Should Tree Stand Safety Harness Use Be Mandatory?

In a former career I worked on an Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance service for about a dozen years.   During that time, I responded on thousands of 911 calls ranging from the utterly ridiculous to the downright deadly serious.   Oddly enough, there were two calls that continue to stick out rather vividly in my mind.   Both emergencies involved hunters who had fallen from their tree stand.

I suppose one of the big reasons these incidents struck a deep chord with me was because I, too, am a hunter and could easily imagine myself as the unfortunate victim lying there.   Let’s face it…spend enough time out in the woods and accidents will happen.

Sometimes you get lucky, then again, sometimes you don’t.   Problem with tree stands is the margin for error is rather slim.   One wrong move or misstep and down to the ground you go.

Back 30+ years ago hunter restraint systems were rather basic and functionally inadequate.   In most cases they consisted of a web strap wrapping around the hunter’s waist with another strap tied off to the tree.   I suppose at the time this seemed sufficient as a safety mechanism, but in reality the early designs often constituted a different sort of hazard to hunters who had taken a misstep.   At times a hunter would be left hanging with so much pressure on the straps they were unable to release the adjustment mechanism.

Well, fortunately those days are long gone.   Today’s modern tree stand safety harness systems have become so high-tech and comfortable it just makes good sense to use them.   Besides, not only are they much more functional…but maybe it’s time we also consider them to be even fashionable.   Consider this.

This past week the Sportsman Channel announced that beginning in 2010 all programming on their popular network must include hunters using appropriate tree stand safety devices and approved procedures.   In fact, the network’s official policy states that any scheduled episode that does not adhere to guidelines set forth by the Treestand Manufacturers Association will be removed from the weekly programming slot.   That’s a serious stance.

“We’ve received positive feedback from our producers and manufacturers on this move and we hope that other manufacturers will join the effort,” said Willy Burkhardt, President of Sportsman Channel. “Sportsman Channel is setting the standard in the outdoor industry for others to follow. We want to ensure that all sportsmen watching our programming are shown the safe and ethical ways to hunt, shoot and fish.”

While I certainly applaud the Sportsman Channel’s efforts…it makes me wonder what might be next for those of us who enjoy deer hunting from elevated tree stands without any cameras rolling.   Is it possible that Fall-Arrest Systems(FAS) or Full Body Harness(FBH) devices might someday become mandated for our use, too?   I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility.

HSSvestIn the meantime, with Minnesota’s archery deer hunting season only four weeks away now is a good time to consider how you might start playing it a bit safer out in the woods this season–especially when using elevated tree stands.   Keep in mind a good FAS or FBH system will likely set you back upwards of $150 or more.   Sure, that sounds like a lot of money…but it’s probably still less than the deductible on your medical coverage if you need to have a broken arm set in a cast (or worse) at the emergency room.

Believe me, I understand how practices such as wearing seat belts in a car or protective devices in a tree stand can be perceived as restricting your freedom of movement.   Ultimately, the choice will always be yours to make whether or not you want to use any kind of safety device.

Yet, if you haven’t taken a closer look lately at the type of safety equipment available for the deer hunter it’s time to check it out. 

As I recall, in both instances when I responded in the ambulance the hunters involved would have fared much better had they followed safety procedures and employed the correct protective equipment.   More importantly, both hunters suffered such debilitating injuries that their deer hunting was curtailed for the remainder of that particular hunting season.   I guess eventually we all have to ask ourselves…is it worth continuing to take those unnecessary health risks?

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.