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Doing Dumb Things in a Deer Stand Day 5: Learning Tree Stand Deer Hunters’ Mistakes

A hunter aims his rifle
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Editor’s Note: I started deer hunting years before compound bows, tree stands, safety harnesses, GPS and the other advantages for deer hunting we have today were available. I’m a strong advocate of safe tree stands, full body harnesses and safety devices and equipment to make deer hunting safe and prevent tree stand falls. But in years past, I’ve made some not-so-bright decisions while hunting deer. I’ve spooked deer before and even have fallen out of a tree stand three times in the same day. I’ve shot 24 arrows in one afternoon at deer less than 30 yards from me and failed to cut a hair on them. I’ve fallen asleep in a tree stand. I’ve even dropped bows and other pieces of equipment from my tree stand. I’ve probably committed every sin a deer hunter possibly can commit when hunting from an elevated platform. This week I’ll share the truth with you about some of the dumbest things I’ve done in a tree stand over the years. You may see yourself mirrored in some of my misfortunes. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.

A hunter retrieves his downed deerThe Moment of Truth:

On one hunt, I spotted a large buck while bowhunting – a giant 10 point with 20 inches between his main beams and 11- or 12-inch-long G2s. I just knew this buck – 20 yards away and broadside – belonged on my wall. When I stood to draw in my tree stand, I stopped looking at his antlers and started looking at the spot I wanted to hit. But as I began to draw my bow, I looked so intently at the spot I wanted to hit that I failed to realize I’d tilted the bow slightly to the left. When I made my draw, the arrow fell off the rest, tumbled off the string, clanged against the bow and notified not only that buck of my presence but also every other critter in the woods.

A deer in the fieldThe Late Allen O’Dell and Poison Oak:

If you lived through the early years of tree stands, you know that those early stands resulted in many accidents and misadventures. The poor designs of these early-model tree stands made them dangerous. In those days, we’d never heard of safety harnesses or pull-up ropes. But as many dumb things as I’d done in a tree stand, my buddy, the late Allen O’Dell, had a worse tree-stand mishap. I decided to let him tell on himself.

A hunter with his downed deer

“Well, John, I had one of those tree stands where you hugged the tree and pulled the stand up with your legs. I’d climbed about 20-feet high in a tree and decided I needed to go just a little bit higher,” O’Dell remembered. However, when I tried to climb further, the tree stand kicked out, and I slid around and down the tree. Using my arms, I slowed my descent, and I knew that if I could slam my feet down hard, I could stop the tree stand from falling before I hit the ground. When I slammed my feet hard on the tree stand, the stand grabbed hold of the tree and then slammed my knees into the tree, knocking me backwards.

“When I actually could think clearly again, I discovered I had stopped in my tree stand only 1-1/2 feet off the ground. My knees hurt terribly because they’d smashed into the tree. The bark had rolled up my shirt and shredded and scratched the hide on my stomach. And, as I lay on the ground – my feet still attached to the tree stand – I looked up at the tree and noticed something I hadn’t seen when I’d climbed the tree. On the back side of the tree grew a heavy patch of poison oak. When I’d slid down that tree, the oil from those poison-oak leaves had seeped into my open wounds.

Cover: Jim Crumley's Secrets for Hunting Deer“Even though I bathed thoroughly when I got home, I had the worst case of poison oak imaginable. I had to stay on crutches for two weeks because my knees had gotten so badly damaged. I also had poison oak from the tip of my head to the tip of my toes. I realize I could have gotten hurt much worse. But I don’t think I’ve experienced any greater pain than poison oak ground in to my flesh.”

I know you’ve probably never made any of these mistakes in your tree stand. But after you’ve made these mistakes once, rarely will you make the same mistake a second time.

Elk: Keys to 23 More Hunters' SuccessTo learn more about hunting for deer, check out John E. Phillips’ bowhunting book, available in Kindle and print and soon to be available in Audible, “Jim Crumley’s Secrets of Bowhunting Deer” at http://amzn.to/XYTCEY. You may have to copy and paste these links into your browser. (When you click on the books, notice on the left where Amazon says you can read 10% of the book for free). To see more of John’s deer-hunting books, visit www.amazon.com/author/johnephillips. John’s latest book, “Elk: Keys to 23 More Hunters’ Success,” was just published in Audible on November 15, 2021, and is available in Kindle, print and Audible at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09B2H9V6Y/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i10.

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