CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 DOMINIC CARELLO
B Company, 1st Battalion, 376th Aviation Regiment
Missouri Army National Guard
Jefferson City, Missouri
Every hunting season brings new stories about successful outings, big trophies and near misses. Unfortunately, it also brings new stories about serious accidents — most of which could have been avoided with a little common sense and proper safety equipment.
When we think of hunting injuries, firearm accidents are probably the first thing that comes to mind. But statistics show that in some areas, such as the Midwest, falls from treestands are actually the leading cause of serious injuries. In a study of 130 hunting-related injuries, a report from the Ohio State University Medical Center found that 50 percent resulted from falls, with 92 percent of those being from treestands. Gunshot wounds accounted for only 29 percent of hunting injuries. Many of these treestand accidents were very serious, with nearly 10 percent resulting in permanent neurological damage.
I was not aware of those statistics a few years ago when I went bow hunting with my brother. Had I known, we probably would have taken more precautions. Fortunately, the only injury sustained on that trip was a bruised ego. Here’s what happened.
We headed out early in the morning with our climber treestands strapped to our backs. When we reached a split in the trail, we went our separate ways to our hunting spots. I stayed in my stand until a little after noon. Of course, I wasn’t wearing a body harness. I’d always figured that tying the bottom of the stand to the top was safe enough. Besides, I’d never had an accident to prove otherwise.
As the time to go meet my brother at the appointed place neared, I climbed down from the stand and started walking along the trail. When he didn’t show up, I figured he must have taken a deer, so I waited. After about an hour, however, I grew concerned and decided to walk down to his treestand to see what was wrong.
When I reached his spot, I found him dangling from the upper part of his stand, about 20 feet up in the tree. The bottom of the stand was on the ground. After ensuring he wasn’t hurt, I fell to the ground laughing. He didn’t find it as amusing. After some cursing and pleading for help, I set up my stand, climbed the tree and helped him down.
Once he was safely on the ground, we tried to figure out how this had happened. We surmised that his knot on the treestand had slipped. When he tried to climb down, the bottom of the stand fell to the ground. That was the day we decided it was time to invest in body harnesses for future hunts. Since then, we haven’t had any close calls.
There are many ways to ensure you stay safe when using a treestand. Here are a few guidelines from the Treestand Manufacturer’s Association:
• Always wear a fall-arrest system/full-body harness meeting TMA standards, even during ascent and descent. Be aware that single-strap belts and chest harnesses are no longer recommended and should not be used. Failure to use an FAS could result in serious injury or death.
• Always read and understand the manufacturer’s warnings and instructions before using the treestand each season. Practice with the treestand at ground level prior to using at elevated positions. Maintain the warnings and instructions for later review as needed, for instructions on usage to anyone borrowing your stand or to pass on when selling the treestand. Use all safety devices provided with your treestand.
• Never exceed the weight limit specified by the manufacturer. If you have any questions after reviewing the warnings and instructions, please contact the manufacturer.
• Always inspect the treestand and FAS for signs of wear or damage before each use. Contact the manufacturer for replacement parts. Destroy all products that cannot be repaired by the manufacturer and/or exceed the recommended expiration date (or if the manufacturer no longer exists). The FAS should be discarded and replaced after a fall has occurred.
• Always practice in your full-body harness in the presence of a responsible adult prior to using it in an elevated hunting environment, learning what it feels like to hang suspended in it at ground level and how to properly use your suspension relief device.
• Always attach your full-body harness in the manner and method described by the manufacturer. Failure to do so may result in suspension without the ability to recover into your treestand. Be aware of the hazards associated with full-body harnesses and the fact that prolonged suspension in a harness may be fatal. Have in place a plan for rescue, including the use of cellphones or signal devices that may be easily reached and used while suspended. If rescue personnel cannot be notified, you must have a plan for recovery/escape. If you have to hang suspended for a period of time before help arrives, exercise your legs by pushing against the tree or doing any other form of continuous motion or use your suspension relief device. Failure to recover in a timely manner could result in serious injury or death. If you do not have the ability to recover/escape, hunt from the ground.
• Always hunt with a plan and, if possible, a buddy. Before you leave home, let others know your exact hunting location, when you plan to return and who is with you.
• Always carry emergency signal devices such as a cellphone, walkie-talkie, whistle, signal flare, personal locator device and flashlight on your person at all times and within reach, even while you are suspended in your FAS. Watch for changing weather conditions. In the event of an accident, remain calm and seek help immediately.
• Always select the proper tree for use with your treestand. Select a live, straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended in your treestand’s instructions. Do not climb or place a treestand against a leaning tree. Never leave a treestand installed for more than two weeks since damage could result from changing weather conditions and/or from other factors not obvious with a visual inspection.
• Always use a haul line to pull up your gear and unloaded firearm or bow to your treestand once you have reached your desired hunting height. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.
• Always know your physical limitations. Don’t take chances. Do not climb when using drugs or alcohol or if you’re sick or unrested. If you start thinking about how high you are, don’t go any higher.
• Never use homemade or permanently elevated stands or make modifications to a purchased treestand without the manufacturer’s written permission. Only purchase and use treestands and FASs meeting or exceeding TMA standards. For a detailed list of certified products, contact the TMA office or refer to the TMA website at http://www.tmastands.com.
• Never hurry! While climbing with a treestand, make slow, even movements of no more than 10-12 inches at a time. Make sure you have proper contact with the tree and/or treestand every time you move. On ladder-type treestands, maintain three points of contact with each step.
Had we followed these tips from the TMA, my brother could have avoided a potentially catastrophic accident. Luckily, we both have to opportunity to spend many more safe hunting experiences together.