Carelessness in tree stands can prove deadly

The careful hunter plans wisely, and that includes preparation for erecting a tree stand.

Hunting from tree stands high above level ground may provide an advantage, but it also can be almost as dangerous as pointing a loaded weapon at a partner.

There is not much call for employing tree stands during the fast-approaching spring turkey season in Indiana, but still, some creative-thinking hunters do use them, and discussions on the topic do pop up on sportsmen’s online sites.

Much more commonly used in the woods during fall deer hunting season, the recent Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show provided a workshop reminder of safety tips that can be applied year-round when counting on tree stands.

Handled by Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Tony Mann and experienced safety volunteer Stephen Spencer, the session offered a reminder to hunters that it is easy to make mistakes and get hurt if focus is not applied.

Mann said Indiana saw 18 reported tree incidents in 2021, and 17 of them required medical attention. He used a pithy phrase, stay connected, as a key to preventing mishaps. What that’s all about is making sure that when a hunter climbs 6 feet, 10 feet or 20 feet off of the ground, he ties in with a harness. It is very much like remembering to buckle a seat belt when starting an automobile.

“We call it dumb proof,” Mann said. “It even tells you how to put it on.”

Because hunters usually seek an early start, they awake in the middle of the night, reach their hunting perch early, climb up and are settled in before sunrise and legal shooting hours begin.

They may be pumped up with adrenaline, but during the wait for prey, which may take hours, they regularly doze off. Falling asleep can lead to falling out of a tree stand and being awakened by a hard impact with the ground. That is a common scenario and why harness use linking the human to a stand or limb, something stiff and solid, is so important.

Outdoorsmen may hunt on their own land, if not leased land, or a borrowed site from a neighbor or relative, and building in a sturdy, secure tree stand is a fundamental move. Rope ladders can be the access method to a stand.

“If it’s a live tree, make sure that bark is healthy,” Spencer said. “Read the instructions for the tree stand. One thing you should never climb is utility poles or power poles.”

Another policy worth following when setting up a tree stand and linking in a harness is to never get in a hurry, he said.

Spencer was not joking when he advised following the directions. Just think how many dads have great difficulties putting together popular toys for their kids. Mann and Spencer said there is accepted protocol for installing a ladder to prevent injuries on the front end of the procedure.

“You want to have at least three people to install a ladder stand,” Mann said.

Mann and Spencer also spoke up for the use of vests with many pockets as handy utensils to wear into tree stands, Spencer emphasizing how early season warm weather may favor such garb.

The instructors noted that just because a tree stand is erected to be permanent with a proper ladder or even metal footsteps screwed in that it will last forever without monitoring or repair.

“A lot of incidents we have are when they are left year after year after year,” Spencer said. “Cables rust and disintegrate. They deteriorate and you go ‘Boom!’”

Spencer and Mann said tree stands are a terrific aid, but they should be used properly and are probably not worth bothering with if the hunter is uncomfortable being high off of the land.

“If you’re scared of heights, ground blinds can be an awesome asset to your hunting,” Mann said.