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Using a harness when in a tree stand makes a lot of sense

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 9:53 p.m. CDT

There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. Even within the genre of hunting, there are numerous areas to participate. Each type of hunting has its own set of challenges, triumphs, and unique characteristics that one must learn in order to be successful. Deer hunting, though, has something its participants do that most others do not; hunting from an elevated stand.

While it is true that many hunters have great success by never leaving the ground, the vast majority of whitetail enthusiasts do. There is something about being elevated though that changes the hunt and creates a whole different environment.

I remember the first time I climbed up in a tree. I was using a portable climbing stand. For those who are not familiar with a climbing stand, I’ll try to explain what they are and how they are used.

First off, they are lightweight stands that can be easily carried from place-to-place. Most have two separate pieces. A platform for your feet, and then a piece that has a seat attached to it. These two separate pieces attached to a tree via a cable that wraps around the trunk. 

It is at this point, once you have the two separate pieces attached to the tree, that a hunter stands up on the foot platform, attaches his feet to the stand while facing the tree, and then uses the upper piece to see-saw his way up the trunk.

Once the desired height is reached, the hunter releases his feet from the foot platform, turns around carefully so he’s facing the right direction, and then sits down.  Keep in mind, most of these foot platforms are about the size of two cookie sheets. They are not very big at all.

The first time I climbed up a tree in one of these contraptions I was quite nervous. It was pitch black and frosty. I had to maneuver my way up a narrow pine deep in the Arkansas Ozarks mostly by feel. Once the sun cracked the horizon and I saw how high I was, I nearly passed out.

It took most of that season to get used to the whole tree-stand process. Finally, I became much more comfortable. That is when bad things can happen.

When I started using tree stands it was uncommon to use a climbing harness. I sat high in a tree many times completely unattached. If I slipped, tripped, or fell asleep and leaned forward, I was going to fall out and either die or at the very least, be seriously injured.

Finally, I came to my senses. Just because no one else was using a harness, didn’t mean I couldn’t.

In just over a week from now, thousands of whitetail hunters will take to the woods all over the country. Many of them will be hunting from an elevated position, either in a climbing stand, a ladder stand, or a homemade contraption nailed to a tree. It doesn’t matter; they all can be dangerous if a harness isn’t used.

You would think, all these years later, with all of the education and safety being taught, that harnesses would be standard equipment in a whitetail hunter’s gear bag. Too often it’s not. Just this summer, I ran into a young hunter that has never worn a safety harness in a tree. Several people tried to teach why he should. He laughed off the warnings and went on his way.

Being young does not mean you are indestructible. Hopefully this guy will take the warnings to heart and take the extra minutes to prepare himself.

I most often hear, “I’m really careful,” or “I don’t go that high.”

Well, the guy that is paralyzed for life thought he was careful too. Things happen. Especially when adrenaline rushes and deer come toward us. I’ve heard of hunters that were so focused on the deer below them that they literally walked right off the stand! What a way to ruin a hunt.

If you have a whitetail hunter in your family or know someone who uses a tree stand, take the time to ask them about their safety harness. It seems so simple, but I’m sure if you asked any conservation officer, they would tell you that right here in Illinois, hunters will be hurt or die because they neglected to wear a harness.

Be careful this season and good luck.

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