As hunters focus on whitetails over the coming months, a wide variety of safety considerations should be addressed, including wearing the hunter orange clothing required by law, using guns with the utmost care, and observing common sense precautions with tree stands.
As I can attest, from personal experiences and acquaintance with others, things can go wrong in a hurry. Some years back I rushed to the woods to get in a couple of hours hunting late in the day, only to have two frightening experiences.
As I eased up a well-situated pine with my climber, the bottom part suddenly fell to the ground. I had failed to check that it was securely tied to the top portion of the stand. There I was, precariously perched 25 feet up a tree with no easy way down. I managed to lower my gun to the ground and grabbed the trunk with both arms to shinny to the ground. I was lucky, because one false move could have meant an uncontrolled plunge.
Shaken but still determined to get in a hunt, I hiked to a ladder stand a few hundred yards away which another club member had constructed (permanent stands were open on a first-come, first-served basis). It seemed secure enough, but as I got into position it suddenly began to lean. The only reason I wasn't left dangling was an adjacent tree allowed me to stop the tilting.
The two near-accidents made a deep impression, one which makes this hunter ever aware that guns, other hunters and tree stands can pose a real danger.
On top of that, as an old mountain buddy puts it, "I ain't as catty as I used to be." I no longer use climbers or the somewhat precarious steps needed to access a lock-on stand. I'm not suggesting they can't be safe, but they are questionable at best for someone of my age and agility. No matter the age, every hunter should be aware of potential dangers.
Here are some safety pointers.
• WEARING ORANGE: Game regulations spell out the laws regarding being dressed in hunter orange. The requirement is in place to avoid any possibility of a hunter being mistaken for a deer. Even archers would be advised, if they continue bow hunting after firearms season opens, to wear orange when moving to and from their stand. A cap or hat is a minimal requirement, but it is even better to have an orange vest or jacket in addition to headwear.
• FIREARMS SAFETY: The use of firearms requires the utmost attention to safety at all times. Never have a loaded weapon in a vehicle; never allow a gun barrel to point at a fellow hunter; check and recheck your gun to make sure it is unloaded after each hunt; use a strong string or light rope to raise and lower your gun (unloaded) to a tree stand; always make certain of your target; do not push your safety off until you are ready to fire; never lean a loaded gun against a tree, wall, four-wheeler or vehicle; and clean your gun after each firing in order to be certain it is in optimal operating condition.
• TREE STAND SAFETY: Every year in this state, as across the country, a number of hunters are seriously wounded or die as the result of tree stand accidents. Far and away the most common cause of tree stand accidents is a fall, and virtually without exception they can be avoided.
The road to safety is to obey what might be called the ten commandments of tree stand use.
1. Always wear a safety belt when hunting from a stand, and use that belt when ascending and descending as well as while in fixed position.
2. Never climb into a permanent stand you have not built yourself or carefully checked prior to use.
3. Never hunt from tree limbs.
4. Be sure, when using a commercial stand, that it is safe. Practice using it prior to entering the woods and make sure it is rated to handle your weight.
5. Never use a climber with a tree that is too small or too large for your stand.
6. Be sure, once you are at the elevation you wish to hunt, that your stand is level.
7. Always stand up slowly and be sure of your balance.
8. Do not take a shot unless you are steady and braced.
9. Do not attempt to climb to a stand while carrying a loaded firearm.
10. Never climb a dead tree or hunt from one with dead limbs above your head.
Finally, if you hunt alone, always make sure someone knows where you are. Hunting is a wonderful experience which can be cherished by young and old.
Just keep in mind the sound, sensible adage: "Safety First!"
The welcome onset of deer hunting season (for primitive weapons) is now here, and we've finally gotten some much-needed rain as well. It's time to be in the woods, and because of a sparse mast crop, thanks to the hard freeze this spring, whitetails will have to roam more than usual for food. That should translate to lots of hunter opportunities. For area anglers, right now it's pretty much a waiting game -- wait for more water in area lakes (a big bass tournament scheduled this weekend for Lake Wylie had to be moved) or else concentrate on farm ponds.