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Art Lander’s Outdoors: When using a treestand, deer hunters must focus on safety, pay attention to details

With bow season underway, hunters are making final preparations or may have already hunted a time or two on the few cool mornings we’ve had since the season started September 7.

If you are planning on taking to the trees, stay focused on treestand safety.

While it’s still too hot to hunt most days, now is a good time to check out your treestand, and re-familiarize yourself with its safe use. When the weather cools and deer activity ramps up, you’ll be ready.

The Treestand Manufacturer’s Association offers the following safety tips:

(Click for larger image)

• Re-read the manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation of your treestand. If you still don’t have the paper instruction sheet, many manufacturer’s post this information online.

• Inspect your treestand thoroughly, especially the straps, seat and metal connections. Nylon straps can dry rot over time or may be damaged by rodents during off-season storage.

• Try on and inspect your full body harness, and make sure the safety belt that attaches you to the tree, is okay, too.

A full-body harness is the only approved safety option since the hunter’s weight is supported evenly by padded chest and leg straps. Waist belts and chest harnesses can cause severe trauma in seconds by cutting off the flow of blood, and compression of the chest, affecting the ability to breathe.

• Practice close to ground level, if you are going to hunt from a climbing treestand or a fixed position treestand, so you will be familiar with ascending, descending, stepping onto the platform (fixed position stand) or attaching your climber to the tree, and turning around to get your back to the tree.

The Advantage of Treestands

Treestands are capable of taking hunters high above the white-tailed deer’s line of sight and smell.

That’s a big advantage, especially for archery hunters taking shots at close range.

But climbing into and out of a tree isn’t without dangers.
A fall can happen at any time, for a number of reasons. In low light, a hunter can take a bad step. Rain or ice can make treestand steps slippery and platforms can slide, break or come apart where they’re attached to the tree.

A fall from a treestand is no laughing matter — the consequences can be life-changing, much worse than a sprained ankle or broken arm. Each season deer hunters are paralyzed for life or killed in falls because they overlooked the most important safety precautions.

Survey Results of Reported Treestand Accidents

A recent survey of reported treestand accidents from several states found:

• 74 percent of the accidents occurred when climbing up or down or when installing or removing a stand.

• 73 percent of hunters said poor judgment and carelessness caused their fall. Hunters were in a hurry, didn’t take their time and/or concentrate on what they were doing.

• 80 percent of hunters said safety was a concern but believed a fall “wouldn’t happen to me.”

• The type of treestand involved in falls were 43 percent climbing, 34 percent fixed-position and 18 percent ladder.

• 58 percent of the hunters who fell were not wearing a fall-arrest system.

• 39 percent of the accidents occurred at less than 10 feet.

• 21 percent of the accidents were related to structural failure of the treestand.

In Kentucky, in recent years, about 25 percent of hunting accidents are falls from treestands, and 25 percent of these falls are fatal.

Safety Considerations for Each Style of Treestand

There are three kinds of treestands — climbing stands, ladder stands and fixed-position stands — each with their own pros, cons and safety considerations.

Climbing Treestands

While some deer hunters admit to being apprehensive about climbing treestands, others can’t imagine going afield without one.

Climbing treestands are the ultimate in woodland stealth, lightweight, portable and easy to use, but their safe use demands balance, coordination and familiarity with how they operate.

Climbing stands enable the hunters to get much closer shots at deer and it’s easier for a hunter to slip into an area and get up a tree without being detected.

A full body harness, and a safety belt that attaches you to the tree, is the best safety option in the event of a fall. (Photo from Hunter Safety Systems)

The climbing is not strenuous. After attaching the foot and seat platforms around the base of a suitable tree, the hunter simply stands up on the foot platform, pulls up the seat platform and sits down. Then the foot platform is moved up again, using foot straps. Once the foot platform digs into the tree trunk, the hunter stands up again, pulls the seat platform up and sits down. The hunter moves the two platforms up the tree in unison. To descend, just reverse the process.

For safety, the hunter should be wearing a full-body safety harness attached to a belt around the tree, which is moved up or down the tree as the hunter ascends or descends.

Climbing treestands are designed so that the hunter’s weight is distributed out from the tree trunk. This helps to push the treestand’s locking spikes on the platforms into the tree’s bark, while steel bands, cables or chain wrapped in rubber tubing, support the platform. A strap or elastic cord tightened around the tree ensures that the platform can’t shift.

Climbing treestands are made with a safety rail which provides security when the hunter is seated, standing or leaning over for a shot under the stand. The safety rail ensures that the hunter can’t walk off the end of the platform.

Use a haul line to pull up your gear, unloaded firearms or bow and arrows to your treestand once you have reached your desired hunting height. Never climb with anything in your hands. Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.

The ideal tree for a climbing treestand is eight to 20 inches in diameter with soft, rough bark. Watch out for wet or icy tree trunks. Choose as straight a tree as possible with no lower limbs. Make sure the platform is parallel to the ground. Use a folding limb saw to cut off any small branches that are in the way when climbing, but don’t cut away foliage at your hunting height that will break your outline and provide camouflage.

Ladder Treestands

Ladder treestands are ideal for anyone hunting on private land throughout deer season.

These stands are basically ladders with a platform on top. Once the stand is positioned and strapped to the tree, it’s not going anywhere.

A rope-style tree strap can be used with all types of tree stands. (Photo from Hunter Safety Systems)

Once the ladder stand is up, it’s a fast and convenient entry and exit for the hunter. Walk right up, attach your bow or firearm to the tow rope, climb up into the stand, and snap the tether of your full-body safety harness to the tree. Then pull up your bow or gun and start hunting.

The downside is ladder stands are tall (16 feet or higher) and heavy and it’s going to take at least two, preferably three people, to erect the stand. It has to be leaned up against the tree and someone has to climb up and strap the stand to the tree while the others hold the ladder against the tree.

For added security, a safety line is usually attached to the tree above the platform and dropped to the ground. This is generally done when the ladder stand is erected.

The hunter attaches his safety harness to the safety line and uses a rope ascender to slide up and down the rope while climbing up or down from the platform. If the hunter slips off the ladder, the safety line prevents a fall.

When climbing up or down a ladder treestand, always maintain three points of contact with each step – two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.

Fixed-Position Treestands

While hunters of all ages swear by fixed-position stands, there’s a good argument that they are more suited to younger, athletic hunters.

It takes strength and agility to put one up.

The hunter ascends straight up the tree on screw-in steps or climbing sticks that are strapped to the tree.

When reaching the desired height, the platform is hauled up on a rope and affixed to the tree.

When hanging a fixed-position treestand a lineman’s belt must be used with a full-body harness to protect against falls. The hunter leans out from the tree on the lineman’s belt with two free hands to tighten down the platform.

A safety line is typically used for ascending or descending when hunting.

Falls typically occur at the platform level, when the hunter is stepping onto or out of the treestand. Remember to climb up above the platform and step down onto it.

The advantages of fixed-position treestands are that several of them can be attached to a large tree with multiple trunks. This means that two or more hunters can be side-by-side, hunting or filming each other, sharing the experience.

Treestands will help hunters bag more deer but always keep safety in mind when taking to the trees.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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