Larry Lyons: A third of tree stand hunters are destined to fallPublished 10:54am Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I’m not knocking tree stand hunters. This is just a reminder to you and your loved ones to have due respect for the inherent dangers. Tree stands result in more injury than all other hunting accidents combined. In fact, nationwide over 30 percent of tree stand hunters will someday fall and suffer injury or death. Michigan heads the list in tree stand falls so the odds here are much higher yet.
Think about that. Next time you’re shmoozing with a couple hunting buddies ponder which of you will be the sacrificial lamb. Not IF, but which one of you it’s going be? That’s pretty sobering.
I won’t bore you with the standard safety procedure list. You’ve heard it all before – strap yourself in, haul your gear up with a rope, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. And therein lays the biggest hazard, overconfidence leading to complacency. Studies have shown there are two common denominators in nearly all tree stand falls. Just about every victim had an “it won’t happen to me” attitude.
The other common denominator is thinking you can quickly grab a branch or something to recover from a slip. You may get lucky and pull it off but odds are good that it’s going to be just “ZIP,” and you’re ground bound in an eye blink. We’ll never know but these might apply to my niece’s husband when he fell to his death several years ago at our Marcellus farm.
A Consumer Products Safety Commission Task Force found some important facts to keep in mind. It’s common knowledge that roughly 80 percent of falls occur when climbing up or down from the stand. The Task Force further narrows this, saying most accidents happen at the stand level, most often while getting into or out of the stand (not that you can’t fall anywhere along the way). After all, it’s just one short step and it won’t happen to me, right? A nearly equal accident risk is when putting up or taking down the stand. Data confirms most victims weren’t properly secured to the tree during these critical times.
There has been much debate over which style of stand is safer, a climbing stand or a ladder stand. Of hunters falling or hanging to death, 55 percent occurred with climber stands and 45 percent ladder stands. Pretty much an even wash. The most prevalent climber stand accident occurs when the hunter fails to securely attach the top and bottom sections before loosening the foot climber. A close second is trying to level the stand while in it. Return to the ground and make the adjustment. A few minutes of hunting time isn’t worth dieing for. Weather is an especially significant factor with ladder style stands. What seemed an easy climb when lightly dressed in balmy weather is a whole different deal when all bundled up and poofed out like the Michelin Man.
Switching from light boots to gargantuan insulated boots ups the challenge, too. And know that the hard Vibram soles nearly universal on hunting boots are like roller skates on wet, smooth surfaces. Then there are frost or ice issues, wet stand straps loosening and on and on.
Without question the key survival tool is wearing a properly designed climbing harness AT ALL TIMES. Many are a terrible pain in the petute which is why so many either don’t use one at all or don’t have it attached during the aforementioned critical times. I’m not knowledgeable enough to recommend products but one that is all the rage is the Fall Guy by Integrated Safety. It works like the seat belt in your car, automatically letting out and retracting a twenty foot web belt hooked to a vest.
You can climb up, down, round and round but should you slip it instantly locks. Of course, if you’re one of those it “won’t happen to me” guys all that harness stuff is a waste of money. And one final thought, Tarzan wasn’t old, fat and out of shape. Should you really be up there at all?
Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at email@example.com