Many readers have already contacted us with their own tales of misfortune after reading Les Davenport’s “The Hanging Tree” article in the last issue of D&DH.
In that piece, Davenport detailed the horrifying experience of John Walter, a muzzleloading hunter who nearly died after falling in his climbing tree stand last December.
What amazes me most is that every time I’m with a group of deer hunters and the conversation turns to tree-stand falls, it seems everyone has a story of their own. That’s not only scary … it reinforces the statistic that our tree-stand safety surveys uncovered more than 15 years ago: At least one in three hunters will fall from a tree at some point in their life.
Fall prevention will always be our No. 1 concern. However, it’s equally as important to plan for the unthinkable. What if something did happen? Are you prepared? You better be, otherwise a somewhat serious incident can quickly turn into a tragedy.
No one ever wants to think about that, but we must if we are to adhere to the “always ready” motto so many of us wear like a badge of honor.
The following five-piece emergency kit is something I’ve assembled for my own hunting excursions. I’m no saint, as I’ve gone afield without one or two of them at times. However, after watching a coworker fall 20+ feet from a tree stand recently (amazingly, he walked away from it unhurt), I’ve renewed my vow to never leave home without any of these potential lifesavers.
1. Cell phone. It’s not enough just to carry it with you; it needs to work, and you need to have it handy. If you hunt in a remote area with poor cell coverage, buy a long-range two-way radio and bring that, too. Also, get in the habit of carrying the phone or radio in an upper breast pocket — one that has a snap or Velcro closure, so if you fall, it won’t fall to the ground.
2. Pea-style whistle. In Davenport’s article, he graphically described how John Walter screamed for help until he was hoarse. A police or referee-type whistle can be heard for up to a mile away. Put it on a lanyard and wear it around your neck for easy access.
3. Folding knife. Man’s oldest tool is more important than you might think. It’s wise to carry more than one, because you’ll never know when you’ll need one in a bind or drop and lose one in the woods.
My favorite deer knife is carried in a sheath on my belt. I also have a folder that I keep in the upper left breast pocket of my Hunter Safety System vest, and another folder that’s clipped securely to the other cargo pocket of my fanny pack.
4. Extra screw-in tree step. Of all the five items listed here, this is obviously the most bulky. However, it’s equally important.
Let’s say you’re at tree stand height and fall from your stand. Your safety harness did its job and caught you; you’re now hanging safely 20 feet off the ground. Now all you have to do is wait for someone to come rescue you, right? Wrong. Suspension trauma can set in quickly. If you can’t get back on your stand, tree steps or quick ladder, you could be in trouble.
Having an extra tree step on hand can be a life-saver, because it allows you to take the pressure off of your lower extremities.
Keep the extra step positioned horizontally in a front cargo pocket of your vest or jacket.
5. Double-loop suspension relief strap. If your safety harness or vest did not come with one of these, buy one or make your own. Loop one end around the tree (or a tree step) and use the other loop to step inside and relieve the pressure off your legs.
Staying safe doesn’t require being paranoid. It merely involves a practical, forward-thinking mind set.