Back in spring while turkey hunting on my buddy’s property in south Alabama, I ran across this homemade ladder stand that had been taken down from the tree.
Seeing these rusted metal parts, worn out come-along belt and rotting wood reminded me of a stand I stupidly — very stupidly —climbed about 10 or so years ago. The jackleg lodge owner (no longer in business) sent me to a stand on land I later learned he either had no permission to hunt on or if he did, it was sketchy. Either way, I’m more lucky today to be in one piece than anything else.
The stand he sent me to was a wooden 2×4 ladder with a couple of 2x4s at the top nailed or chained to a big oak. It had a sheet of 1/2-inch plywood on top to sit or stand on. I had on my safety harness but couldn’t get it around the tree. The stand wobbled. I maybe stayed up there three minutes, which was stupidly longer than I should have, before carefully easing down the ladder.
That was my second “You’re a dummy” stand situation. The first was in a climber back in the late 1990s. I was wearing a Seat of the Pants harness and accidentally knocked away the footrest. Fortunately it was connected to the upper climber part by a rope. Although I hung there for a while like a trussed chicken wedged between the upper climber rails and had bruises from elbow to ribs, I was able to finally get down safely.
Some folks think they’re immune to injury or falling —”Why, I haven’t fallen in 27 years! Heh heh heh …” Others are young, stupid and think they’re bulletproof. (I did. We all do.) Some think there’s a nanny mentality and they don’t want to be pushed around by some safety do-gooders. Others are just too cheap to buy a good safety harness despite having an expensive rifle, scope and ATV for their deer lease.
Guys, and ladies, now don’t be that person. Seriously. It’s high time to get over all the ego and such. If you don’t wear safety protection when you’re in a stand, you’re pushing your luck. Tree stand accidents are the No. 1 cause of death and serious injury to deer hunters. Not getting shot. Not getting gored by Bucky Buck. Not eating Billy Joe’s rancid chili and getting food poisoning.
Nope, it’s treestand accidents. Safety harness and safety education have helped tremendously, but each year there still are preventable accidents, injuries and death. We don’t know the full number, of course, because many hunters who fall or have a non-injurious accident don’t tell anyone.
In my 30-plus years of outdoors writing I can recall getting emails or phone calls about hunters who fell from trees. Those calls made my heart ache. Many of the hunters were found hours later because their friends or family didn’t know where they were. Can you imagine suffering, being unable to move or barely move, possibly being paralyzed, gasping your final shortened breaths or drowning in blood from a punctured lung, and then having family or friends finding your blue, cold body under your stand?
I know of one hunter who found his best friend dead and had to tell the guy’s wife, who of course was devastated. Another was found after 8-9 hours, in the dark, and along with his stand fall injuries he’d succumbed to hypothermia. He survived, but barely. Another fell and somehow dragged himself through the woods, managed to stand and shuffle to his truck, and had to be airlifted to the hospital where he was treated for broken bones and other injuries.
August is Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month. Falls from stands are preventable. There are plenty of good harnesses on the market to choose from along with accessories to help you be safer. Three things to always remember when you’re hunting and using stands:
- Always wear a full body harness, and know how to use a suspension relief strap to give yourself a boost if you fall and are hanging there in your harness.
- Stay connected from the moment your feet leave the ground.
- Make sure your family and friends are doing the same thing.
Remember, it’s uncool to be unsafe.