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Treestand Hunting: Safety First

When I started hunting as a kid in the 60s treestands were practically unheard of; back then, they consisted of a couple of boards in the fork of a tree. My guess is, archery hunters probably started the portable treestand trend. Pulling back a recurve bow in the presence of a deer often resulted in not even getting a shot, but hunting from an elevated position sure increased your chances of drawing a bow without being detected. As a result, the demand for treestands has continued to increase, and manufacturers have responded.

Portable treestands have come a long way over the past 20 years or so; there’s quite a variety to choose from, and manufacturers have also made them safer. Even though there is a greater emphasis on safety, falls from treestands have increased over the years. In all fairness though, it should be pointed out that there are many more hunters using treestands now than in years past. Also, recent surveys show that more bow hunters use treestands than those who hunt only during the gun seasons. It’s also clear that the number of bow hunters has increased substantially, so it stands to reason that more bow hunters fall from treestands than gun hunters. Archery license sales in Pennsylvania in 1987-88 were 254,770, and in 2015-16 those numbers increased to 349,474.

Even with the greater emphasis on safety, accidents continue to happen. Several years ago, a friend of mine who is an avid archery hunter fell from his tree stand. He was alone, and after the fall he was unable to walk out to get help. Fortunately for him, someone on a four-wheeler spotted him on the ground and was able to assist in getting him to a hospital. It took him months to recover from his injuries. Not too many years back a fall from a treestand in our area resulted in a man’s death when his safety belt (apparently the type that simply went around the chest) shut off his air when his stand gave way and he was left hanging in the tree. Fortunately, those types of safety belts are no longer being offered, and instead the much safer system where the hunter wears a vest with straps that go around each leg and a strap attached to the vest in the back. The vest and leg straps act as a “seat” in the event of a slip or fall.

I switched from the belt around the chest to the vest-type, safety harness years ago — and I’m glad I did. While lowering my climbing treestand (I use the type of stand which you stand on while lowering it on the trunk of the tree) the metal strap slipped on the wet tree bark, but my safety vest caught me after a couple of feet. My face smacked against the tree and no serious harm was done — I’m glad I was wearing the vest. With my type of climbing treestand, I wear it while ascending, descending, and the whole time I’m in the stand.

In a recent study that I read in Game News Magazine, it was pointed out that of 1,109 documented falls only 156 gave any indication of what caused the fall; bear in mind too that these are documented falls — how many falls were there that were not recorded? Structural failure accounted for 52 percent of the falls while hunters slipping, miss stepping or losing their balance made up another 24 percent. Sixteen falls occurred because hunters fell asleep and ten because hunters fainted. In 10 cases the hunter was actually shot first before falling. Sixty-four percent of the falls occurred while the hunter was in the stand and 24 percent occurred while entering or exiting the stand and 12 percent while installing, taking down or repairing a stand. In fall cases where testing was done (testing was not done in all cases) for drugs or alcohol, it’s interesting to note that drugs were detected in 14 percent of the cases with marijuana accounting for more than half. Another interesting statistic is that while only 273 of the 1,109 falls documented record whether or not a protective device was used, it was found that 93 percent were not using a protective device.

Bottom line — wear an appropriate safety harness and be careful.

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