During the past few years in West Virginia, falls from elevated platforms, also called tree stands, have increased, according to Lt. Tim Coleman of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section. Coleman encourages all hunters to be aware of the inherent dangers of hunting from a tree stand.
“This year alone we’ve had nine tree stand incidents reported that have resulted in life-threatening injuries and one death,” Coleman said. “According to our records, 2011 was the worst year with 14 injuries, no fatalities. Falls from elevated platforms are now the leading cause of hunting incidents nationwide.”
WVDNR offers hunter education classes across the state. Passage of the class is a requirement for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1975, before purchasing a hunting license. Class schedules can be found at www.wvdnr.gov or by calling your closest WVDNR district office. Coleman is the state hunter education coordinator and offers the following advice for anyone intending to hunt from a tree stand.
-- Hunt safely by understanding how to use tree stands and all related equipment correctly, reducing the chance of injury or death;
-- Hunt smart through correct handling of firearms or bows at all times and attention to the many differences between ground and elevated hunting; and
-- Hunt responsibly by respecting your environment and the other people who use it. Hunters should follow best practice rules and “leave no trace” when passing through an area.
Tree stands and other raised platforms can give hunters increased advantage over their quarry. However, if used incorrectly, they pose serious safety risks. To reduce the potential of an accident use the following tips:
Before you hunt
-- Take the time to “shop around” and buy safe and comfortable stand and harness of the type that's right for you. Safe and reliable equipment reduces your chance of injury.
-- Carefully read all instructions and warnings provided with your stand.
-- Practice setting up your stand and safety equipment at ground-level first. Use all recommended safety straps and pins to secure the stand.
Your safety harness
-- Wear it at all times when climbing, hunting and descending.
-- Choose one that will hold you right-side-up and not restrict your breathing should you fall.
-- Choose one with a quick release system.
Maintain your equipment
-- Look for wear, stress points and loose fasteners. Fix or replace any worn equipment immediately.
-- Keep your equipment clean.
Choosing a tree
-- Choose as straight a tree as possible.
-- Watch out for dead, overhanging limbs that may fall (they are called “widow makers”) and rotten wood.
-- Use extra care when hunting from a smooth-barked tree (such as aspen, maple, hickory and beech) when it’s raining, they get slippery.
-- Use extra care when hunting from a frozen tree. Avoid using elevated stands when it's icy.
Hunting from a tree stand brings with it new considerations for the hunter. Keep yourself safe and pay attention to the following:
Transporting your gun or bow
-- Always use a haul rope to bring gear to and from the ground.
-- Always unload your gun before hauling.
-- If hauling a bow, tie your line to the top limb of the bow when climbing and the bottom when descending to avoid snagging arrows in tree branches.
Keeping yourself safe
-- You may get drowsy and fall asleep while in the stand. Prepare for this by always keeping yourself secured to the tree with your safety harness.
-- Be extra alert when climbing or descending from the stand. These are when most tree stand accidents occur. Keep at least two points of contact with the tree at all times while climbing or descending.
-- Avoid elevated stand hunting while overly tired or on medication.
-- Never hunt while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
-- Be sure someone knows where you are and when you’re returning.