W hitetail season is right around the corner and that means most deer hunters will soon be perched 15 to 20 feet above ground in their favorite deer stand.
The percentage of hunters who choose to hunt from a tree stand is astronomical. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of whitetail hunters will hunt from an elevated position.
There is a reason for that. Hunting from a tree stand has proved to be very successful. First, hunting from above gives the hunter a better view of any incoming deer, That makes the likelihood of being surprised and caught moving is reduced.
I think the biggest advantage is that your human scent is above the nose of the deer. Even if your scent is picked up by the whitetail, it will have dissipated enough that the buck can’t pinpoint exactly where you are.
As ethical hunters, we are encouraged—no, we are obligated to keep ourselves safe from any injury while hunting. That’s why I implore readers of this column to please use the safety harness that is supplied with every tree stand you buy. Gone are the days of just a safety strap wrapped around your mid section—or worse yet, a rope tied to you and tethered to the tree.
The biggest problem is the fact that these free five- point safety harnesses are difficult at best to untangle and correctly attach to your body. More often than not, a hunter chooses to toss the harness back in the truck and hunt without any safety harness at all.
In my hunting classes, I always ask in the beginning of class how many rifle deer hunters are here. Then I ask how many hunt from a tree stand. Virtually every one of them raises his hand. Then I ask for a volunteer to come up. When he or she does, I hand the volunteer a balled-up safety harness and ask him to put it on for the class. While he (or she) struggles with the harness, I take my HSS (Hunter Safety System) vest and put it on. Two clicks in the front and one on each leg and I am ready to hunt.
It takes a total of 30 seconds to put on. Meanwhile, I keep telling the struggling student that we need to hurry. The sun is coming up! Come on, we’ll be late!
Then I let the class know that this is the time the harness gets tossed back in the truck. Remember, the student (who claimed that he hunts safely from a tree stand) is trying to put this harness on under the bright light of the classroom.
In a real life situation, the hunter probably will be fighting with this tangled harness illuminated by the beam of a flashlight in his mouth.
Many deer are taken from ground blinds. You do not have to climb up a tree to be successful with whitetails, but if you are one of the majority of hunters who will be elevated this hunting season and you do not have wings on your back, then you absolutely MUST use a safety harness. I recommend the HSS hunter vest. It’s so easy to use, and it can save your life.
If you are one of those stubborn hunters who say that they will never fall from a tree stand, then I beg you to go on the internet and google tree stand accidents. You are sorely mistaken if you think this cannot happen to you.
I have a good friend who has hunted for years. He is one of those guys that likes to hunt alone and not let anyone know where his “hot spot” is. That is another big mistake by the way—you should always let someone know where you will be hunting.
One day, this friend stayed in his stand long past sundown because he had does around him, and he did not want to spook the deer. When the deer finally left the area, he decided to get out of his stand. He fell 18 feet because he never used a harness.
He broke both of his wrists and shattered his hip. He crawled through a swamp in the black of night until he found a road and lay there until someone came along and called for help. He was extremely lucky that his injuries were not worse.
I recently saw him and we spoke about that dreadful night. I asked him what kind of harness he uses now after such a frightening experience. He looked me right in the eye and told me he does not use one at all. I simply walked away shaking my head.
Another older gentleman I hunted with confessed that he never wears a harness either. The sad thing is that he told me he knew he should, but hated the way they feel and decided not to wear one.
One day, he was in his tree and another buddy was in another tree. Neither man wore any safety harness. The other man called on the radio that the stand was breaking and he was about to fall. There was nothing he could do. No branches were within reach, and down he went.
Miraculously, he only hurt his pride. The only issue was that he needed a change of pants as soon as possible. Moments later the two “safe” hunters met up. Once they both realized how lucky he was, they just sat back and laughed about it. They still hunt today without a safety harness!
I agree that the free harness you get with each stand you buy is a pain to put on. The safety vest is a ton easier and is just as safe. The cost varies from $60 to $150. Is your life worth that much?
If you are out of work because of an injury while hunting, the cost of the ambulance or helicopter, hospital bill, surgery, doctor bill—you do the math. Then decide whether to use a safety harness this coming season.
Have fun and hunt safe out there.
Email Lou Marullo at [email protected]