by Naomi K. Shapiro
When deer hunting, it's usually a good idea to be elevated. There's a better view of the surrounding area, it keeps you out of the deer's line of sight and smell, and it's a lot safer. Especially during gun season because you're shooting down toward the ground, not across anyone's line of travel or fire.
There are two types of stands -- permanent and portable.
Permanent stands are affixed/nailed to trees. More and more hunters are building elaborate stands. But however elaborate a permanent stand may be, there can be severe safety problems. The main one is lack of maintenance. Proper maintenance of a stand is critical. If a stand remains un-maintained year-after-year, the weather will start to weaken and/or decay and rot the wood, or rust out metal fittings, nails or screws.
It's essential that hunters check to make sure the floor of the stand is solid, and that the walls and railings are stable (hunters lean against them constantly, causing structural weakness after a period of time). Another critical problem is the way permanent tree stands are accessed.
Some hunters simply nail 2 x 4s to the tree, not realizing that after a year or so, the 2 x 4s will rot from moisture; and nails, however strong, or however big the "head" of the nail is, will pull out of the 2 x 4 under pressure, causing the step to fail, and the hunter to plummet to the ground. Finally, no stand, however well built, is worth a thing, unless the hunter is securely harnessed to it.
It is absolutely essential that hunters wear a personal safety system and are harnessed to the tree and stand. Why? Because these elaborate stands are so comfortable, that hunters often become so relaxed and kicked-back that they doze off.
Remember, if you're harnessed, you may fall a foot and then be stopped. If you're not harnessed, you'll fall twenty feet or more. Savvy hunters know that permanent stands can be more dangerous than portable stands for these very reasons.
Portable stands are usually quite safe if set up properly. A hang-on-type stand can have a built-in ladder. You stand it up on end, lean it against the tree, and secure it with ratchet straps.
Hunters also use a climbing stick to get up to the stand. It's basically a pole, looking like a pogo stick, with steps fixed to the pole. Another method of getting up to a stand is to use screw-in tree steps (make sure they are solidly affixed!). Still others simply use branches to climb up to their stand.
One problem: Many trees, like White Pine, Maple, or Red Oak don't have branches for 15 to 20 feet up the tree. So if you're a branch climber, make sure you have some type of ladder to get up to the branch area. Branch climbers should be very wary, as slippage is often a problem -- caused by weak or dead branches, and also rain, ice or snow formation.
Bottom line: The stand itself is usually safe if constructed, affixed and maintained properly -- assuming the hunter is ALWAYS harnessed to the stand. It's getting up to the stand that can be treacherous.
Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Services contributed to this article.
Choosing the right treestand by Matt Eastman