by M.R. James
I’VE SAID IT BEFORE and I’ll say it again. If you hunt from a treestand without wearing a safety harness, you might as well wear a great big sign that reads “Yes, I’m stupid!” Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Only this morning I read another news account of a bowhunter found dead at the base of his tree stand. And while he reportedly had a safety harness with him, it was in his pocket. So what happened? No one will ever know the details of why and how he died. But he’s dead and that’s a damn shame.
Somehow I can’t help but believe that like some folks now reading these words, the guy believed it could never ever happen to him. But it could and did.
He was wrong. Dead wrong! And so are you if you think you’re bulletproof.
Treestands can be a deer hunters best friend and worst enemy. Hunting from trees is the most consistently successful method to tag game, but each year falls injure and kill hunters.
STATISTICS SAY ODDS ARE one-third of bow hunters are destined to take a tumble while climbing into, out of, or while in elevated stands. Think about that. Can you name anyone who’s fallen? I sure can and so can most of the veteran bow hunters I know. It can happen to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.
Wearing a safety harness is mandatory when hunting from elevated stands. It’s also smart to wear a climber’s strap or safety line when climbing into and out of stands.
A friend of mine, who was with me when I arrowed my first Montana bull elk, died of a broken neck years later while hunting bears from a tree stand. No one knows why and how he fell, but somehow he did and he’s dead.
Another friend fell while hanging a stand. He survived but suffered severe injuries – and still walks with a bad limp. Another guy I know is paralyzed and “lives” in a wheelchair because he’ll never walk again. And even though I wasn’t hunting at the time, I once lost my balance and jumped backwards from an eight-foot stepladder while trimming tree limbs, cold cocking myself when I banged my head on the ground. This list of accidental falls could go on and on. Sadly, it does.
SO HOW DO WE STAY SAFE? We begin by recognizing the fact each and every one of us is vulnerable and we must never climb without wearing a fall restraint safety harness. Ever! If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for family and friends who would have to attend our funeral, visit us in the hospital, or feed, dress, and to tend us because we’re paralyzed and we can’t do it for ourselves.
When hunting alone, we also make sure a hunting buddy or family member knows exactly where we’ll be and when we expect to be home. We slip a cell phone and a whistle into our pocket or pack in case we fall and can’t walk to get help. And we take pains to be safe each and every time we climb a tree, especially in cold, wet, or icy weather. We not only wear a safety harness but add a lineman’s climbing strap or treestand lifeline for use when climbing up and down to and from a stand. We never climb while holding our bow or other hunting gear, raising and lowering hunting tackle with a haul line. We always keep three of four contact points (hands and feet) with the ladder or steps when climbing into or out of stands. And once in the tree stand, we immediately buckle ourselves in and do not unbuckle until just before climbing down. This is the most dangerous time frame we face while hunting from elevated stands.
Here’s a hunter’s-eye view of a couple of feeding does. Knowing you’re securely buckled in allows you to focus on making the shot, not fretting about falling.
Finally, prior to using our hang-on or climbing stands, steps, and ladders, we inspect them for any sign or wear or damage. We check support cables and tighten bolts and screws, if necessary, and double check all straps.
BACK WHEN I RAN BOW HUNTER MAGAZINE, I repeatedly included little reminders designed to make readers think of safety. One of my favorites was, “Bow hunting Safety Is No Accident!”
It was true then and it’s true today.
But the bottom line is we are the ones responsible for keeping ourselves safe. We are the ones who must recognize the need to be proactive in doing whatever is necessary to avoid injury or death. We are the only ones who must admit that a life-changing or life-ending accident could happen to us.
Because doing anything less is downright stupid!
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