By Josh Boyd
There are few things more enjoyable for a deer hunter than watching as the morning sun breaks above the horizon, while situated in their favorite treestand. On top of the bird’s eye view that is gained, a hunter is afforded a much better shot at avoiding detection by the ever prying eye of a wary whitetail.
While the benefits provided by hunting from a treestand are numerous, this practice does not come without its share of hazards. Every year, a number of treestand accidents occur across the nation, many of which result in life-changing consequences, or worse. No hunter is impervious to slips and falls while in the stand, and it takes only seconds for tragedy to strike.
Luckily, now more than ever, we are provided with a multitude of tools to eliminate many of the risks associated with hunting from a treestand. However, one still must remain vigilant in their efforts to stay safe while hunting in an elevated position, beginning with a preseason check of all stands, harnesses, and lifelines.
Check All Treestand Straps
Now is the time to lay eyes on all treestands that have remained in place during the offseason. A thorough inspection of your stand should be conducted in a bid to eliminate any possible points of failure.
One item that warrants intense scrutiny is that of your stand’s straps. Both buckle and ratcheting style straps can, and do, fail on occasion. With time, a strap’s structural integrity degrades due to the onslaught of UV rays which it is bombarded with daily. This causes straps to become brittle, leading to eventual failure.
Treestand straps are also common targets of inquisitive wildlife. Curious squirrels and raccoons can make quick work out of a treestand tie-down strap, as they chew away at the fabric structure of which they are composed.
It is best to replace all treestand straps every year if possible. However, at the very least, an annual evaluation of strap integrity is highly advised. Check for any chew or rub marks, as well as any signs of fraying.
As a rule of thumb, if a strap’s colored fibers are highly faded, these same fibers have likely begun to degrade. In cases such as this, replacement is by far the best option.
Evaluate Condition of Tree Steps
When hunting from a lock-on stand, two main types of climbing apparatuses are commonly employed, screw-in tree-steps and climbing stick segments. No matter which of these two methods you prefer, there are still several factors that must be given due consideration yearly.
When using screw-in tree steps, it is important to verify that all are capable of bearing weight from one year to the next. Visually inspect all screw-in steps to ensure that none are bent or appear to be sagging.
If no issues are outwardly evident, you can begin your ascent, while tethered securely into a lifeline system. Proceed slowly when doing so, while easing your weight onto each step before placing complete confidence into their integrity.
When climbing sticks are used, it is always in your best interest to regularly evaluate the overall shape of their hold-down straps, in much the same way as those used in conjunction with a treestand itself. These straps take a significant amount of abuse as a hunter ascends and descends a tree during the course of a season, and annual replacement is never a bad idea.
Carefully Inspect Safety Equipment
Recent developments in treestand safety have made it possible to be tethered to a given tree from the time your feet leave the ground, until safely descending at the conclusion of your hunt. Lifelines and safety harnesses have been instrumental in helping hunters make it home safely, from one season to the next.
However, this equipment is of little use, if not kept in adequate shape to serve its designated purpose when the need arises. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance to look over all of your safety equipment every year, before going afield.
It is imperative that any such items which show signs of aging or damage, be promptly discarded. If any harness tethers, straps, or buckles appear to be structurally compromised, they are no longer worth betting your life on, and their use must be discontinued.
It is also worth noting that a harness is no longer viable for use after being shock loaded. Treestand safety harnesses typically employ multiple folds with breakaway stitching to handle the shock load that is rendered by a falling hunter. Once this stitching has been severed, the harness in question should be retired.
In any event, most manufacturers specify that a safety harness has an effective service life of no longer than five years. If your harness has exceeded this length of service, continued use is not advisable.
Likewise, lifeline systems should be checked for any obvious defects, such as cable fraying, or carabiner damage, prior to use. If any of these system components appear to show signs of aging or distress, use should be discontinued immediately.
It is quite easy to throw caution to the wind when one finds themselves in a mad dash to ready their gear prior to season. However, if concerns related to treestand safety fall on the back burner, you are quite literally betting your life. In the weeks ahead, take the time to ensure that you are able to hunt safely when aloft this season. Doing so can very possibly mean the difference between life and death.