By RAY METZLER, Wildlife Biologist
Falls from elevated platforms or treestands continue to be the leading cause of hunting related injuries in Alabama. Many of the falls result in serious injuries such as lacerations, broken bones, and punctured lungs. Unfortunately, a few incidents each year are life-changing events that result in permanent paralysis, amputations, or even fatalities. Hunters must be aware that a fall from a treestand has serious implications to them and their families.
When using a treestand, a fall restraint system is the single most important piece of equipment. A fall restraint system is any device that hunters use to attach themselves to the tree to keep them from falling to the ground in an uncontrolled manner, and it also allows them to safely descend to the ground after falling. A recent study reported that approximately 74 percent of treestand incidents occur while the hunter is ascending, descending, or transitioning in or out of a treestand. For this reason, it is critical that hunters use a fall restraint system whenever they leave the ground. Do not wait until you reach your desired height to attach your safety device to the tree. Remember, a fall restraint device can only protect you if it is worn properly.
Many different types of fall restraint devices are available. The Treestand Manufacturers Association, National Bowhunter Education Foundation, and many other hunter safety organizations and agencies recommend wearing a full body harness. A full body harness has straps under the legs and over the shoulders that are designed to keep you upright if you are involved in a treestand accident. Although wearing a safety harness does not eliminate the possibility of being involved in a treestand accident, it should minimize the potential for serious injury.
It’s critical that treestand users have a plan that allows them to safely descend to the ground once their fall restraint device has kept them from falling to the ground in an uncontrolled manner. There are several commercially available devices that when used properly allow hunters to descend to the ground in a controlled manner.
A screw-in or rope-on step can be used to assist in descending a tree after a treestand has fallen to the ground. While hanging from the harness, the step can be attached to the tree in the appropriate manner. The treestand user can then place his or her weight on the step and alternately lower their harness and the step to safely descend the tree. An 8-foot length of ¼-inch nylon rope with a loop in each end can be looped around the tree and back through one loop. A hunter can then step in the lower loop to provide secure footing while lowering oneself in their harness. Several other commercial devices are available that allow hunters to safely descend to the ground after falling from a treestand.
Hunters could minimize their chances for being involved in a treestand accident by using good judgment and exercising all safety precautions. The following safety measures should be followed by all treestand users:
- Wear a fall restraint device from the moment you begin climbing the tree until you descend to the ground.
- Inspect your treestand at the beginning of the season and before each use.
- Test your treestand slightly off the ground to make sure it’s safe.
- Be sure your stand is fastened to the tree securely and that the tree is the right size.
- Unload your gun prior to pulling it up with a strong cord or rope.
- Avoid excessive movement that could cause you to lose your balance.
- Clear away obstructive branches before shooting from a stand.