The Goal

As Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month comes to a close, we’d like to remind our fellow hunters about the importance of wearing your harness and connecting to a safety line every time your feet leave the ground. As hunters, friends and families of hunters we are standing at a historical “fork in the road.”  We can either make the decision that some tree stand falls are acceptable and simply part of hunting OR we can say “NO MORE”!

American Hunting Lease Association chooses the latter. And yes, it’s that simple.

As a first-time hunter I was told to sit in an old tree stand on a particularly windy day. My uncle sent me to a field edge and told me where to find the old stand. It seemed like it was 100 feet in the air, but I climbed up and had a seat. No harness, no belt of any kind, no pull rope and frankly not much of a stand. I might have sat in that stand for 3 minutes before I followed my instincts and limited intelligence and climbed down. I thought, “If this is deer hunting, I am not sure I want to do it.”  I wonder how many potential hunters have had a similar experience and decided they didn’t want to hang from a tree and decided hunting wasn’t for them?

Risk vs. Reward

The risk is just not worth the reward.  Although tracking tree stand falls and the resulting injuries is not uniformly tracked from state to state, there are enough states reporting to give us a solid estimate to related deaths and injuries.  According to the Tree Stand Safety Awareness (TSSA) initiative, nearly 1 in 10 falls results in DEATH.  Out of every 10 hunters in this country that don’t properly secure themselves to a tree and fall, one does not make it home.  Just like that there is a family without a Dad.  A young wife without a husband. Parents that have to plan a funeral for their daughter.  The hard truth is that you don’t get a second chance to make a better decision. When that stand shifts under you and you feel yourself starting to go, there is nothing you can do to affect the outcome.

What about the “lucky” ones that didn’t die?  Broken ankles and femurs, fractured vertebrae, closed head wounds and lacerated internal organs are just some of the injuries we have seen and read about. In one such case, a young hunter in Indiana fell 16 feet from his tree stand and heard the snap of his own neck.  Married just a few months earlier and expecting a baby in the spring, the young hunter’s prognosis was dire. He likely wouldn’t be able to breath on his own again and certainly would need 24 hour care for the rest of his life. The young newlywed made a decision and communicated to his family that he wanted to be taken off of life support. Just hours after removing his ventilator the young man passed away.

In 2015, there were 11 reported deaths from tree stand falls in the US. This doesn’t begin to address the significant number of injuries suffered and lives forever altered. The only thing we know for certain is this. Every single fall from a tree stand is 100% preventable and starting today the AHLA is making it a priority to ELIMINATE tree stand falls.  Anything less than a complete elimination of tree stand falls is unacceptable.

The evolution of the safety harness and the education that accompanied that evolution has most hunters at least owning a safety harness. So, why aren’t they diligent in wearing them?  We asked 1305 hunters that admitted to hunting from a tree stand, if they wore a safety harness. The results were nauseating. Of the 1305, 591 said they wore their harness every time they hunted. 308 reported they wore one most of the time and 406 told us they NEVER wore one.  I would guess somewhere around 150 of the NEVER category were teenage kids, some even poking fun at their friends that were reporting they always wore their harness.  I pray those kids never learn the hard way that there was a better answer.

The Solution

The solution is a two-step process. Two simple steps that every single hunter needs to take and collectively we can make tree stand falls disappear.  The first is to WEAR your harness every time you hunt from a tree stand. That means if you leave it at home, you are hunting on the ground. If you leave it in the front seat of your truck and you realize it just as you reach the tree…don’t even consider it…turn around to retrieve the harness.  No one that hunts on our lease will ever climb a tree without a safety harness and a lifeline. It is our number one rule and it is non-negotiable.

Did you know that over half of the victims of a tree stand fall were possibly wearing a safety harness? That’s right. Over half of falls occur when a hunter is either climbing up, climbing down or transferring from the ladder onto the platform. The best harness on the market can’t stop you from falling if it isn’t connected to some type of tether. This brings us to the second step of our process.

You may have heard of a “lifeline” or “safety line” recently. The introduction of this simple, elementary tether concept has already saved lives. A lifeline is an appropriately rated style of rope that is approx. 25 to 30 feet long. With a loop in one end, it is simply wrapped around the tree above the stand, running the tag end through the loop. The tag or the end not looped is then left to hang to the ground where it is secured to the tree itself.  A smaller diameter rope is then used on the lifeline and is tied in a prussic knot. This is a simple knot that slides freely up and down the lifeline, but once a sudden downward pressure is applied, the knot grips the rope and doesn’t allow any further descent. In some regard it is very similar to a seat belt. The use of a lifeline in conjunction with a safety harness allows you to connect your harness before you ever leave the ground!

So, the physical solution is a simple process. On every tree stand you have, you MUST have a lifeline installed so you can climb and descend safely.  When you use this combination AND when you demand that your hunting partners use it…you have effectively ELIMINATED the threat of falling from your tree stand.

There is just one thing left to do.  Push this message as far as we can!  If you are the spouse or parent of hunters, please share this article. Feel free to forward it to the president of your hunt clubs, your hunting friends, their friends or anyone you can think of that might have some influence over a hunter. It is that important that we reach the people that can influence the hunters in their lives. In addition, set rules on your hunting lease that simply mandate the use of a safety harness and a lifeline at all times.

Together, we can have a positive and lasting impact on hunting in general, but more importantly we can make sure that no family in this country has to endure the heartbreak of needlessly losing a loved one.

We are going to do our part. Will you?