Editor’s Note: Regardless of how long you’ve hunted or how safely you try to hunt, any time you leave the ground to attempt to take a deer, you may fall. Each time you go into a tree, you enter a danger zone. You must take every precaution possible to prevent an accident. Today’s tree stands have more safety features than any other tree stands in history. In most instances, a sportsman falls because he has made a mistake. However, even if you take every safety precaution, you still may fall if you ever let your guard down.
All types of safety harnesses for tree stands are available on the market today. When hunters used safety belts, often after putting the belts around their waists instead of around their chests, then when they fell those belts would continue to tighten up and squeeze them in their middles. Also, if the safety belt was attached only at the hunter’s waist, if and when he fell, there was a good chance that he might hang upside down in the tree. Although hanging upside down was uncomfortable, righting himself was almost impossible. Two of my friends, both famous outdoors people, Brenda Valentine and Eddie Salter, had falls from trees and are absolutely sold on wearing tree stand harnesses with chest straps and leg loops any time they go up trees.
“I was the very first Pro Staff person to start working with Hunter Safety System (www.huntersafetysystem.com),” Brenda explains. “When I first heard about the company, I just had fallen out of a tree. I told the company I’d like to study the product because I certainly had a real need for a safety harness. Actually I thought I’d killed myself when I fell out of that tree stand so many years ago. I was hunting near my home and was using my climbing tree stand to climb a big red oak tree. I was trimming limbs off the tree as I climbed it. I had one of those old-style safety harnesses that went around your chest but didn’t have leg loops. But I failed to attach the harness to the tree, because back then you didn’t attach yourself to the tree, until you were at the height at which you planned to hunt.
“I was about 12-feet high. To continue to climb the tree, I had to saw through a limb about 12 inches in diameter. The top of this limb was pulled down by some vines. So, when I finally sawed through the limb, the limb sprang toward me, hit me in the chest and knocked me backwards. However, my feet still were in the straps on the bottom of the climbing tree stand. This tree stand was one of those where you put your feet in the straps on the base of the platform, bear hugged the tree, pulled your legs up to pull up the tree stand and then pushed down to lock the stand back into the tree. When I got knocked off the tree stand, I dangled upside down with my feet still attached to the stand. I had the breath knocked out of me too. I couldn’t sit up or find anything to pull myself up with to get back on top of the stand.
“My first thought was that I had broken both of my ankles. Since I was upside down, I’d pass out and then return to consciousness. I tried to understand what was happening, and my next thought was, ‘I’m probably going to lose my legs, since I don’t have any circulation from my knees down.’ I struggled and struggled to get myself back up on top of that platform, because I realized no one knew where I was hunting. I had neglected to tell anyone or leave a note. I finally took a deep breath and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to die right here, hanging upside down from this tree stand.’ I wasn’t really that afraid of death. But when I began to think about my family finding me after the crows and buzzards had started eating on me, I knew I had to get out of that tree stand. I gained enough strength to start swinging back and forth and got hold of a vine hanging down off another tree. I had a little pouch on my climber, and I knew there was a small knife in it. I got hold of the little pouch, ripped it open, removed the knife, opened the knife’s blade and began swinging back and forth once more, until I came up high enough to stab between the place where the strap was attached to the platform and then went around my boot. Then I’d fall back down, regain my strength and make another giant swing to stab the strap. The strap finally broke, I fell backwards, and I dropped the knife. Dangling now from one leg, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m in worse shape now than when I was hanging by two legs.’ I continued to swing and wiggle, until I got my foot out of my boot that was still attached to the tree stand.
“Once I hit the ground, I laid there for a while, realizing I couldn’t walk. So, I crawled 1/2-mile back home on my belly. I banged on the back door until my husband left the football game he was watching and carried me to the hospital. Luckily I only broke three ribs, however, I had stretched all the tendons and ligaments in my legs so badly, and my ankles were so swollen, that I had big blobs of gelled-up blood in my ankles. After my recovery, I repaired my tree stand and went hunting again from that stand before the end of the season. However, this time instead of wearing boots to hunt, I wore tennis shoes with no strings in them. I also kept a knife on my belt.
“From that experience, I learned the importance of always being attached to a tree, whether I was climbing up or down. I also learned not to saw limbs that could kick back and knock me out of a stand. Some lessons we learn easily; other lessons we learn only through pain and suffering.”
“One morning I was hunting from a stand and had a cameraman with me, because we were shooting a TV show,” Eddie Salter, nationally-known hunter and turkey and deer caller, remembered. “The landowner had driven us down an old logging road that had plenty of deer sign. The deer were walking from their bedding area to an agricultural field, where they were feeding. I asked the landowner to keep the car running to cover the smell of our human odor and the noise we were making as we went to the tree stand. Then when he drove off, we would be sitting still and ready to take a buck. I was using one of those sit-down stand-up climbing tree stands. Although I’d put the pin through the part that you sat on, I was in such a big hurry I’d failed to put the wire lock that would hold the pin on in place. I made one big move up the tree, because I was trying to get up the tree as fast as I could. Then I made my second step. Apparently when I took the second step, my hunting coat knocked the pin partially out of the tree stand. As I went to make the third ‘ooch’ up the tree, I put all my weight on the stand, the stand came apart, and I fell backwards.
“I had both my feet strapped into the base of my stand. I only fell 4 feet, but I still broke my ankle in two places, wrenched my knee and had to have surgery. Before this accident, I always put my safety harness on and strapped myself to the tree once I got my stand in position. And, I promise you from now on: I will climb slower and have a safety harness around the tree and me before I start to climb. Then if an accident like this happens in the future, I won’t fall out of my tree stand. You never think about getting hurt with a 4-foot fall. But I was out of work for several months, because I didn’t put my tree-stand harness on and attach myself to the tree before I started to climb. I knew better than to start up a tree without wearing my safety harness. However, due my getting in a hurry and being only concerned about taking a deer, I got hurt. I was fortunate that I wasn’t higher up in the tree. Don’t make the same mistake I made. Buckle up before you go up.”
To learn more about hunting deer with John E. Phillips’ Amazon Kindle eBooks, print books and Audible books (the latest Audible is “How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro”) and Nook books, click here at http://johninthewild.com/books/#deer. You can type in the name of the book and download it to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer. For a free download on how to make jerky from venison to provide a protein-rich snack, choose “How to Prepare Venison Jerky: The Ultimate Snack Food” at johninthewild.com/free-books.