Treestand Safety: What You Should Know Before Ascending a Tree
Imagine this: A slight breeze fans your face and eddies around the back of your neck. From 18 feet up in your treestand you think, “The wind is perfect.”
Your optimism soars. You’re extremely hopeful today’s the day the buck you’ve seen on your trail camera punches your ticket to the Pope and Young Club’s record book. To get comfortable on the metal seat the size of an Outdoor Life cover, you squirm into position.
Everything is going great, but that’s when the unthinkable happens: You suddenly plunge from your treestand.
Scenarios such as that occur more often than most bowhunters realize. Dan Walloch of Muskego, Wisconsin, knows all about traumatic falls. He took one two years ago that fractured two vertebrae, multiple ribs and his left shoulder blade. It also deeply bruised his pelvis, shredded a rotator cuff, and inflicted other, more minor, injuries.
Walloch recently recalled those events of the morning of Nov. 6, 2014.
“It rained all night and through the morning until about 10:30 a.m.,” Walloch said. “It was the heat of the rut, and I saw that as my opportunity to get out in the woods. With the temperature at about 33 degrees, I bundled up and walked to my stand.”
He tied his bow to his pull-up rope before ascending the numerous screw-in pegs to his stand.
“I got to the top peg and, with all the heavy clothing I was wearing, I couldn’t get my right leg up and onto the stand platform,” Walloch said. “I reached for a branch with my left hand to get more leverage and started pulling.”
Walloch remembers trying to resituate his right hand on the stand’s seat farther back. As he reached, he lost his second point of contact and things quickly fell apart.
“The branch broke, my legs almost launched me backward and I started falling,” Walloch said. “It was a surreal feeling seeing the tree branches like that, upside down. Everything happened in slow motion and when I hit the ground 15 feet down, the pain quickly set in. I tried to get up a few times but couldn’t. Everything hurt too much.”
Walloch phoned his neighbors. When they arrived they pulled him out on a game cart. Unable to lift him into their vehicle, they called 911 and an ambulance arrived. They loaded him into the emergency vehicle and drove 5 miles to a waiting helicopter, which flew him to the hospital.
“If I didn’t have my phone on me, or my neighbors didn’t pick up, I would be dead right now,” Walloch said. “I couldn’t move, shock was setting in, and it was so cold outside.”
Walloch’s injuries forced him to retire. They also prevent him from living an active lifestyle, and he can no longer draw a compound bow. He bought a full-body harness and crossbow, sold all of his lock-on stands, and only hunts from ladder stands.
Falling from a treestand can be traumatic, expensive and life-changing, but it’s also avoidable by wearing a safety system.
A Deer & Deer Hunting treestand safety survey of its readers in 1993 found that more than one in three hunters who use treestands or other elevated devices will someday fall from their tree or stand and injure themselves.
An article by USA Today summarizes the results of a 10-year survey in Ohio. The study found most deer hunting accidents were treestand falls.
Most bowhunters know treestand falls are possible, but they’re not necessarily concerned. Even so, the facts suggest it’s only a matter of time before an accident hits close to home.
Simply google “treestand accidents” and you’ll see staggering numbers of personal stories, news reports and fall-prevention tips.
Whether a branch breaks, the strap snaps on your lock-on stand, or you slip off your ladder stand’s platform, you can prevent falls and serious injuries by wearing a full-body safety harness.
Lisa Metheny recently wrote an article about treestand safety for Outdoor Hub. As the Deer & Deer Hunting study emphasized nearly a quarter-century ago, full-body harnesses are the best safety gear because their straps wrap around both legs and shoulders, and secure at the waist so you’ll stop upright and conscious just below your stand if you fall. Harnesses with one strap around your chest or waist are out of date and dangerous. Air Force tests cited by D&DH found that people quickly pass out when hanging in one-belt straps.
Therefore, don’t just buy a full-body harness. Wear it. All. The. Time. If you aren’t familiar with harnesses, learn how to attach a full-body harness to the tree by watching this this quick video by Hunter Safety System TV.
A follow-up study by D&DH in 1999 found that of those who wear harnesses while in the stand, 66 percent never wear or secure their safety device when ascending or descending. Unfortunately, those are two of the three times you’re most likely to fall. The other highest-risk move: entering or leaving the stand. Those statistics could be easily decreased by installing a safety line and sliding tether, and attaching yourself to it when leaving the ground. Watch this 30-second tutorial by Muddy Outdoors to see how these systems work.
Looking back, Walloch hopes new hunters will get familiar with treestands and safety measures before hunting, and advises them to not take anything for granted.
“I couldn’t believe what happened, and I never thought it could happen to me, but it did,” Walloch said. “I became a statistic. I’m happy to be alive, but the accident altered my quality of life. I hope my story helps prevent this from happening to others, because I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone.”
Yes, you can fall from an elevated stand at any time, and that fall could break bones, and cause paralysis, internal bleeding, head injuries, or even death. Protect yourself and everyone you love by investing in your future. Many safe, handy full-body safety harnesses costs less than $100, a great bargain compared to medical bills.
So don’t risk it.
Check out safety equipment and full-body harnesses at your nearest outdoor retailer, and buy the one that works best for you.