The opening day of archery season for deer on the local scene lies just around the corner, to be followed by muzzleloading season and then the one for modern guns.
The whitetail quest is probably the single most appealing aspect of the hunting world to many local sportsmen, and there’s no denying the excitement of a lordly buck emerging from the morning mist or heedlessly chasing does in the rut. Similarly, a few peaceful hours in a stand provides wonderful opportunity for soul-soothing contemplation and escape from the stresses of daily life, and who can gainsay the wonderful table fare provided by the likes of grilled backstrap or mustard fried venison cube steak.
Amid all the excitement and anticipation of the rites of fall, however, it is vitally important deer hunters have safety first and foremost in mind. There are many components to the safety equation — being absolutely sure of your target, sensible gun handling at all times, possible negative effects of dragging a deer a long way or over-exertion in tough terrain and much more.
However, the most common safety issue in the sport is, without question, connected to treestands. With that in mind, it seems appropriate to offer pre-season reminders about accident prevention connected with treestands.
If you haven’t already done so, it isn’t too late to check out ladder stands and other “fixed” or platform stands. That should include making sure all the straps or chains anchoring stands are solid, checking welds and other metal connections for any rust problems, wooden steps for rot or loose nails, and even looking for wasp nests (especially in covered stands). The last thing you want to do is to get into a wasp nest and try to scramble madly down a ladder rather than with due caution.
Similarly, check to be sure that lift ropes for bows or guns show no signs of rot, and it isn’t a bad idea to give the stand a shake while standing at the base to make sure it is sturdy and shows no sign of give.
This also is a good time to check shooting lanes, make sure you have ample room to swing a gun while in the stand, and to prune limb growth that might present problems while climbing into the stand. Also, give the support tree a careful check for any sign of rot or weak limbs. If anything looks questionable, find a new tree nearby and re-situate the stand. These are simple and sensible precautions than could prevent an accident.
Also, keep in mind that safety harnesses are just as important for fixed stands as they are climbers. Thinking that a shooting rail will suffice should you lose your balance simply won’t cut it. The rails are made to be a rest to support a gun, not hold a 200-pound hunter who slips.
Mention of safety harnesses leads directly to the subject of climbing stands and necessary precautions. For starters, make sure that all the nuts, bolts, and other fittings on your climber are tight and in fine condition. Beyond that, simply don’t use a climbing stand, no matter what the circumstances, without a safety harness.
In that regard I’m going to share a tale of sheer idiocy from a couple of decades ago. I hurriedly finished up last-minute chores and rushed to my hunt club for a short afternoon hunt. I had a prime spot in mind and inch-wormed my way up a tall pine overlooking a field and old logging road.
All seemed well until I reached the desired height and “rocked” a bit to anchor the upper portion of my climbing stand. When I did so there was an ominous clank and then the lower portion of the stand crashed down the tree trunk to the ground. Foolishly, I had failed to check the cords holding the two sections of the climber together. Now I was 25 feet up in a tree with no way down. Even worse, I was not wearing a safety harness.
I carefully lowered my gun to the ground, swinging it away from the tree, and then I grabbed the trunk with both arms and my legs, thinking I could shinny down the way I had once gone up and down trees, monkey like, as a lad. That didn’t happen and my trip down was far more rapid than I wished, and I left behind a good bit of skin on my way to the ground.
Simply put, I was extremely lucky. Not everyone is so fortunate. In all likelihood at least half the hunters reading this column know or know of someone who has suffered major injuries or even death from a treestand accident.
A reliable safety harness should be an integral part of your deer-hunting gear, and in a pinch most harnesses can do pretty credible double duty when it comes to getting a deer out of the woods.
Just hook the portion of the harness you fasten around a tree to your deer, keep the part fitting your body in place, and start dragging. It puts the strong parts of your body—shoulders, trunk, and legs—to work in meaningful fashion.
Along with hunter orange attire, standard gun safety practices, proper pre-season checks of both fixed and climbing stands, and an ample leavening of common sense, make sure you carry a harness (and use it) every time you go aloft in the deer woods. Failure to do so is tempting fate.