A close friend of mine fell out of his tree stand on opening day of deer season several years ago and almost died. He spent the next several months in a hospital bed and will never walk correctly or hunt again. Another hunter in our region fell and died on the spot, broken back and neck.
Scientific data shows that falling from a 30-foot high tree stand means you would be traveling approximately 44 feet per second and hit the ground at about 30 mph. Falling 30 feet almost always results in serious injuries while there is a 90 percent fatality rate for falls 40 feet or higher.
Deer season is like a holiday for most of us. We look forward to it year-round like a child waiting for Christmas. Then comes opening morning and we arrive before daylight, often without enough sleep and climb up pegs that were driven days before. How you approach this sometimes-hazardous climb may determine if you’ll even see you family again.
Many hunt thousands of hours in tree stands without a problem. The majority are careful to follow rules dedicated to fewer hunting injuries. Some of you ignore these rules and may never have an accident. Problem is, one slip could be a traumatic life changing event, so why chance it?
Here are some suggestions in italics from the Missouri Department of Conservation for avoiding a bad fall:
“Practice with your stand at ground level, gradually going higher.”
You might be surprised how many beginning hunters take their new stand out of the box and immediately attach it at hunting-height levels. Better to experiment down by the ground and then sit in the stand while moving and twisting different directions in the seat to make sure it is stable.
“Know the proper technique for securing the stand to a tree.”
Not knowing how to properly secure the stand to a tree is a formula for disaster. Try experimenting at low heights before going higher. Then sit in the seat and bounce to make sure it maintains a firm grip on the tree.
“Know how to use the stand properly. Read the manufacturer's warnings and instructions before each season."
Don’t glance at your instruction booklet, study it. The stand capabilities will be listed and you should memorize every one. Then review the booklet annually before every deer season.
“Use stands that meet standards of the Tree stand Manufacturer's Association (TMA) rated for your weight and all gear or equipment you wear or have with you on the stand.”
I am not a fan of homemade stands, although I will recognize that there have been some good, safe versions made. I prefer a well-made stand, even though they may cost more. Then make sure the stand will handle your weight and size. That is slightly important when you are high up the side of a tree.
“Always use a fall arrest system that meets TMA standards, including a full-body harness rated for your weight and any gear attached to yourself.”
Certainly, most of your equipment will be lifted from the ground by rope. Yet, your body weight and clothing or anything added to your pockets adds weights. Make sure you are attached. Pegs and muddy boots causing a slippery situation are a common cause of falls.
Should you fall, do not panic. Your fall arrest system will hold you. Climb back onto the platform as quickly as possible. Take actions to avoid suspension trauma, especially if you wait for rescue. But if you are suspended in midair, keep moving your legs.
“Have the fall arrest system attached to the tree the entire time your feet are off the ground.”
This is important no matter the height. You can fall for any number of reasons, so be attached to a safety line.
“Always position yourself so that you step down onto your tree stand to test its stability.”
Over the past 42 years I have hunted with some of the nation’s best deer hunters. They all step on their tree stand to make sure everything is connected to the tree before sitting. Generally everything is correct, but it only takes once.
“Always use a haul line to raise and lower your gear, including unloaded firearms, bows, and arrows.”
This last MDC rule is pure common sense. Carrying heavy loads up a tree is definitely not recommended by anyone. Raise your equipment slowly and deliberately to avoid making noise that could ruin your hunt. Hauling excess weight up tree stand stakes in a tree is a very good way to lose your balance and fall.
I once watched a man haul a loaded deer rifle up to his position in a tree stand by rope. The barrel was pointed straight at him as the deadly firearm raised higher. He managed to secure the gun without incident. His reasoning, to avoid loading in the tree to not frighten deer from the noise.
I have loaded many deer rifles in a tree stand with little or no noise. Never, never, never raise a loaded firearm, especially barrel first. Be cautious how you raise arrows as well. Many deep cuts have been the result of grabbing a broadhead in the dark.
Finally, carry a first aid kit and call 911 in case of a fall. Make sure someone knows where you are hunting and when you plan to come home. Texting on your phone is quiet and a great way to stay in touch in most areas.
Be safe, have fun and come home to your family with a big buck.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.