I am going to take a break from my series “From the Engine to the Truck” and address an issue that will hurt or kill some hunters this season. I do not know the statistics in Virginia or across the country, but I know my personal experience with a tree stand during a black powder season, as well as some incidents involving others and tree stands. Many hunters have taken to the woods with the start of bow season. November will mark the beginning of black powder season, leading to the regular gun season. Some hunters will choose to keep their feet firmly planted on solid ground, while others will climb trees.
My attempt will be to make you think, as you go out hunting. Legal hunting time is one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. This means that most hunters enter the woods and leave the woods when it is dark. Let me start with the question: if you do not come in on time, does someone know where you were intending to hunt? The club that I hunt with has a map of the farm in the hunt shed. We are required to sign in and out, using a written ledger and then we are required to put our nametag on the map, as close to the location where we will be hunting. Most of the permanent tree stands are marked on the map. If you do not have this type of accountability system, you still need to make sure that someone knows your whereabouts.
The next piece of safe hunting is to have a good light and a reliable means of communication. As stated previously, most of us enter or leave the woods in the dark. It is imperative that you have a good light, with good batteries, in order for you to get to your stand, as safely as possible. You might think that the light will disturb game going in, but falling or getting lost will disturb much more game. You need to make sure that your cell phone is fully charged before you go into the woods. If you are in an area that has poor cell coverage, then you will need to have an alternative means of communication, such as a hand-sized two-way radio, knowing the channel and code that everyone is using.
While you are at your vehicle, you need to put on your safety harness. Full-body safety harnesses are necessary, if you plan to climb trees. If you are using the one that you used last year, then you need to inspect it for wear and tear. If you have acquired a new harness, then my suggestion is to put it on at home, learning about it prior to the first time that you go hunting. The newest harnesses come with a descending system, in the event that you fall out of your stand. The bottom line is, do you have a plan if you fall out of your stand and you are left hanging from your harness?
Now that you have made it to your stand, you need to check the tree and the stand before you make the climb. This actually should have been done before the season began, in broad daylight. Trees grow or weaken, which may make last year’s stand dangerous. Stands adjust due to changes to the tree. You must ensure that both the tree and the stand are safe to climb. It is hard to determine the stability of a tree, with the exception; is it alive or dead? Do not climb dead trees! Some of you will climb stands that are permanently affixed to the tree, while others will climb with self-climbing stands. Whatever type you use, you must ensure that the stand is safe. Gravity is working against you, so get it right.
Once you are in the tree, you need to be careful with all of your movements. The first thing that you need to do, if you did not do it while climbing, is secure your full-body harness to the tree. You will want to secure it in a way that if you fall out of the stand, the connection to the tree will be solid. The last thing that you want is to fall out of a stand or have a stand break under you and your harness get loaded, but it is better than the alternative.
Once you are safe and secure in your stand, you then need to pull your unloaded weapon, up to you. You, again, must have checked your equipment and know that your haul rope is strong enough to haul your weapon into the tree. Some stands have a haul rope attached, but you must check it to ensure that it has not deteriorated. Your weapon needs to be unloaded, in the event that it drops to the ground or gets caught while hoisting.
Once you are ready to get down from your stand, you must use the same caution that you used to climb. You must first lower your unloaded weapon to the ground. You then must release your full-body harness from the tree, without falling. You then want to descend the tree, slowly and carefully. Skipping steps may lead to catastrophe.
It is my hope that you have a safe and productive hunting season. Climbing trees adds a touch of danger to your hunt, especially if you are not prepared for the task. Some hunters will fall from their stands, for a variety of reasons. Some will be injured badly, while others will die as a result of their fall. You must do everything possible to ensure your safety. If something goes wrong, I pray that you will be able to call for help quickly and that someone can get to you just as fast.