Each year as the weather gets cooler and the leaves start to fall, I along with millions of other hunters prepare for hunting season. Each of us I am sure, has dreams of landing that elusive big game that we have so long studied, chased, and in many cases, been made a fool of to our general frustration. As the seasons change this year I will be headed back to the woods in search of food for my family and when I hunt, I frequently use a tree stand.
Tree stands give the hunter certain advantages. For starters, they put you up higher so you have greater visibility to see further distances. This can allow you to spot game approaching from a much further distance than simply standing on the ground or hunting from a blind. On a side note, I have even considered their utility as a sentry post in a full on collapse scenario. Your height routinely puts you out of the radar of most deer in my experience. If they can’t smell you , the generally aren’t looking for you up in the trees. I have had more than one deer come in to the base of my stand and walk away without ever knowing I was there.
Part of my preparations for hunting involve checking on my gear that I use. Primarily, I want to ensure that my rifles are ready and that means a trip to the range or my buddies land to sight in a new scope I got for my muzzle-loader. I also check out my hunting clothing that will keep me dry and warm. This year I might need to purchase a new set of hunting overalls or gloves to keep as warm I can during the cold mornings and late nights. I also need to check out the hunting land and make sure the tree stand is safe and ready to keep me above the action for another hunting season.
Tree Stand Safety Checklist
Each year, the hunt is different. There are different paths the whitetail deer take through the land and the routes they travel should be investigated first. We hunt on a friend’s land that sits almost completely untouched by humans (that we know of anyway) until between September and January each year. I like to go out and take a look at the game trails and see where the deer are moving.
Check the stand location
There are several different forms of tree stands from homemade, to ladder stands and climbing stands. For the purposes of this article, I am only referring to ladder stands and climbing stands primarily, but the safety checklist could apply generally to any hunting you are doing that requires equipment that places you at heights your head isn’t normally visiting. If you have built your own stand that sits up in a tree, I would even say that it is more important to ensure the safety before you go climbing up there on that first frosty, dark morning of opening day.
For the location of my stand, I refer back to my pre-season visit to check on the activity sign I can see. I had situated my stand where I called a deer highway. Deer would come into the woods to my right in the morning and come up out of the woods to my left in the evening. My position for the last two years was good enough to let me see a half a dozen deer in that one location alone. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to bring anywhere near that many home. Your stand location might need to change and if you find a better spot, you need to ensure the tree you are placing it on is alive, large enough around and there are no widow makers up above your head.
Check your tree stands operation
I use a ladder stand and ladder stands are pretty basic pieces of equipment. Mine stays in place over the year although I tell myself I am going to take it down at the end of each season and bring it home. There are different types of ladder stands but they are all pretty much made of metal and metal rusts if you give it enough time. If you have to pull your stand down, you can visually inspect the frame to make note of any areas that are rusting. If they are rusting significantly, you may want to consider either making repairs or purchasing a new stand.
Once a ladder stand is in place, there really shouldn’t be a whole lot of moving pieces, but bolts might need tightening. Trees blow in the wind and that force could weaken your stand if the pressure is great enough. You could be missing hardware that can be easily replaced now.
If you are using a climbing stand, you likely didn’t leave that out over the summer so now is a good time to find that perfect spot and make sure your tree is free of limbs that might have grown since last year that need trimming to either allow you to climb or get that shot that brings home the big one.
Check your equipment for wear
Ladder stands and climbing stands both can show wear on the metal surfaces that witness the most friction so check where metal connects for any wear that doesn’t look normal. Replace any padding or seats that are showing wear or in my case never were really that comfortable in the first place. I also secure my ladder stand to the tree with some light-duty ratchet straps. These should be released and inspected for any wear on the web strap. If there are any cuts in the strap, replace them with new straps just to be safe.
You might also have a line tied to your tree stand that allows you to pull your gear up to you. Make sure this is present and in good shape.
Plan on using a safety harness
Some hunters look at you funny when you mention a safety harness although, falling out of tree stands is generally the most common cause of injury (from tree stand use). If you have ever hunted, you have heard the stories of people who either took a step too far or fell asleep and ended up breaking their neck and I for one don’t want that to be me. I have fallen asleep on my tree stand on more than one occasion and the last way I want to wake up is on the ground with a broken neck. Yes, they aren’t that high up (unless you are in a climbing stand) but this is a safety checklist so safety is what we are going for here.
In addition to falling asleep in my stand when I am nice and warm in my toasty hunting apparel, I frequently hunt without the benefit of having my friends with me so a safety harness is just one more precaution I take to get me home safely from the hunt. I used to have the cheap version that came with my tree stand, but I soon switched to a much better system shown in the photo. The newer safety harness is so much easier to get on and off and fits me even when I have three layers of clothes on and look like the Michelin Man.
Hunting safety comes down to common sense, and like prepping, it is logical to prepare in advance for bad things happening. If you plan on hunting this year and like to get a little higher, make sure that you are able to come home to your family by perform some simple tree stand safety measures. It could keep you from having a bad day.