When I started deer hunting there was only one kind of treestand. You built it yourself out of two-by-fours and spikes. Then along came an invention called the self climber that ultimately changed the face of deer hunting. Today there are dozens of treestand manufacturers and hundreds of models to choose from. The overwhelming majority of bowhunters, and probably most gun hunters, hunt from an elevated stand at one time or another. It can be a productive method, but, like many things, poses potential risk if not done right.
Treestand accidents are the leading cause of hunter injuries. Figures from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say one in three people who hunt from an elevated stand will have a fall resulting in serious injury. Of those who are injured, it is estimated that 82 percent were not using a fall restraint system (FRS). The rest were probably not using it correctly.
The solution is fairly simple. If you’re going to hunt from an elevated stand, always wear an FRS. Jim Barta of Hunter Safety Systems (HSS) says, “If you hunt from a treestand and you have somebody that loves you and needs you to come home, you are outright stupid if you don’t wear a harness.”
The Treestand Manufacturer’s Association (TMA) developed rigorous standards for manufacturers and requires all its members to seek certification of conformance to these standards. It also provide an array of educational materials, all of which are available at www.tmastands.com/.
TMA recommends using a full-body harness rather than single-strap belts or chest harnesses, and requires its members to include a full body harness with all stands sold.
Full harnesses are more effective at preventing a fall and reducing injury in the event of a fall, particularly something called suspension trauma. Barta advises adjusting the leg, waist and shoulder straps to a proper fit.
Because most falls occur climbing into or out of a stand, TMA also recommends that you keep your harness tether attached to the tree at all times. In cases where that is difficult or impossible, there are alternatives.
Several companies like HSS make a lineman’s belt you can attach to your harness to keep you in contact with the tree if you have to move your tether around or over limbs or steps. They also make a Lifeline, which extends from your treestand to the ground. Attach your tether to a Prussic knot on the Lifeline and slide the knot up as you climb. If you slip, the knot will cinch on the line and prevent you from falling.
Once in your stand, move the tether up high enough that it prevents you from falling more than 12 inches. Again, this reduces the chance of injury from the fall or from suspension trauma. It also makes recovery easier.
There are other precautions. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back; use a line to move your gear.
Climb slowly and carefully, especially in wet or icy conditions, and make movements of no more than 10-12 inches at a time. Follow the three-point rule: Always have three points of contact to the steps or ladder before moving. Hunt with a plan. Let others know your location and when you’re expected to return, and carry emergency signal devices.
Hunting from an elevated stand can be safe and effective if you take your time, pay attention to detail and apply common sense.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: