Hang in here—7 Treestand Safety Tips
Hunt from a treestand long enough, and you will have a near-death story. With these safety tips, we’re here to make sure you live to laugh about it later.
By PJ DelHomme
A few years ago, USA’s Director of Field Operations Kevin Grubbs was bowhunting from a treestand 25 feet above the ground. As the morning dawned, a small buck walked by the stand, followed by a slightly larger buck. An even bigger buck brought up the rear. Liking what he saw, Grubbs stood up to get into shooting position. When he did, things got weird.
“My field of view jerked from right to left,” said Grubbs. “It was like a slot machine that suddenly started spinning. I’m standing still, but everything is spinning around me at 100 mph. I turned around and held on to a branch. I literally thought I was dying.”
More than two stories high, Grubbs became physically ill. Five minutes turned into 20, then 30. “There was nothing else I could do but hold on.”
After 45 minutes, he felt well enough to open his eyes and slowly descend to solid ground. He called a friend to get him because he couldn’t walk. His friend put him on a four-wheeler and brought him to the hospital.
Doctors told Grubbs he had severe vertigo, which can be a real problem if you’re suspended 25 feet in the air. “The safety harness saved my life that day,” he says. A die-hard bowhunter, Grubbs has since switched from treestands to tree saddles (Read his review of saddle hunting). His vertigo likely resulted from a previous treestand incident in which he fell only a couple of feet. “I still hit pretty hard, though.”
Grubbs is not alone. In a study out of Pennsylvania, researchers noted that “an avid, lifelong hunter who participates in both gun and archery hunting faces a 1 in 20 risk of sustaining an injury requiring medical attention.”
The bottom line is that you can prevent accidents while hunting from a treestand. You don’t know when you will miss a step or get severe vertigo. So, we’ve put together seven basic reminders that you can start practicing today.
7 Safety Tips
1. Use a Quality Treestand Safety Harness
It’s a no-brainer, but you must wear a high-quality, full-body harness. If you spend the money on a good harness, it should be comfortable to wear all day.
2. Know How to Self Rescue
Suspension trauma happens when you fall out of a tree and hang in your full-body harness. Hang long enough, and the leg straps constrict blood flow, causing blood to pool in your legs, even after a few minutes, says Marcus Granger, a critical care nurse and Montana hunter. “You need to practice and be able to self-rescue if you’re ever in that situation,” he says.
To relieve suspension pressure, use a suspension relief device, which should be accessible in your coat pocket. No device? Then exercise your legs by pushing against the tree or doing other forms of continuous motion until help comes or you figure out how to get back in your stand. Hopefully, you have a cell phone to call for help. Another tip: Use a phone leash or a lanyard attached to your cell phone.
3. Pick the Right Tree
Not every tree is equal. Choose a live tree. The dead one might look solid, but it can’t hold you and your stand. Forget about trees with loose bark and utility poles.
4. Don’t Tough it Out
It gets cold sitting from sunrise to sunset. When you get too cold, it’s okay to go back to camp to get warm. Being cold saps motor skills, which can lead to a fall. “It’s tough to find coordination if you’re cold. You need to make sure you stay warm,” Granger says. “We treat it like a rite of passage to be cold, but it doesn’t help you when you try to get down.”
5. Use the Step Down Approach
Getting into and out of a treestand is dangerous. Install climbing aids extending above the seating platform, allowing you to step down onto the platform. Don’t view the base of the treestand as your last step.
6. Stay Connected
Always be attached to a safety rope like the Lifeline. Thanks to the Prusik knot, this rope attaches to your full-body harness and slides up and down the tree with you. If you fall, the Prusik knot grips the rope and stops your descent.
Watch video on how to tie a Prusik knot
7. Use Correct Tether Position
Always maintain a short tether between you and the tree with no slack. The rope should be fastened at eye level or above, allowing you to recover if you experience a fall. Never let the tether strap get under your chin or neck.
PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal.
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