July 12, 2016
By Steve Bartylla
It spooked me bad. The huge, and I do mean huge, oak was the only tree in the river bottom pinch that worked. No matter how many times I scoured the area, I simply couldn't will a better tree into existence in the spot I needed it.
The list of problems with the oak was a long one, but there were several that set off the flashing red lights and sirens in my mind.
The first was that it was way too big to use the climbing sticks I'd packed in with me. Even if I doubled the straps, they weren't close to getting around the trunk. I believed it narrowed enough at around the 25' height to get the stand strap around, but I also realized odds were just as good that I'd have to get to 30' to pull it off. Still, this spot was just too good to pass up and a hang on was the only stand option I had.
Frankly, having to get that high without using climbing sticks was a distant third in the concern department to the two factors that really had me spooked. Even back the 15ish years ago, when this was playing out, I'd already hung somewhere over 1000 treestands by myself, all without any serious incident.
Never had the idea of hanging a stand spooked me before. I'd brought plenty of screw in steps, "just in case" the sticks wouldn't work. I had enough to get 40' up and, because of my own stupidity in not using safety harnesses back then, I was well practiced at hanging on with one hand and screwing in steps with the other.
The real spooky issue was the huge branches made it so there wasn't a single direct path up and no matter what route I traced, I'd have to be leaning backwards at some points. Even back then I was smart enough to know that leaning back is a huge no-no when climbing treestands.
I also knew that trying to hang on with one hand and screw in a step with the other, while leaning backwards was a pants on head stupid risk, made even worse by the tree being way too big to get an arm around.
Complicating things even further was that the thick, ridged bark would have to be cut away where each step would go. If not, the threaded portion of the step would never even sniff the wood portion of the trunk.
After circling the tree at least 20 times, I finally tossed the climbing sticks at the base of the tree and went to work. It was at about the 15' mark, leaning backwards, fingers clinging to a bark ridge when the bark gave and I started going backwards. With just enough time to make one grasp, my fingertips somehow barely found another valley in the bark. Looking down, I saw how close I'd just come to falling back first on the climbing sticks I'd carelessly tossed next to the tree.
That was it for me. I immediately climbed down, leaving the screw in steps in place, and got the heck out of there. To this day, I have no doubt in my mind that, if my fingers hadn't somehow found that fingertip hold, I'd either be dead or paralyzed, all over a quest to get a deer.
I got lucky. Frankly, I'd been getting lucky all the way up to that point, and just wasn't smart enough to realize it. Because of the long term management work I do for 4-5 clients each year, as well as hunting both public and private ground myself, every year since that "slip" I've hung between 100-200 stands.
You can double that, if you include loosening and/or taking them down after each season. I can still say I've yet to fall when hanging or loosening stands. The difference is that now I'd be fine if I did slip.
I get it. We are ate up with hunting and big bucks. Never forget three things though: We have loved ones that value us, bucks are nowhere close to being worth risking serious injury or death and, most importantly, we don't have to risk either. Here's how you can hang treestands safely and come home to your loved ones, every time!
It really is as simple as following a series of requirements. Follow them religiously and you are safer hanging stands by yourself than you are driving back and forth to your hunting grounds. Don't and it's just a matter of time before tragedy hits.
What follows are the steps I take to set hang on stands. All treestands involve a certain degree of risk, but setting hang-ons is considerably more risky than setting ladders or using climbers, and many of these steps address them, as well.
1. Only select trees that are straight or have a very, very slight lean. You must be climbing straight up the tree or leaning very slightly towards the tree. Leaning to either side or backwards aren't options, period!
2. Dead trees or trees with larger dead branches are never to be used. Professional loggers call them widow makers for a very good reason.
3. Obviously, the tree must be large enough to support the hunter and the stand's weight. Because the base of a ladder stand offers extra support, they can be used in smaller diameter trees than hang ons, but remember that you still have to shoot. Even if a tree is large enough to support the stand, that will do little good if every breeze makes you bob around like a bobber on the ocean, making it impossible to take an ethical shot.
4. Only use climbing sticks that slide together to form one continuous piece. Screw-ins are dangerous and can gut you like a fish. Individual piece sticks, which are used independently of each other, are safer than screw ins, but grabbing the bottom of most can make them come away from the tree and put the hunter off balance. They should be a last resort, if used at all.
5. Before beginning, attach a rope to the folding portion of the stand, so it doesn't open when being pulled up, and set the stand just far enough away that one can't fall on it. Lay the rest of the rope out to avoid tangles and loop the other end loosely around your belt twice. That way, if it gets caught up while climbing, it will simply pull free of your belt.
6. Slip a Hunters Safety System LifeLine or equivalent product into a pouch or pocket.
7. Pick a direct route up the tree, as well as where the stand will be set and its orientation before proceeding. Remember, you want a direct route up that doesn't force one to lean to either side or backwards.
8. Loosely attach the bottom section of climbing stick to the tree. Then, grab the top piece and slip the middle sections in, before using the tree as a brace to slide the unattached sections of stick up the tree and into the base section. Once in place, tighten to base strap securely to the tree.
9. Wrap your lineman's belt around the tree and give yourself just enough play to lean back a couple inches, no more.
10. On the way up, keep adjusting the belt to offer just those couple inches of play, attaching and tightening each stick section's strap as you go up.
11. Once to the top, with the lineman's belt still around the tree, pull the stand up and place it so that you will be stepping down, not up onto the platform.
12. The platform must also be level or leaning very slightly back towards the tree. Sideways or forward leans aren't safe options.
13. With the stand in place and you in the most secure position you can put yourself in, unhook the lineman's belt, flip it over the platform and reattach. You can now climb the last steps and get into the stand, while remaining attached to the tree.
14. In stand, attach the LifeLine above your head, clip in your safety harness and then unattached the lineman's belt.
15. At this point, one can now trim, add gear hooks and place 2 screw in steps for hand holds for getting in and out of the stand, all while safely secured to the tree. At all points when climbing, between one's hands and feet, one must always maintain 3 points of secure contact. Putting the 2 screw ins for hand holds used for getting in and out of the stand allow 3 points of contact to be maintained at all times.
16. When done, one can climb down to just below the platform using just the LifeLine, attach the lineman's belt under the platform and continue the climb down.
17. Once on the ground, secure the loose end of the LifeLine to the tree and you're done.
Using this method, the only time one isn't secured safely to the tree is when getting the lineman's belt over branches and the stand platform. Though one can greatly minimize the risk of setting hang-ons by one's self using those methods, it's still recommended that it's done with an assistant. Not only does that make it so someone is there in case of an issue, it's really nice having someone on the ground doing the trimming, with the person in the stand directing them.
Special Ladder Stand Considerations
For ladders, it should always be a two man job. Many of the bigger ladders are challenging to get into position alone. More importantly, even after the stabilization bar and other ropes or straps are secured on the ground, that ladder isn't safe until the top straps are secured to the tree.
Bringing an assistant allows them to help hold the ladder in place on the ground, while climbing and securing the upper straps. That extra stability can be of vital importance, as linemen's belts just don't work with ladders.
Once the ladder is secured, use a Lifeline in the same manner as with hang on stands. The only difference is that the bottom of the LifeLine is attached to the ladder stand, not the tree.
Deer hunting is a burning passion for many of us. It drives many of us to go to extremes others would call crazy, all in the hopes of tagging that buck.
Though I'm all for pushing one's self to tag that buck, stand safety isn't and never should be included in that statement. It just flat out isn't worth it and is completely avoidable. Follow those steps and you'll come home safely from each stand hanging and hunting excursion.