Hunting is a favorite pastime for millions of Americans. Within the last 25 years, the number of hunters using elevated treestands has increased tremendously, and so have the number of accidents involving these devices.
The injuries can be severe, ranging from paralysis to death.
Experts recommend hunters attach themselves to life lines and full-body harnesses before stepping onto a ladder to climb up a tree. Without these safety devices, an afternoon of hunting could turn tragic within minutes.
According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 66 percent of all hunters in the United States never use harnesses.
Randy Thomas is a hunter education specialist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Even if a hunter survives a fall from a treestand, Thomas says the accident could result in permanent crippling.
This is exactly what happened to two of his friends who adamantly opposed using safety harnesses.
"Within a year of each other, both fell. One was a paraplegic; one was a quadriplegic from the fall," Thomas said. "Had they just worn a fall-restraint system, it could have prevented that."
Approximately 80 percent of all treestand accidents occur as hunters climb or descend a tree.
The other fall incidents take place while hunting from the stand. Four percent of these accidents are due to hunters who fall asleep in the stand.
No matter what type of treestand you use, or if you construct one yourself, there are safety procedures all hunters need to know and make part of their routine.
The most dangerous treestands may be the ones left outside to weather the elements year-round.
"Homemade stands can be dangerous," Thomas said while pointing at a treestand in Union County, NC. "It's a deathtrap."
The thick chains supporting the platform were visibly rusty and appeared stressed from the expansion of the tree's girth.
Chains left outside to weather often break without warning, causing the person on the platform to plummet several feet to the ground.
Hunters should consider buying a treestand approved by the Treestand Manufacturers Association because those devices undergo a rigorous testing process to ensure hunter safety.
"Make sure both your full-body harness and your tether-line system are rated for your weight, and the treestand you're using is also rated for your weight -- not just the weight of you, but the gear you'll be putting up in the stand and everything else," Thomas says.
When selecting a tree for your stand, look for a trunk that is fairly straight and doesn't have debris, such as rotting limbs, higher up in the tree that could come crashing down on your head.
Since most falls occur as hunters are going up or down, attach the body harness to a life line before stepping onto the rungs of a ladder.
"If you are attached to this the whole time you ascend and descend, should you slip or fall, this system will prevent you from hitting the ground," Thomas explains.
Once you reach the platform to sit, attach your full-body harness to a strap secured around the tree trunk. This harness will prevent you from falling to the ground should you accidentally slip off the platform or doze off.
Always raise and lower your bow, gun or other gear with a haul line because that will allow you to maintain three points of contact when climbing up or down the ladder.
"You should never ascend or descend carrying anything on your back when you are getting into a treestand," Thomas cautions.
It's also a good practice to have a friend help you put your treestand up at the beginning of a hunting season.
Before leaving your home, tell family and friends precisely where you will be hunting in case they need to find you during an emergency.
It's a good idea to keep a map at home for your family showing the exact location of your treestand, as well as any other physical or geographical landmarks noted.
If you do fall out of a treestand and are wearing a harness, be sure to have a bottle of water, snacks (especially important for diabetics), a cell phone and perhaps a second communication device like a two-way radio in your jacket. The water will keep you hydrated and the food will keep you nourished until help arrives. Having two communication devices will provide you with a backup in case a battery dies.
The following information is from Randy Thomas, a hunter education specialist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
The following information is from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission:
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