tree or stepping onto it.
- When climbing a ladder, keep three points of contact with the ladder at all times. Both hands and a foot or both of your feet and one hand should be used to support your body weight when using a ladder.
- Always be sure to use a supplied tether between the base and seat portion of the stand to connect the two sections.
- When using a platform stand, climb higher than the stand and then step down onto the platform. Slowly put your weight onto your stand to be sure of your balance.
- Use boots with non-slip soles to avoid slipping, especially in wet weather.
In the stand
- Properly adjust your FBH. Whether standing or sitting, keep the tether-line distance between you and the tree as short as possible with no slack in the tether while in a seated position. This will minimize the distance in the case of a fall.
- Use a haul line. Always raise and lower your firearm, bow, or other equipment with a haul line.
- Make sure firearms have the muzzle pointed down, are unloaded, with the action open, and with the safety on, before attaching haul line near trigger or trigger guard.
- Make sure broadheads are covered before raising or lowering a bow with a haul line.
- If you fall, stay calm. By planning ahead, you can avoid additional problems.
- Have emergency equipment, such as a knife, cell phone, flashlight, and/or whistle on your person.
- Practice the three Rs: recover, relief, and rescue. Attempt to recover and return to your stand. If this is not possible, exercise your legs by pushing against the tree, using another form of motion or your suspension relief device until help arrives.
- Use a hunt plan. Let someone know where you are hunting and when you will return.
The best tip of all?
Don’t take chances and stay connected!