Brad Harvey: A Walk on the Wild Side

Don’t risk it all this fall

September 3, 2013 

Most folks would think that any time the issues of hunting and safety cross paths, the primary concern would be firearms. Obviously, gun safety is important, but the No. 1 killer in all hunting-related accidents is – by an extremely large margin – tree stand accidents.

The saddest part of this is that nearly all of these deaths could have been prevented with a little common sense and the use of a Treestand Manufacturer’s Association-approved safety harness.

Whether out of bravado, sheer ignorance or the attitude that “It won’t happen to me,” all too often hunters venture out into the woods while giving little serious thought to getting back home safely.

As we approach the opening of the archery deer season Sept. 15, I’d like to take a hard look at the facts and give everybody a little something to think about.

In recent years, a number of studies have been performed that revealed hunters often take the risk of not using a harness because they feel it is either too restrictive or too cumbersome.

Actually, it’s neither. The model I have is nothing more than a belt with padded straps that go over each shoulder and two lower straps that wrap each leg. To put it on requires simply stepping into the leg straps, placing your arms through the shoulder straps and connecting the waist belt via an automotive seatbelt-style buckle.

Just click it and you’re in. It weighs nearly nothing and, once the tether is properly attached to the tree, falling is not a concern.

In years past, many hunters used the excuse that a harness was just one more thing that they’d have to buy and they weren’t going to spend the money on it. After all, these things can range in price from around $20 all the way up to a couple hundred bucks.

In an effort to combat this, the TMA started requiring all member companies to provide a simple, free harness with every new tree stand sold.

Though that’s been going on for quite a few years now, it hasn’t made much difference in the number of hunters that actually use them, according to a survey performed by the International Hunter Education Association.

I’d like to say that this shocks me, but it really doesn’t. I see it all the time.

Of the many people that I hunt with locally, I can only name a couple who also wear a harness, and all I can do is scratch my head in wonder as to why anyone would be willing to risk everything without it.

I’ve heard every excuse in the book myself, including things like, “I only hunt climbing stands and you can’t fall out of those,” and “I never get more than 10 or 12 feet up so I’m not really high enough to get hurt.”

The problem there is that the very folks making those statements believe in their hearts that they know everything, while they don’t actually have a clue. The truth is the types of stands that are responsible for the most accidents might just shock you.

Homemade stands are the most dangerous but account for just a few of the overall accidents due to the popularity and affordability of the commercially built models. The Consumer Products Safety Commission found that two-piece climbing stands lay claim to 55 percent of all falls.

I expected the “lock-on” style stands to take top prize, but they came in second, and ladder stands were found to be the very safest, with only 16 percent of reported accidents resulting from their use.

While the true total number of tree stand accidents each year is impossible to determine, since only the most serious are reported, it’s said that one of every three hunters will experience a fall during their hunting career. When the day comes that you draw that short straw, wouldn’t you like to know that the fall you take will be a short one since you’re strapped in up there in that tree?

Ultimately, the choice is yours, but I’d recommend giving the following TMA guidelines a good look so that you’ll end this year’s deer season in the same shape you started it.

Treestand Manufacturer’s Association Safety guidelines.

• Always wear a full body safety harness that meets TMA standards, even during ascent and descent.

• Always read the tree stand manufacturer’s warnings and instructions. Keep them and re-read each year.

• Never exceed the given weight limits of a tree stand or safety harness.

• Always inspect the tree stand and harness for wear before each use.

• Practice hanging from your harness at ground level. Simply attach it to the tree, above your head, and lift your legs.

• Always hunt with a safety plan and, if possible, a buddy. Let others know your exact hunting location, expected time of return, etc.

• Always carry some sort of signal devices. A cellphone, flashlight or whistle can get help others to find you.

• Always select a live, straight tree for stand placement. Be sure that its size conforms to your stand manufacturer’s instructions.

• Always use a haul line to pull your gear and unloaded firearm or bow into the stand. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Prior to descending, lower your gear to the opposite side of the tree.

• Always know your limitations. If you start thinking about how high you are, don’t go any higher.

• Never use homemade stands or make modifications to a purchased tree stand.

• Never hurry! While climbing, make slow, even movements of no more than 10 to 12 inches at a time. Make sure you have proper contact with the tree and/or tree stand every time you move. On ladder-style stands, maintain three points of contact with each step.

For an online tree stand safety course, visit

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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