By Chris Nix, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Each year, thousands of hunters climb trees in excess of 20 feet and hunt from platforms that they might not have inspected prior to the hunting season. These hunters are subject to injury or death due to simple neglect of their equipment. Hunters should include a thorough treestand maintenance program immediately after the hunting season before storing the stand as well as just before the next season. With such a variety of stands on the market and many people using homemade stands, the complexity of maintenance will vary greatly.
Most all ladder stands are left in the woods throughout the off-season. The majority of these stands are constructed of wood and subject to rot. Another concern is that they are attached to a growing tree, which causes them to detach from the tree as it grows. All nails or screws should be checked for rusting and security, and signs of damage or rot to the wood should be closely inspected. The platform base and supports should be examined for rot, movement, insecure fittings and deterioration. Some ladder stands are made of metal. Inspect these for rust spots and cracks to the welds. If rust is found, sand it off and repaint. Cracks in the welds are sometimes difficult to see, so look for cracks or flaking of the paint in these areas. Inspect and tighten all nuts and bolts as they can loosen over time. Also, inspect all straps and cables for security.
As with any other metal stand, closely inspect all welds. At times, it can be hard to see small cracks, so inspect the paint for cracks. Rust spots can also be an issue over time, requiring sanding and repainting any visible areas. Inspect and tighten all nuts and bolts as they can loosen over time. Look closely at all pins, swivels, and hooks to ensure that they are not rusted. Closely inspect all ropes, straps and cables. Damage from weather and animals can cause these to fray over time. Check to ensure that all ratchets are working and locking properly before attaching to the tree. Any material used for seating should be inspected for weathering and replaced if needed.
Climbing Sticks and Steps
Climbing sticks and steps are generally used to access lock-on stands. Climbing sticks should be checked for stress cracks around the welds. These are usually attached to the tree with ratchet straps. Check straps for fraying and make sure all ratchets are working and locking properly.
Steps are typically made to screw into the tree; however, some are designed with straps in places where screws are prohibited. Screws on the steps should be checked for buildup of sap and wear around the threads. Over time, the depth of the threads can decrease to the point the step does not function properly and becomes dangerous to use. If the step pivots, check all pins at pivot points. These pins can rust or bend over time. If bent, consider discarding and replacing the step. For strap-on steps, inspect all straps for fraying or dry rot.
As with any other metal stand, closely inspect the stand as previously described. Inspect all frame areas for bending or warping. Look closely at all pins, swivels, and hooks to ensure that they are not rusted. Closely inspect all ropes, straps and cables. Note: Any replacement parts used should be factory replacements. Contact the manufacturer for suggestions if parts are unavailable.
Deer hunters do very few things on a regular basis that are more dangerous than hunting from a treestand. A routine maintenance program and the use of proper safety equipment can ensure a safe hunting season. Remember, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”