Two hunting seasons ago, I found myself doing a desperate and unexpected chin-up to pull myself back into the climber portion of my climbing tree stand — the platform had just slipped out from under me and was at the base of the tree 15 feet below. The fact that I wasn't wearing a safety harness didn't do much for my morale either.
I won't bore you with the series of incredibly stupid decisions that got me in that predicament. Suffice it to say, I got complacent about safety and set up.
I knew better, but, like most guys who find themselves in a dangerous tree stand situation, I thought it would never happen to me.
Luckily, it turned out for the best as I managed to hug the tree and slowly inch the climber section down to the ground, but not without some scrapes and a very good scare.
The good news is that will never happen again. It was a hard lesson, but I learned it.
Tree stand safety is nothing to take lightly.
I personally have heard of three local hunters whose lives have been changed substantially because they were not as lucky as me.
The worst part is that these accidents are avoidable.
A little prudence goes a long way, in fact.
It begins before you even step into your tree stand.That's when you should inspect it carefully to ensure that it is still in excellent working condition. Look for loose screws or missing nuts, make sure straps are not frayed and all the welded joints are still sound. Make sure any rust is only superficial. If your stand requires a ladder or steps, make sure they are in good working order too. Also, check your safety harness and replace it if you've had to rely on it.
The bottom line is, if there are any broken or worn parts, don't take the chance. Do this inspection before each use too.
Next, before the season, review the safety and operating instructions provided by the manufacturer. Your stand probably came with a DVD, as well as written instructions. Watch and read those closely until the process is second nature. It might seem overly cautious but that's OK. Overly cautious is the way to be when you decide to spend a day perched high up in a tree.
Lastly, practice setting your stand up a few times in a tree near home when you have lots of daylight and time. You don't have to go up too high to get the idea of how to use it either. Set up your stand or climb a tree with it, then haul up gear and generally familiarize yourself with its safe operation. This is certainly better than trying to set it up for the first time that season (or ever) in the field.
Take stock of yourself on each and every hunt too, before getting up into your stand. If you are tired or not feeling well, hunt from the ground. If you've forgotten your harness, ditto.
Finally, remember not every tree is suitable. Check to make sure the tree is healthy first, then make sure the bark is conducive to holding the stand (especially if you are using a climber) and ensure that the tree is a proper dimension to fit the stand and support you.
Tree stands are great, but they can also be very dangerous if abused. There's a lot riding on your safety — remember that every time.