By Mike Marsh
Make sure you live to hunt another day!
Hunters love to hang ’em high. I’m talking about treestands, not the movie. Don’t be one of the hunters left dangling after a misstep when transitioning in or out of a stand. You may not know it, but that’s the most dangerous part of treestand hunting. And did you know 10 percent of hunters fall while hunting from a treestand every 10 years? That means even if you’ve fallen before, it could happen again.
I’m guilty – and lucky to be alive. I fell while setting up a lock-on stand because I wasn’t wearing a restraint. Back then, restraints tailored to treestands were not available. I broke my left wrist and four ribs, and made it out of a swamp where no one knew I was hunting. Back then, a hunter who tied himself into his stand with a rope was ahead of his time. Today’s safety advances eliminate virtually every reason to fall.
If you aren’t using adequate safety measures, you’re at risk.*
1. Prusik Hitch Tethers
Staying tethered to the tree from ground to stand is your goal. One way to accomplish that is with a harness and climbing system that uses a Prusik hitch. The hunter slides the knot up or down while he climbs. It works best with ladder-type stands, but also works with self-climbing stands.
The Prusik hitch and its safety line are mated to a vest or harness, such as the systems made by Hunters Safety Systems. The company offers safety lines in packs of three, that way hunters with one harness or vest can use it for entry to multiple stands. It’s inexpensive insurance.
2. Retractable Safety Lines
Retractable safety lines, similar to retractable dog leashes, have made inroads into the hunting safety market. One of the best is the Rescue One Controlled Descent System. The problem with other systems that stop falls completely is that they can leave a hunter in a position where he cannot re-enter his treestand. “Positional asphyxiation” can be the result, an outcome that’s just as bad as if the hunter had suffered a lethal fall to the ground. The Rescue One system has a loop over the hunter’s shoulder that he pulls to control his descent.
3. Knotty Subject
With any system, tying the safety line to the tree is the tricky part. When climbing with a self-climber, slide the strap holding the safety line up with each movement of the stand. Therefore, using a self-climber is great way to attach the safety line to the tree before erecting a ladder stand. Another method is to use a lineman’s belt and climbing spikes.
4. Erecting Ladder Stands
One of the easiest ways to fall hard is by climbing a ladder stand to secure it to a tree. Reaching around the trunk to secure the seat with a ratchet strap is quite unnerving if the ladder leans backward. This re-emphasizes the need for putting a fall restraint in place before doing anything else.
Modern ladder stands use crossing straps in their erection. The process works best with three hunters. One hunter tugs each strap, which attaches to the bottom of the stand and goes around the tree, until the ladder is firmly against the tree. They hold it while the third guy walks the ladder up against the tree. A low ratchet strap and brace secure the ladder against the tree while the third hunter climbs the ladder to add the final ratchet strap at the top. If your ladder stand does not have a crossed strap system, do not use it until you acquire appropriate straps.
5. Put It to the Test
Every hunter should check his safety systems before beginning a hunt. Keep your original instructions with your climbing gear and stands, and read them every season – that’s the best way to stay familiar with their use.
I once received a new safety harness for testing. Smart enough to have someone along to help with photos or if something went haywire, I tested the harness from the ground. The harness was quite constrictive, especially in the groin area, when I raised my feet to simulate a fall. If I had actually fallen, I wouldn’t have lasted long. I was happy to have someone assist with removing the straps. If you are not comfortable with your harness and confident in its use, chose another system.
*Note this isn’t a complete guide to treestand safety. Make it your business to research the topic before climbing a tree to hunt.
Mike Marsh’s articles, columns and photos have appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and has written four books about the state’s hunting, fresh-water and salt-water fishing. His latest is Fishing North Carolina. To contact Mike, view his award-winning articles and photos, or order his books, visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.
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