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Tree stand safety should take center stage

September 17, 2006|by BILL ANDERSON

Many years ago I was invited to a goose hunt on Maryland's Eastern Shore and shared the pit blind with an emergency room doctor from Easton. The doc was also an avid deer hunter and we discussed great bucks that are taken each fall from the fields of Kent and Queen Anne's Counties. He also mentioned that during the fall, many of the patients he would see in the emergency room would be victims of tree stand accidents, adding that many of the accidents were life changing for the victims.

It used to be that the main safety issue for deer hunters was the chance of accidental shootings. That has changed a great deal over the years, and it's probably the result of the mandatory use of fluorescent orange by firearms hunters and hunter safety classes.

But many deer hunters seem surprised to learn that the top safety issue for deer hunters is tree stand safety. Most of us hunt from elevated stands now and the advantages are many. The hunter can see better, he is above the line of sight for the deer and it is harder for the deer to detect the hunter's scent in some cases.

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But the other side of the coin is that there are many opportunities for severe accidents. A fall from 15 feet or higher often leaves the hunter with severe spinal injuries, broken limbs, or can even result in death.

The design and manufacturing of treestands has become a huge business in the U.S. and new technologies have made the stands better and safer than ever before. The key is to follow the manufacturer recommendations and to apply some basic safety techniques when using tree stands.

Most hunters are aware of the basic issues associated with tree stand hunting, but may not be aware that the improper use of safety belts can also be particularly dangerous. The slip belt that goes around the midsection can literally strangle a hunter if the belt is placed around the waist and tightens under the ribcage. The dangling hunter is unable to breathe.

This is why multipoint harnesses are recommended instead of a single safety belt. The very best harness is the type that rock climber's use, which has straps that go around the legs, waist and chest. If the hunter falls wearing this type of harness, he will remain upright and his weight will be supported at many points in the harness.

Some other things to keep in mind:

The majority of falls occur while climbing up to or down from the stand. If possible, wear a safety belt at this time and while in the stand.

A hunter should always tell a friend or family member where he will be hunting and when he plans to return. If something happens, they will know where to look for him.

Never climb with a gun or bow in hand. Always use a pull rope.

Consider the use of tie-on ladders instead of screw-in steps. If screw-in steps are used, make sure the step is in to its maximum depth. The tie-on ladders are really the way to go.

Do not sleep in the tree stand. This is a tough one, particularly after getting up early and the nice winter sun starts to warm up the day. If you start getting sleepy (and who doesn't?), the experts recommend climbing down for a few minutes and taking a break.

Some of us have been known to tie ourselves into the seat when feeling really sleepy, but the recommended safety approach is to climb down and take a sleepy break.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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