Hunting Safety Blinds and Tree Stands
JERROLD J. SCHARNINGHAUSEN, Ph.D.
Workplace Safety Division
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
With cooler weather just around the corner, most hunters are making preparations for the upcoming fall hunting season. An important aspect of this is to spend a little time inspecting the tree stand or blind you will use.
Permanent ground blinds are notorious for becoming a home for unwanted visitors between hunting seasons, including wasps, spiders, snakes and fire ants, just to name a few. Sneaking into the blind before sunrise on opening day without first having examined its condition can result in a very unpleasant hunting experience. Inspect the blind prior to use to ensure that it is safe to occupy.
Tree stands present an entirely different set of challenges depending on the type being used. According to Quality Deer Management Association, 25% of tree stands used are climbing stands, 31% are lock-on stands, 20% are ladder seats, 20% are homemade and 4% fall into other categories. Based on injury data during 2018, there were an estimated 3,001 tree stand falls requiring an emergency room visit. While this is a large number of accidents, it reflects a decrease of 46.5% (2010-2018) in the number of estimated falls requiring emergency room treatment. This drop in accident numbers is largely a result of the industry-wide efforts focusing on tree stand safety.
Hunting from an elevated position provides advantages; however, it also increases certain risks. The majority of hunting-related injuries and deaths occur through falls from tree stands in which the user was not following proper safety procedures. By following a few easy steps, the majority of these accidents could be prevented. Each type of tree stand has specific inspection requirements.
One of the first considerations is the tree to which the stand will be attached. Be sure to choose a live, straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended in your stand’s instructions. The tree should be substantial enough to hold the hunter’s combined body and equipment weight, ensuring it does not exceed the stand manufacturer’s recommendations. Avoid trees containing insect nests or animal dens. Climbing stands should also not be used on smooth-barked trees, especially during icy or wet conditions. Make sure you clear all debris around the bottom of the tree to minimize injury from a fall and to ensure a safe base if using a ladder stand.
Homemade tree stands vary greatly depending on the builder’s engineering ability and the construction materials used. These stands are usually placed in a tree or cluster of trees and left there year-round. This exposes the stand to various weather conditions that will cause deterioration over time. Ensure the material used to construct the stand is free from cracks and is solidly attached to the tree. Never trust the safety of a permanent tree stand that was previously installed. Always inspect the stand for serviceability prior to use.
Lock-on stands, also known as hang-on stands, consist of a platform and seat that attaches to the tree through the use of ratchet straps, chains or wire cables. These stands require a climbing system. The systems may be climbing sticks or individual steps affixed to the tree to gain access to the stand. Lock-on stands are often used in conjunction with other styles of stands to provide a place for a cameraman or second person. When using a lock-on stand, climb higher than the seat and then step down onto it to ensure it is locked into place. Climbing directly onto the stand can fail to properly set the stand and dislodge it. Remember to inspect all ratchet straps, chains or wire cables for signs of wear prior to installation.
A ladder stand consists of a ladder with an integrated platform and seat. They may be manufactured or homemade and attached to the tree using ratchet straps, chains or cam buckle straps. Safe installation requires multiple personnel when raising and stabilizing the stand. Follow the three-point rule of tree stand safety by always having three points of contact with the steps or ladder before moving. This could be two hands gripping the ladder with one foot stepping on the ladder or one hand and two feet in contact with the ladder before moving. Be conscious of environmental conditions such as rain, frost, ice or snow, which can cause steps to become slippery. Additionally, check the attachment of the ladder before placing your weight on it.
A climbing stand consists of two parts, the seat and the platform. These are attached to the tree through the use of plastic-coated steel cables. Inspect your tree stand for any tears/rips, bad rust or missing nuts before you climb. For information on performing a pre-season tune-up to your climbing stand, visit https://www.summitstands.com/summit-journal/preseason-treestand-checklist/.
After connecting both parts of the climbing stand to the tree that you selected, the seat and the platform need to be fastened together. If the platform becomes detached and falls, you will be stuck in the tree until rescued unless you are low enough to jump down. If the platform is attached to the seat, it provides a means of self-recovery. Ensure there is a method to secure your feet to the platform. This is a secondary safety feature to help prevent slips, and most climbing stands will have stirrups or a metal bar for this purpose. As you begin climbing, ensure that every time the seat or platform is moved that you push downward to set the teeth into the tree.
No matter what tree stand you use, know your physical limitations. If you climb too fast, you will need time to recover before you will be ready for a shot. Make slow, even movements and, if you need a break, take one. Don’t forget that you will need to use just as much effort to climb down safely from the tree. Don’t take chances. If you start thinking about how high you have climbed, don’t go any higher. By always inspecting your equipment; reading, understanding and following all of the tree stand manufacturer's recommendations; and not making any alterations to your equipment, you can help ensure this and every hunting season is a safe one.