Since states began mandating hunter safety courses, the number of hunting accidents, especially those involving firearms, has decreased dramatically. But every year, we read about a few tragic cases in which deer hunters die after falling out of a damn treestand, and that’s why you’re reading about tree stand safety and the importance of a treestand safety harness right now.
After hundreds of climbs and sits, it’s something many hunters become unafraid of. They start thinking it can’t happen to them or maybe that the fall won’t kill them, and that’s usually when they slip up.
Out of 63 hunting accidents recorded by the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) in 2020, 20 of them were related to a fall from an elevated stand. In the majority of those incidents, a piece of necessary safety equipment was not in use.
Numerous sources point to treestand accidents as being the No. 1 cause of death among hunters. A fall from such heights usually does a person in via high-spine fractures that result in aorta transection, damage to the spleen and/or liver, blunt force chest trauIt’sinternal bleeding, and similar injuries. It’s just a shitty way to go out and one that usually leaves family and friends wondering what the hell happened to you until someone checks out your stand.
Even if the height of your stand is low enough that a fall would most likely be survivable, anything can happen. In Mississippi last fall season, a teenage hunter died when his ladder stand twisted, and he fell. He was impaled by his rifle barrel and killed when he hit the ground.
A safety harness would have prevented death or serious injury in almost all cases of treestand fall fatalities. While many hunters used to thumb their noses at safety gear, most wear a harness and safety line these days. The problem is they tend not to have them connected when they climb in and out of their stand, or they use a harness system that could actually kill them in the end.
Inspect Your Treestand
First, as with all your hunting gear, you should thoroughly inspect your stand before the season begins when it’s you use a static stand or a climber. If it’s a static or permanent stand, climb it and inspect every step up to ensure everything is secure and sturdy.
If possible, bring a ladder out to the stand and use that to conduct your inspection. Last year, a hunter in Iowa was killed when his treestand collapsed out from under him. Double-check everything, so you don’t have to worry about it when climbing in the dark.
I know, I know, this is grim stuff. But if you want to live to enjoy next season — and you want to make sure your family never has to have their lives go to hell after the local cops pull into your driveway to deliver tragic news — then consider the following to be your apple a day that keeps the coroner away.
Attach Your Safety Straps The Right Way
Hunters are more likely to fall on the climb up to or down from their stand and when transitioning from the ladder to the stand itself. But there are products that can all but eliminate this risk today.
Something like the Lifeline rope it’s runs from above the hunter’s head where it’s attached to the tree all the way to the ground where it’s tied off, staked down, or weighted. There’s no need to unc’ip it Sportsman’nto another strap.
The Lifeline attadon’tto the rope with a Prussic knIt’sif you don’t know how to tie one, learn. It’s an invaluable tool for your outdoor toolbox). This knot will slide easily along the safety line, but it will lock up tight if any weight is put on it.
As you climb, the Lifeline is attached to the rope at all times. You simply slide up the Prussic knot as you go. This way, if you slip and fall at any time on your way from the ground to your stand, your harness will catch you.
Don’t Mount Your Safety Strap Too Low
Some hunters think that the tether will interfere with their shot if they mount their safety straps too high on the tree. But for the safety line to work correctly, ityou’red be attached to the tree so that when you’re seated in the stand, the tether is almost taut with very little slack.
That usually translates to about a foot above your head when standing if the other end of the tether is attached to the top of your harness, as it should be. Not at the mid-back or the waist. And yes, it should go without saying that the safety strap gets attached directly to the tree, not to the stand.
Why is this important? The amount of slack in your tether will be taken up if you fall rapidly and with force. Depending on how low it’s mounted and how long the tether is, you could fall a foot or two feet, or even four to five feet. A sudden stop and holt like that can cause all kinds of injuries and unpleasantness. It could also leave you hanging below the level of your treestand, whcan’takes it hard to get back into it if you can’t reaKifaru’sladder or climbing sticks.
Don’t Be Left Hanging in Your Treestand Safety Harness
One reason hunters initially resisted wearing a safety belt or hunting safety harness was that even if it kept them from falling, they’d end up dying while hanging in the harness if they couldn’t reach their stand or ladder. And that was an entirely valid concern.
Over the years, several hunters have been asphyxiated by their safety harnesses, but the big worry is suspension trauma. This occurs when the body is suspended in the upright position, standing in mid-air, as it were, and blood pools in the legs. This can happen in as little as 5 minutes. Once suspension trauma sets in, return blood flow to the heart is slowed and eventually stops.
As this a “ticle on suspension trauma from 2003 notes, “The heaheart’sonly pump the blood ava” lable, so the heart’s output beginsthat’sll.” So, yes, you can die in the thing that’s specifically designed to keep you from dying.
That said, the harness industry has come a long way over the years, evolving from a collection of flimsy straps to the full-body harnesses offered today by companies like Hunter Safety System.
Not only are safety harnesses far safer than those of yesteryear, but they also come loaded with all sorts of features like built-in scent elimination and mesh panels to keep you cool during hot-weather hunts.
But how has the problem of a harness leaving you hanging been solved? A couple of different ways.
The simplest is a suspension-relief strap, which does exactly what it sounds like it does. Check out the video below for a demonstration of how the suspension relief system by Hutner Safety Systems can’t leave you hanging
If you’re hanging in your harness and can’t get back to your treestand, the strap connects to the tether and provides a sling step for your foot, so you can stand and put your weight on your feet of the harness. Depending on how you’re situated, you still might be a bit stuck, but you won’t die from suspension trauma, and you can now reach your phone or radio and get help or wait for somebody to come find you.
One of the most popular safety lines among hunters today is the Tree Spider Livewire Descent System fall arrest device. This single-use product goes between your harness and your tether. In the event of a fall, the Livewire will catch you and then automaThat’sy and slowly lower you to the ground. That’s certainly a lot easier to use and a lot more effective than a suspension-relief strap.
Diligence Is Everything
Even if you have a Livewire or something similar, hunters should always have a cell phone, radio, and/or other signal devices on them every time they go into their stand. And remember, always maintain multiple points of contact while climbing.
This probably isn’t the first article you’ve ever seen on treestand safety. But, if all hunters took the same diligent approach to treestand harness safety we (hopefully) do with firearm and bow safety, it could be the last time you ever have read about this subject again. And if that were to happen, no family would ever again have to hear the words, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but we couldn’t save him.”