Have you? If not, I highly recommend against it.
Here’s my quick story…
I was 18 years old and had become a below-average archery deer hunter. I was completely self-taught; my equipment was average and most of the stands I used were homemade contraptions I now affectionately refer to as “death traps.” One of those death traps err, stands, was on the flat portion created when lightning struck and split an oak tree. It was 14 feet off of the ground and was in an ideal location to cover three different trails.
A basket-racked 6-point came running to my grunt call the second time I sat there. I didn’t see him until he was almost on top of me because it had been raining just enough to quiet the forest floor. I drew my bow, waited for him to settle down and stop, and made a perfect shot through both lungs, then watched him expire less than 50 yards away.
I hurriedly let my bow down using a rope, disconnected my safety belt (there was no such creature as a full-body harness in those days) and began to turn toward the ladder I had used to climb the tree.
And that is when things went horribly wrong.
My foot slipped on the wet bark and down I went. First I struck my side and underarm on the horizontal portion of the tree where I had previously been standing. After bouncing off, I reached for the ladder—got it—and rode it all the way down. It wasn’t perfect and I landed on my side hard enough to knock the wind out of me.
As I laid there, all I could think of was “My dad’s gonna kill me for getting hurt while hunting.”
I took quick inventory of my injuries, felt every part of my body and the only pain was where I had hit the tree and from the landing. I stood up slowly and brushed myself off while thinking, “That was really stupid.” Then, I went to claim my prize—my first buck with a bow.
I was foolish and really, really lucky. I escaped with nothing more than some nasty bruises. Fortunately, I had already quit the football team because it interfered too much with my hunting! However, every year there are many people who are not so lucky.
I like to think I am older and a great deal wiser now. I go through a checklist each time I’m up in the air, before and during any climbs. Here are my safety rules for tree stand hunting.
Safety Rules for Tree Stand Hunting
- Always have three points of contact whenever you are climbing up, down or in a tree. Never let go or move unless you can make certain that all three are solid. Your safety belt counts as one.
- Always wear a full body harness when climbing to, and sitting in, a tree stand. Your stand is not the place to put on your safety harness. That should be done from the ground.
- Check your gun/bow—at least twice—before lowering it to the opposite side of the tree or stand that you will be descending.
- Hunting is not worth dying for.
That last one is really important.
If I’ve forgotten my safety harness or haul rope, I will either hunt from the ground or go back for them. After I shoot, I tell myself to calmly go over my mental checklist and SLOWLY and SAFELY climb down. I don’t hunt from anything but a Treestand Manufacturer’s Association-approved, solid stand that has been carefully inspected before the season, whether homemade or commercially bought.
You are more important to somebody than any trophy animal could ever be. Follow my advice and learn from other’s mistakes. Making your own can be extremely painful, permanently maiming or even deadly.
How do you stay safe when you’re tree stand hunting? Share in the comment section.