"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Deer Stand Harness Important For Safety
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

I went to Galyan's the other day to pick up a couple of deer-hunting licenses, and while there I thought I would buy another safety belt so I would not have to move the one I had used for years to a second deer stand.
What I wanted was that simple little rig that consists of three straps about two inches wide. One strap goes around the tree at about the level of the hunter's shoulders, with a shorter strap hanging down from the tree strap and attached firmly to the strap that goes around the hunter's chest or waist.
I have used the one I have for several years and must admit that it has caught me a few times when I was about to doze off into never-never land. Of course, we all know what can happen when that happens.
But my dozings never got that far. The strap always caught me and I snapped to attention and pulled out another stick of gum to keep me alert. 

"Sorry!" said the clerk, "we don't carry them anymore . . . they don't even make them anymore." With that he plucked a plastic-enclosed package from a display that read "Full Body Harness."
Front of the package showed a hunter in camo stuff in this maze of straps that I thought looked like an industrial strength parachute harness from the WWII era. I knew immediately that I would have trouble getting into something like that, but when the clerk explained that a fall in this rig would place the weight of my body on my legs and I would hang heads up instead of willy-nilly as he said it seemed to happen with the single strap.
I considered it a steal at $29, and we closed the deal with the shake of a hand that held my credit card, although I knew it was only the beginning of my troubles. I was quite aware of my penchants and talents for keeping things from working (I have trouble putting fresh batteries in a single-cell penlight).
My greatest fears became stark reality when I got home, cut the plastic away and dumped the maze of straps (all joined at one place or another). The instruction folder told me precisely how to get in the thing. But after an hour or so of sweating and saying uncomplimentary things about the guy who wrote the instructions, I was (for better or worse) in it. 
I was afraid to take it off because I feared it was not likely that I could ever get in it. I raked a few leaves, did some other things around the house, and eventually I concluded that I could not wear it forever. I probably would not have reminded anyone of Sally Rand or any of the other burlesque queens, but I took it off and tossed it to an imaginary admirer in the front row. 
There it was, again a menacing mass of straps and buckles on the living room floor.
A day or two later, I hauled the contraption out to the farm where I hunt.

After greeting the farmer as he chored in the barn, and talking for a while, I asked if I might bring in my boots and insulated coveralls to get dressed for my hunt in a dry place.
"Sure thing!" he said, and soon I was at the task of getting into my one-size-too-small coveralls (funny how the old age spread settles in the tummy). But with boots and coveralls on, binoculars, Nikon 990 camera, and a set of deer antlers (for rattling) suspended on a piece of clothesline around my neck, I was ready to encore my original performance of melding into the harness.
"You know, " I told my farmer friend, "they say you can teach a monkey to run a computer . . . and I proved it . . . I had a terrible time getting into this thing (the harness) the first time I tried it . . . should be easy now . . . 
But 20 minutes later, with sweaty brow and a diminishing patience, I admitted that maybe I should just use the old single strap until I could learn a bit more about the this newfangled harness.
Once I was in the thing--there were straps running everywhere--but the strap that hooked onto the strap that surrounded the tree, was hanging between my boots . . . I did not think that would work.
My farmer friend stroked his chin a couple of times and opined that maybe he could help me.
"I will hold it," and you just step in after we take off all of those things around your neck," he said.
Holding the dangling strap high, he parted the leg straps, and before I knew it, I was in there. He pulled up the shoulder straps and I slid my arms through. And that dangling strap, like the fuse of gigantic firecracker, caressed my left shoulder, precisely as the instructional pictures showed it. 
 "Miraculous!" I thought.
Then re-bedecked with the camera, binoculars and rattling horns, and with my trusty Remington Model 1100 and Hastings slug barrel, I was ready for anything, notwithstanding the notion that I didn't want to test the tensile strength of that dangling strap.
As I walked out into the misty day, my farmer friend opined that he would like to set up a bleacher and sell tickets (including entertainment tax) to folks who would like to watch me get into that harness on a cold, black morning. 
"The price of corn, beans, hay and milk haven't been real great recently," he said. "We could bring show-biz to the farm with spotlights, popcorn, hot dogs, and all."
I/you/we can poke fun at safety straps and harnesses to our heart's content. We can smile, chuckle, guffaw and otherwise make light of this most important safety feature of deer hunting.
But there is a serious side to safety straps and harnesses. These strong straps and buckles can save lives, prevent injuries. It didn't take many dozings, and last-second startling awakenings for me to see the importance of such gadgetry.
Officials of the Department of Natural Resources' Division of Law Enforcement (the conservation officers who investigate such natural accidents) say they have recorded nine deer-stand-falls this year and one of them was fatal, although it may have involved another cause of death.
Last year the conservation officers recorded 16 falls (one fatality) while we went 13-0 in 2001, 15-0 in 2000, 19-1 in 1999, and 15-4 in 1998.
Let's face it: Sitting a deer stand several feet above terra firma, which can be quite firm and adorned with even harder tree roots, rocks and other menacing obstacles, does not compare favorably with being in the arms of a doting mother.
Getting and using a safety strap--make that harness--will improve your chances of being physically able to hunt another day.

Getting into this jumbled mass of straps and buckles takes some doing, but once you are in and "buckled up" to a strong tree, you are pretty safe.

View harness photo here.


All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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