Tree Stand Safety Revisited
Dr. John Woods 10.14.15
Well, it is that time of year again when deer hunters will be hitting the woods in droves. Let’s hope there are fewer of them hitting the ground from slips or falls from tree stands. It’s only a week into the bow hunting season here in Mississippi, and I am getting reports of hunters being successful in their archery efforts, so I know hunters will be climbing into their tree stands. We thought it time to cover the basics again for tree stand set up and user safety tips.
More and more it seems, deer hunters are wanting to climb ever higher into the clouds to get above the deer habitat. They do this for many reasons, but the two main reasons are to obtain visibility of the surrounding hunting landscape and to dilute the wafting scents left behind from the mere presence of a human in the area.
Climbing higher past the standard 16-foot height of many stands, especially ladder stands, means the dangers of falls increase that much more. This means that tree stand set up guidelines and safety rules are that much more important.
First let’s talk about existing stands. If yours are like ours, they have been sitting in the woods all summer long since last deer hunting season. Some of them have been in the same positions for years. These are stands that we do not retrieve every year after the season is over. These include ladder stands and homemade shooting houses. They still demand inspection and repair if needed. Our club no longer uses climbing or lock-on stands, though an individual hunter/owner may do so.
Before hunting any existing stands, please give them a full test and inspection. In our case, even with the shooting houses, there are inspections and precautions to take. The stairs are wooden, and the elevated structures are either steel pipe or wooden. Anything wooden needs to be inspected for strength or deterioration. Rotted wood should be replaced, of course.
Check the metal of stands, too. Maybe it needs to be wire brushed down and repainted. Welds or connections should be checked. The insides of shooting houses should be sprayed for wasps and checked for hiding creatures like snakes or similar. We even had an owl take up residence once. That was an interesting situation, getting the bird to move on. Check the walls, roof, flooring, and seating.
Ladder stands should be inspected before climbing. Shake the ladder to see if it is still secure to the tree. Clear out the brush from around the base of the stand for easy, quiet entry. Remove all the vines that have grown on the stand since last season. Check any stand braces, and take a good look at the tree, too, to insure it has not rotted or otherwise become unsafe to use.
Using your safety harness to climb, ease up the stand to the seat to inspect the tie down strap or connection mechanism. Clean out the seat and inspect its wear. If the nylon ratchet strap is worn or frayed, replace it with a new one. We have had issues with squirrels gnawing on them. Put the new one on before you take the old one off, or just leave the old one connected.
Fully tighten the new or old strap to completely secure the stand to the tree. Make sure the hooks are properly inserted into a secure position on the tree stand platform. We even use our foot to push the latch one or two more notches to make it really secure. Shake the stand again to lock it into the tree.
While you are in any tree stand or ladder stand prior to hunting, before you climb down, sit down and view your hunting area. Are there any new limbs or trees that need to be trimmed so you have a clear view? Do you need to install a gear hanging hook nearby to hold your bow, backpack, binoculars, or other items? Does a shooting bar need a new pipe wrap to make it soft and quiet? Do these things now ahead of hunting so everything will be ready to go.
As far as brand new stands are concerned, begin the process of use by completely reading the owner’s manual for proper assembly and safe use. Sometimes there will be YouTube videos to supplement the manual. I know from experience that some stands can be rather difficult to assemble, so just make sure it is done correctly.
If the stand is a climber, then learn and practice how to put it on the tree and safely climb with it. Always use your safety harness. Likewise with a lock-on type stand you will have to put up climbing sticks first, then the stand mount, and then install the stand on the factory mount. Pick your tree wisely, making sure it is alive, straight, and large enough to handle the load.
If the new stand is a ladder, then get help to stake the bottom feet into the ground while you swing the stand up in place. Make sure it is at the correct angle to lean it against the tree. It helps to lash the stand to the tree or to have two other helpers to hold the stand firm against the tree while someone climbs up slowly to affix it to the tree with a ratchet strap. Lock it down tight. Make sure the ladder’s gripping teeth are firmly biting into the tree. The stand should not rock back and forth once secure.
Of course, each time you climb any kind of a tree stand, wear a total body safety harness system. Do not use the old waist only type strap. Install a gear haul line so you can bring up your bow, rifle, and backpack once you are secure in the seat. This lets you climb with both hands free. Ditto when climbing down, too.
If you follow these basic tree stand safety steps, then this part of your hunt should go safely. Never forget the elevation factor is a dangerous one. Use extra care in wet or cold weather, too. Be sure someone knows where you are hunting and when you are due home. Keep your cell phone on you and muted.