MATTHEW R. SCOTT
Safety and Occupational Health Office
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Mobile District
It was October in south Mississippi and the weekend was upon us. For some, it was probably no different than any other weekend. For others, however, it signaled the beginning of something we’d looked forward to all summer — hunting season!
Like every other hunter, I couldn’t wait for another chance to bag a big buck. To ensure I was prepared, I set out all the gear I’d need for the morning, inspected my climbing stand, put a coat of wax on my bow strings and sharpened my broadheads. I had practiced enough that I was sure I could hit a target at 30-plus yards. Everything was great, except the weather. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms and heavy rain throughout the night and into early morning. Still, I held out hope the forecast was wrong.
The following morning, my dad and I awoke to find that, sure enough, it was pouring outside. This was both good and bad. Even though I wanted to be in the woods at first light, I knew the deer would start moving right after the rain passed. We decided to wait a few hours for the weather to clear.
As expected, the rain subsided a few hours later and we ventured into the woods. I had the perfect spot picked out along an old fence line with oaks on one side and short pines on the other. I’d seen plenty of deer here in the past and was sure this year wouldn’t be any different. I found a pine tree I’d previously used with my stand while my dad headed for a spot about 200 yards away.
I climbed the tree and then hoisted my bow with the rope I had attached to the stand. I sat there for about a half-hour without any luck. The only thing I heard was water droplets falling from the trees and hitting the ground. The woods were saturated, as was the tree I had climbed. I wasn’t concerned, though, because I’d climbed wet trees in the past and never had any trouble — until this day.
I stood up and must have bumped the bottom piece of my stand. Since the tree was wet, the stand didn’t have much traction, so down it went, followed by me. Fortunately, I didn’t fall far because I had my safety harness attached to the tree. The bottom of my stand didn’t go far either because of the rope I had attached between the two pieces. I was able to pull myself back up to the top piece and sit down. However, as I pulled up the bottom, the rope snapped and the stand fell to the ground.
So there I was, about 25 feet above the ground with my legs hanging. At least I was sitting down, but it didn’t take long for my legs to fall asleep and go numb. Luckily, my dad wasn’t too far away. I contacted him over the two-way radios we’d brought with us and informed him of my predicament. Within a few minutes he was there and, with his assistance, I was able to get out of the tree safely.
Once on the ground, many questions went through my mind. What if I hadn’t secured my safety harness? What if my dad hadn’t joined me? What if we hadn’t brought those two-way radios? Thankfully, none of these what-ifs happened. Since I had on my safety harness, I was able to hunt the rest of that day and many more since. If not for my harness, I would have fallen for sure. That hunting trip taught me a very valuable lesson I will never forget: Always put safety first. Be careful out there!
There are many ways to ensure you stay safe when using a treestand. Here are a few guidelines from the Treestand Manufacturer’s Association (TMA):
- Always wear a fall-arrest system (FAS)/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.
- 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 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 it at elevated positions. (Editor’s note: Maintain the warnings and instructions for later review. If you loan your stand to a buddy or decide to sell it, being able to pass along those documents will be both helpful and appreciated.)
- 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. The goal is to learn 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 physical 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. In the event of an accident, remain calm and seek help immediately.
- Always watch for changing weather conditions.
- 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 a treestand and FAS 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.