By Pat Lefemine, Founder - Bowsite.com
As he had done hundreds of times before, my friend JC climbed up to his hang-on tree stand for some pre-rut action. He never made it to the platform. One of the straps on his climbing sticks snapped and he was headed for the ground. When he came to, his ankle was shattered and he was seriously injured. Thankfully he could feel is legs and there was no life threatening injuries. He’s missing the hunting season and requires several surgeries. The doctor told him that his ankle may be permanently fused but it could have been much worse.
A shattered ankle and a hunter looking at possible, permanent damage.
Just today, a hunter wrote on our Bowsite Forums how he had fell from his stand and was just barely conscious enough to call 911. He required a medivac helicopter and barely escaped death or paralysis.
Last month a series of photos hit our site. Seems some particular brand of stands are showing rusting cables and several have already snapped. Luckily, because the warning had been widely read on Bowsite, people were now looking at those stands and several were repaired or discarded.
The above photos were submitted this year on Bowsite. It includes a broken chain on a climber, two rusted cables on a Hang On, and a broken strap from a cheap single climbing stick.
In the nearly 20 years (since Bowsite has been online) I have never read about so many tree stand accidents and near misses. It is alarming. The worst part is that every tree stand accident could have been prevented. In light of this problem we rearranged our editorial calendar to get this feature front and center during our most active week of the year.
To get a better perspective on what’s happening - and to provide real strategies for hunters - we turned to Monte Bennett, Brand Manager at Summit Treestands. Monte has been in the tree stand business for 20 years. He started in the manufacturing side - welding and building the stands themselves, then moved onto design and now holds a top spot at Summit.
I had a number of questions for Monte, primarily focused on hang-on stands since the bulk of the incidents we’re hearing about are occurring with fixed position stands. Like many of you, I am guilty of hanging stands and leaving them out all year long. We asked Monte about this practice.
Should you leave stands out all year long?
“Summit does not recommend leaving stands out all year. We always advise you leave your hang-on stands only for the duration of the hunt and bring them back inside when you are done” Said Bennett.
When asked why, he explained.
“The elements are hard on tree stand materials. Water constantly hits the stand, sunlight (UV) weakens straps and seats, and squirrels and other rodents have a habit of chewing on straps and cables. ”
How to inspect a tree stand
But there’s a reality here that Monte understands. Despite the recommendation from Summit and others many hunters and outfitters leave stands up perpetually. I’ve been on my share of outfitted hunts where the stands never came down. So given that very real possibility, I asked Monte what he looks for when he climbs into stands on someone else’s’ property?
While Inspecting this hang-on stand, the hunter pulled on the stand and the cable snapped. Imagine if he'd not inspected it?
“The first thing I look at is the straps and connection points. They are typically the first things to go. Straps that have not been replaced and readjusted will be stressed, the stitching could be pulling out and the connection may be ready to break. I look at every climbing stick and every stand. On the stand itself I look at the welds, are they rusted? I look at the cables - are they in good condition? If anything is rusted or cracking I will not use that stand. ”
The importance of using safety systems
In 1995 a group of tree stand manufacturers formed the TMA (Treestand Manufacturer’s Association) in an effort to adopt performance standards, test methods, practices, terminology, and to promote knowledge related to tree stands and safety. The common goal was to reduce the risk of injury to hunters who were increasingly using elevated positions. An entire industry was born around tree stand safety. Summit was a leader in that space with the acquisition of one of the first commercially available harness systems called Seat-O-The-Pants or SOP harnesses. Other manufacturers followed and today there are a variety of quality products, all designed to keep hunters safe through the entire cycle of ground-stand-ground.
I asked Monte about this, particularly with regard to hunting from fixed position hang-on stands.
“I always recommend hunters use our 30’ climbing system. It consists of a rope and a prussic knot that keeps the hunter protected through the entire climb and descent. You are always connected. ”
Using a climbing rope along with a quality harness will keep you safe from the climb up, while in the stand, and back to the ground
While there are a few hunters that still won’t wear a safety harness, that number is decreasing. Most hunters understand the importance of a good quality harness. However, the typical hunters is not protected during the climb - or the most dangerous part - the transition from steps to stand. This is when most accidents occur. Simply strapping your safety line around the tree once you are in the stand is only ‘marginally’ helpful. You really need to protect yourself through the entire cycle.
If you don’t have a 30’ rope system, the next best thing is to simply climb and move your safety line as you ascend and descend. It’s not as convenient as the 30’ system, but if your stand or steps break you will be protected.
The correlation between "Cheap" stands and Safety
When I spoke with my friend JC, I asked about the steps he was using which had failed. He told me he'd purchased a number of inexpensive single climbing sticks from Rural King.
I could relate. I had also purchased some really cheap sticks and even a few $29.00 tree stands (on sale) from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I posed this question to Monte. And while he did not wish to be critical of any Summit competitors he did stress that there is a difference in both materials, design, and manufacturing techniques between cheap stands and higher quality stands.
"Safety is THE top priority when Summit designs and manufactueres a treestand. We utilize a technique we call Summit-Lok technology where the stand components are locked in place within channels prior to welding. This ensures a much stronger connection. We also use only high-quality steel and aluminum along with high-quality cables and strapping."
The old adage "you get what you pay for" is certainly true. I know it's tempting to buy cheap stands when you are hanging several locations. But when you are 25’ off the ground it ’s not worth the few bucks you'll save.
Imagine the cost of spending ninety days in the hospital? or having to retrofit your home with a wheelchair ramp? Somehow the extra money spent on a Summit, or other quality tree stand, doesn’t seem all that bad!