"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Deer Stand Safety
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

So you dozed off and fell--or almost fell--from your deer stand. But you weren’t injured . . . no need to tell anyone . . . your friends would laugh at you.

This is a secret little scenario that many deer hunters experience now and then. You may even look mirthfully on the matter . . . after all, you weren’t hurt . . . at least not badly. . . . the bruises will heal on their own . . . time will take care of the wrenched back or the wrist you sprained softening the fall. . . it is your own little secret.

Sound, familiar? If you are a deer hunter who goes aloft, chances are good that you have come close, or actually have fallen, from your stand. It could happen again.

Tim Beck, South Region coordinator for he DNR’s Hunter Education Program, says conservation officers of the Enforcement Division investigated 18 deer stand accidental falls during the 2003 seasons. Two of them were fatal.

But the real shocker, Beck says, will be noted in the fact that for every reported deer stand accident, there probably are 10 or more incidents that go unreported. That could easily translate into well over 100 such incidents during last year’s deer seasons.

“Well,” you say, “I will get a safety belt and wear it all the time I am in my stand.”

That may help, says Capt. Mike Crider, director of the DNR’s Hunter Safety Program, but the safety belt--even if it is worn all of the time--is not the solution to deer-stand safety.

Crider says the full body harness (similar to the harness used with parachutes) is best by far because it gives a hunter some time to get help or find a way to get to the ground safely. But he emphasizes that even a full body harness must be used while getting into the stand, while the hunter is in the stand, and while he is descending.

Crider’s program, which makes deer stand safety a big feature of the Hunter Education Program, has a tower (named “The Gallows,” because it is used to hang people) used in deer-stand safety programs. He says that while the safety belt may prevent a fall, those who fall with a safety belt quickly encounter other problems. The full body harness will suspend a hunter far longer without ill effects, he says.

Crider further emphasizes that the full body harness and a safety line should be used while climbing to the stand, all of the time the hunter is in the stand, and while the hunter is descending. He also says hunters using a deer stand should work out procedures for hoisting guns, bows and other equipment up to the stand, and lowering these items to the ground when the hunt is over.

The Enforcement Division’s Hunter Safety Program trained almost 20,000 potential hunters last year. Organizations interested in setting up this 10-hour instructional program should contact the conservation officer of their area.

I found the following admission of a tree-stand fall interesting. It comes as a message Crider received from a hunter who did not report his fall. The hunter was using a “climber stand.”

“I have hunted since 1965 from tree stands and never had a fall. I had hunted all of bow season 2002 with no problem but then it happened. I was alone on opening day of gun season (my hunting partner had other business) and it was 9 AM and I was ready to get down. I did not have my safety belt on and I had just sat down facing the tree to start the downward act. I leaned forward and to the right just a little to attach the bootstraps on the blind to my feet. Before I could blink my eye I had fallen (with the blind) some 15 feet, and found myself lying on my back looking up. I got up and shook myself off and found my glasses about 10 feet on the other side of the fence. When I got home I found the inside of my right knee was black and blue where the tree stand struck my knee when it came to a halt at ground level and catapulted me out to the ground. Only by the grace of God that I am alive. You see I made several mistakes, no safety belt, and I put my blind on a good deer trail tree, but it was a bitternut tree with a very tight bark (not always the best tree on a deer trail is the safest tree for a climber stand). Therefore the cleats did not catch. So the type of bark on a tree makes a big safety difference. I have gone (climbed) as high as 25 feet with my stand. The type of bark on the tree is a very important part of a safe climb and decent. Just so you know, I am only one of three similar accidents that year that I know of and none were reported. It would not surprise me if one out of 10 hunters that climb trees have some type of fall that is not reported. Hope this will help some other hunters in tree safety. If it looks like a light pole, do not go up the tree.”

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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