Bowhunting is a safe sport. In fact, hunting is safer than golf, tennis, football, baseball and ping-pong, according to a National Safety Council report.
Hunting accidents do happen, but few involve accidental shootings. A 10-year study in Ohio found that most deer hunting accidents are treestand falls.
What should you do if you fall from your stand while wearing a safety harness or fall-arrest system, and you’re suspended from its lifeline or tether? Five steps could save your life.
Step 1: Don’t panic.
Take a deep breath and gather yourself.
Step 2: Signal for help.
If you have a phone or GPS unit with a transmitter, call 911 for help immediately. Communicate your exact location and status to the operator. If you don’t have service or can’t contact 911, your next move is to send an SOS via satellite with your personal locator beacon. If you don’t own a PLB, yell and whistle for help, and hope a hunting buddy or someone else is within earshot. Whatever your option, try hard to contact someone immediately. It’s extremely important to summon help before you lose consciousness, which can happen faster than you might realize.
Step 3: Assess your situation.
Once help is on the way, assess your situation and create a plan. Are you hurt? What’s between you and the ground? What resources do you have to rescue yourself? You should act quickly, but not rashly. Move to step 4a or 4b, depending on your situation.
Step 4a: Climb back onto the platform to await help.
If you’re physically able, climb back into your treestand. Wait for help before descending the tree.
Step 4b: If you can’t climb onto the treestand, use your suspension-relief strap, or a tree limb, climbing peg or folding tree strap to stand up.
Hanging motionless while suspended in your harness leaves you prone to suspension trauma, which is life-threatening. The study guide for Massachusetts’ hunter education course states that suspension trauma occurs when your harness’s leg straps constrict blood flow. The straps’ pressure can make blood pool in the legs and restrict circulation, which deprives organs of oxygen. If that happens you’ll lose consciousness and possibly die.
To avoid suspension trauma, secure your harness’ suspension-relief strap, and step into it to stand up. Standing relieves the strap’s pressure and improves blood flow. If you can’t stand, or you don’t have a suspension-relief strap, keep your legs moving by raising your knees or pumping your legs.
Step 5: Listen to the pros.
When help arrives, let them dictate a plan to get you down. Listen to their instructions and guidance. They’re trained for emergencies. Even if you don’t think you’re hurt, get evaluated to ensure you don’t have a concussion, internal bleeding or other injuries.
After the Fact
Most harnesses are rated for one fall. Check its instructions for usage information. If you lost or discarded your instructions, call the manufacturer or check its website for more information. Rule of thumb: Replace your harness if it has any frays or broken seams. If you’re unsure, buy a replacement.
- Always wear a full-body safety harness, and use a sliding lifeline or “safe line” to stay connected to the tree at all times once you leave the ground.
- Check your harness’s expiration date. If it’s expired, replace it immediately. Straps and elastic lose their integrity over time. A $100 harness costs less than most medical bills.
- Be sure your harness fits. Check its size and weight limit. If you’re too big or too small according to the harness’s recommendations, replace it with one that fits.
- Secure your harness’s tether to the tree trunk above your head, leaving just enough slack to sit. That ensures you won’t drop far if you fall. You’ll be able to climb back into your stand, assuming you’re unhurt.
- Hang or install your treestand correctly to ensure it doesn’t fall apart or malfunction when you’re using it. Read and understand the manufacturer’s instruction manual before installation.
- Position your stand and steps so that if you do fall, you won’t be severely injured.
- Check your treestand and treestand straps or cables for wear and damage before climbing into the stand.
- Use extra precaution when entering or leaving the stand, especially if it’s wet or dark, and if you’re wearing bulky clothes.
- Before you go hunting, create a hunt plan, and tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you’re not back on time, they can send help to your location.
Visit an archery shop to buy a full-body harness and other essential bowhunting gear.