Skills: Safe Up There
Tree stands give hunters visibility and camouflage, but can be dangerous.
By Monica Bickerstaff
When Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he was giving firefighting advice, but those sage words apply to tree stand safety as well. Falls from tree stands are the leading cause of hunting injuries in many southeastern states. By following these simple safety tips, hunters can prevent a fall from a tree stand that could result in injury or even death.
1. KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT. Read and understand all manufacturer’s instructions and warnings before using a tree stand and full-body harness in the field. Hunters should practice using their equipment with another person present, at ground level. Learn to properly use your harness with a suspension-release device. Never climb without it.
2. CHECK EQUIPMENT. Before the beginning of every season, inspect stands (including straps) for wear, cracks and fatigue. Replace equipment showing such signs.
3. SELECT THE RIGHT TREE FOR YOUR STAND. Select a straight, healthy tree that is the right size for your tree stand. Check to make sure there are no insect nests or animal dens in the tree. 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.
4. ALWAYS USE A HAUL LINE. Never carry equipment when climbing into or out of a stand; use a haul line to raise and lower equipment. Make sure firearms are unloaded and the action is open before raising them to or lowering them from a tree stand. Never attach the haul line near the firearm’s trigger or trigger guard. Make sure arrows are placed in a covered quiver prior to hauling your bow up to the stand or back down.
5. HAVE A HUNT PLAN. Let a reliable person know where you’ll be hunting and when you expect to return. Include a map of the area, making it easier for emergency personnel to find you if you don’t report back in. Have a backup plan in case weather, fatigue or uncertainty about the climb are concerns. In such times, hunting from a ground blind is a wise choice.
By planning ahead, practicing how to return safely to your stand and having a rescue plan, you can avoid additional problems.
Here are a few other helpful hints to make your elevated stand hunting safe.
Remember that early morning dew can make footing slippery, and keep in mind the “three points of contact rule” — either two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot should always stay in contact with the ladder or climbing device. Blood flow to the legs can be a problem during extended time in the tree stand, so use a suspension relief device or techniques like pushing your legs against the tree.
Learn more about tree stand safety at the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, International Hunter Education Association or Tree Stand Manufacturers Association. Attend a TPWD Hunting 101 course or workshop focusing on tree stand safety or bowhunting. A schedule of courses can be found at tpwd.texas.gov/education/hunter-education/101schedule.