Bowhunting is generally a very safe activity that can be done from the ground or from up in a tree. When hunting from up high, we stay safe by using a proper treestand – a platform securely anchored to a tree – to provide a great vantage point for seeing wildlife and taking an ethical shot.
However, safety must be the first consideration when hunting anywhere from 20 to 30 feet in the air. Falls from treestands do happen, and they can be fatal or crippling. But – with the proper precautions – you can prevent falls and enjoy a successful bowhunt. Never take treestand safety lightly. The best safety precaution for treestand hunting is to wear a full-body harness and stay tethered to the tree or lifeline the entire time you’re off the ground.
A full-body harness secures the bowhunter to the tree or lifeline with a tether, which is located on the harness’s back, just below the neck. The harness straps around your thighs and chest, which distributes pressure throughout the body. A lifeline, or “safe line,” is a rope that attaches at the bottom and top of the tree. Hunters attach their tether to the lifeline using a carabiner or similar system, which easily slides up and down the lifeline and keeps you connected from the ground to your stand. When used properly, a tether and harness keeps you from falling more than a foot to 18 inches.
How to Put on a Safety Harness
To put on a safety harness, first put on the shoulder straps and secure the chest strap. The harness’s straps must be tightened, but they should not bind or restrict your movements. After securing and tightening the thigh straps, your harness is ready to go. Most treestands come with a full-body harness, but handier, more comfortable harnesses can be bought separately. These high-quality harnesses, available at archery shops, include features like padding, quick-release buckles and pockets for storing smaller items.
A lifeline is a rope that anchors to the tree just above the hunter’s head, as well as to something secure on the ground, such as the tree’s base. The lifeline includes a prussic knot, which slides freely up and down the rope as the hunter ascends or descends, but tightens and stops instantly when under force. To use a lifeline, bowhunters clip their safety-harness’s tether to the prussic knot with a locking carabiner. As they climb, bowhunters slide the prussic knot ahead of them up the rope. The system works similarly when descending, with the bowhunter sliding the knot downward before each step. Remember: Always stay connected to the lifeline whenever your feet aren’t on the ground.
What to Do if You Fall
Falling from a treestand is terrifying, but wearing a full-body harness will prevent major injuries. Still, you must act quickly to get back onto the security of the tree, your stand or the ground. When anchoring your tether to the tree, put it around the trunk above your head, adjusting its height to leave just enough slack so you can sit down. If you were to fall, this ensures you don’t drop far, and when you stop you’ll be near the tree, not hanging in space.
If you fall and can’t easily step back onto your steps or ladder, act quickly to relieve pressure from your legs with the harness’s suspension-relief strap. Hanging for long periods, even in a full-body harness, can cause serious injury. Once the suspension-relief strap is in place, call for help using a radio or cell phone. If you can now safely reach your ladder, tree steps or treestand, proceed slowly and methodically. Also, before the season, be sure to practice recovering from a fall with the suspension-relief strap. Practice sessions should be done close to the ground, taking turns with a partner.
Treestands are extremely effective for bowhunting. They get bowhunters above the deer’s sightline, which consistently helps them avoid detection. When hunting from treestands, always use stands and safety harnesses approved by the Treestand Manufacturers Association. To purchase TMA-approved treestands and harnesses, visit an archery shop for their pros’ expert advice.