Most of us have already cleaned and inspected our weapons and ammunition, laid out our hunting clothing and knocked off the dust from last year's favorite pair of boots. All set to go, right? Not quite; there's one question left I want to ask all my fellow hunters: Have you focused as much attention on safety and the preparation of your tree stand as you have the other aspects of your preseason planning?
Hunters failing to wear a full-body harness or neglecting to have it properly connected to the tree ranks as the No. 1 cause of tree-stand-related accidents and fatalities nationwide. According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, five of the 18 tree-stand-related accidents during the 2010-2011 deer-hunting season resulted in fatalities. Fortunately, the statistics for the 2011-2012 hunting season were better, with only nine tree-stand-related accidents and none being fatal.
Besides wearing a full-body harness and ensuring you are properly attached to the tree, what other precautions can you take to ensure your stand is ready for the upcoming hunting season? Regardless of the age, type or style of your tree stand (a climber, lock-on or ladder), there's always a need to do a preseason safety inspection of your equipment. Before the season starts, take out your tree stand and inspect it for rust or cracks and signs of corrosion or rot. Then lay out the tree stand from its stowed and carry position and begin a more thorough inspection of the foot straps, climbing pegs/rails, any chains or cables, the locking hardware (pins, nuts and bolts), and any rope, hoist lines or seat.
Check to make sure there are no rips, tears, frays or dry rot on any of the straps. The chains and cables should be smooth to the touch, without any nicks or burs that could cut or tear a lowering line or strap and reduce the overall tensile strength of the cable. All welds should be structurally sound and void of cracks and chips.
As you are inspecting these items, make sure you have the necessary tools to tighten any hardware that may have worked loose. Also have a lubricant or rust inhibitor on hand to free and protect the hardware. The Treestand Manufacturer's Association recommends only replacing unserviceable hardware with hardware from the manufacturer per the owner's manual. Failure to do so could void the warranty or lead to a failure of the stand. Once you have determined your tree stand is serviceable and safe, conduct a pull test of all components while it's still on the ground. Using your hands and feet, pull and tug on the straps, ropes, chains and cables to verify their effectiveness under a simulated load.
When you've finished your inspection, it's time to put your tree stand into operation. Before you begin this step, I recommend you enlist the help of another individual to act as a safety spotter. Wearing all of your safety equipment, start a slow climb. While still in the starting position, in very close proximity to the ground, place all of your weight on the tree stand and verify its stability and structural integrity. If completely satisfied, continue your climb and go through the entire process of placing the tree stand into an operational position just as you would on opening day. This will help you identify any unforeseen shortcomings such as a lowering line that's too short or a missing locking pin. If at any point during the climb you do identify a risk or a hazard, return to the ground and correct the deficiency. If everything's good to go, complete the climb as if you were preparing for a real hunt.
Once satisfied with the safety condition of the tree stand, reverse the processes and return to the ground. Remove the stand from the tree and stow it back into a carrying configuration. Remember, you should never leave your tree stand outside for an extended period. The elements such as sun, rain, snow and ice could deteriorate the integrity of the stand and make it unsafe.
The entire preseason safety inspection of your stand will vary depending on your particular type and model. If you take the time to verify the reliability and overall safe condition of your tree stand, you will not only gain further confidence in your equipment, you'll be well on your way to an accident-free season.
Always adhere to local and state hunting regulations and laws, and refer to the Tree Stand Manufacturer Association's recommendations regarding the use of a full-body harness. Never use a tree stand that doesn't pass a preseason safety inspection. As the season continues, you should always conduct a safety assessment and inspection of your stand before and after every use. Remember, a complete inspection of the stand, hardware, straps and any welds could make the difference between a successful deer hunting season verses a trip to the hospital or, even worse, the morgue.