Monday, September 12, 2016

Treestand Safety – Don’t Become An Accident Statics

© By Othmar Vohringer

Image Copyright Heidi Koehler Photography
Hunting season is just around the corner. This means for many last minute season preparations are in full swing. Countless days and hours are spent to prepare for this big moment we all have been impatiently waiting for. For months we have carefully scouted to find the right hunting spot and honed our bow and firearm shooting skill at the range. But if we look at the hunting accident statics it seems that there are still many hunters that give little, if any consideration, to the safe use and careful maintenance of treestands. The number of treestand accidents is higher than all other hunting accidents combined. There are many different reasons why treestand accidents occur but all of them have one thing in common…Lack of paying attention to basic safety procedures.

For me the biggest concern of every hunt is not bringing a big buck home but to return home safe and uninjured after every day in the field. To my mind I owe that to myself, my family and friends. September is “Treestand Safety Awareness” month. To that end I would like to pass along a few tips and remind you all how important it is to ALWAYS read, re-read and follow treestand safety guidelines.

Checking and maintaining treestands

I never leave treestands hanging at the end of the hunting season. All stands are pulled and taken home. Each stand is thoroughly checked over for any damage and worn parts before it is stored away to be used next hunting season again. If a stand shows any sign of damage or worn parts I set it aside in the “don’t use” pile until it is repaired and, or the worn/damaged parts are replaced.  I only use manufacturer recommended replacement parts.

Rusty spots will be cleaned and repainted to prevent further rust buildup and all the moving parts are lubricated. I also pay close attention to the conditions of the various climbing devices, safety harness and safety lines. My health and life depends on it that all treestands and related equipment is good good working order and safe to use. I simply will not hunt from a stand, or use any equipment, that shows any signs of excessive wear or damages, no matter how minor they appear. The cost of repairs and replacement parts, or even purchasing a new stand to replace an old one, is peanuts compared to my life.

When the time comes to hang the stands I check them and related equipment, again BEFORE they are set up. I also check stands and steps each time when I move them to a different location during the hunting season.

Always use a safety harness and equipment haul line.

More than 20 years ago I lost a good friend to a treestand accident. On a cold November day during a rut hunt he slipped on an icy tree step as climbed up to his stand. My friend only fell four feet but that was enough to break his neck. The sad irony is that he used to make jokes about me wearing a lineman type climbing harness attached to the tree trunk the very moment I took the first step off the ground. The simple fact is that every time we set out to leave terra firma we are liable of falling, be that from a ladder, a house roof or while ascending/descending and staying in our treestand. Because of that I ALWAYS use a lineman type climbing harness when I climb up or down a tree and of course remain attached to the tree the entire time while I am in a treestand. With all the safety equipment available today for safe treestand hunting there is no excuse not to use them. It was a slightly different story 10 or even 20 years ago. All we had then was safety belts, often just a rope tied around the waist with a line attached to the tree trunk. But still even back then with a little thought and searching we would find lineman safety harnesses. Statistics show that most treestand accidents occur while ascending and descending a tree.

The newest product on the market are “Lifelines” that ensure that the hunter is connected to the tree at all times from the moment he leaves the ground until he is back on the ground. A lifeline is a simple solution that will save lives and prevent serious injuries in case of an accident. Most lifelines sell for 40 to 50 dollars and are worth every penny if you ask me.

All my treestands are equipped with a equipment haul line on which I pull the bow/rifle and whatever else I carry with me up to the stand ones I am situation and safe in the treestand. It is dangerous to carry you bow/rifle and backpack on your body up or down a tree.

Pay close attention to detail when hanging a treestand.

When I scout on public land I often come across a dead or badly damaged tree that still shows evidence of a treestand hanging on it during hunting season. Treestand safety begins with selecting a healthy tree with no damage, such as lightening scares or splits from heavy wind storms. Before you hang your stand on a tree make sure it is a healthy tree. Look for any sign that could indicate that the tree is dying, such as bark peeling loose, bare branches in the tree crown at a time when others trees are still green, fungus growing on the tree trunk are all telling signs that this tree is not healthy.
When you hang the stand make sure you do not hang it higher than you feel comfortable. Yes, there are still some hunters who believe in the myth that higher is better even if they are scared of heights. If 15 feet above ground is your comfort zone then that is the height you should hang your stand, not 40 feet because someone told you that is the height a stand has to be. Always make sure that your stand hangs well below the top rung of the tree ladder or your last screw-in tree step. You have to have enough room to climb above the stand platform and step down on it. Never step up to a platform as this can, and often will, dislodge the stand from the tree trunk.

Another treestand hanging safety issue I’ve come across in my life are treestands that hang on a tree that is either too small or too large for the stand. Always read the manual that comes with your stand to learn about the treestand manufacturer’s recommendations of what tree diameter the stand is suitable. NEVER hang the stand on a tree that has too small or too large a diameter as the one recommended.

Let others know where you hunt.

I always tell my wife where I am hunting and when she can expect me to be back home. I also tell her in what stand I am going to be in the morning and in the afternoon. All my stand locations coordinates are stored on my GPS and marked with a pin on Google maps to which my wife has access. If something would happen to me I could be quickly found by emergency responders. The friend I mentioned earlier didn’t tell anyone where he was hunting or when he can be expected back home. Because of that it took emergency responders a night and day to find him. When my friend finally was found he was still alive and could tell what happen but died that day in hospital from hypothermia and the injuries he sustained. He left a loving wife and three young children behind.

I hope you all have a successful hunting season season this coming fall and be able to fulfill your dreams. But above all I hope you have a safe hunting season and remember that hunting safety always comes before everything else. Accident can occur at any time but they never should be the result of carelessness or pure ignorance.

Image courtesy of Treestand Safety Awareness Organization

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