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JOE MARTINO: Woods and waters with Joe Martino

Don’t make your next hunt your last

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It’s a fact: spend enough time climbing in and out of treestands and the odds are extremely high that you will have an accident. I never used to wear a safety harness until I fell while climbing into my stand a decade or so ago and now I won’t go in the tree without it. I was very lucky and I am not waiting for lightning to strike twice.

I know plenty of hunters who still don’t utilize a harness or any type of fall restraint system at all – and in my opinion – they have been plain lucky. There’s a saying that it’s not a matter of if you ever fall from a stand; it’s a matter of when. I’d say that if you spend as many hours in a tree as I do, that may well be true.

Years ago the available options for a fall restraint system were cumbersome to put on and a pain to wear. Not the case with most of today’s fall restraint offerings. Besides, choosing not to utilize fall restraint equipment is a game of Russian roulette.

While falling from your stand is a real possibility, the vast majority of falls actually happen either climbing into or out of your stand.

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1. Always wear a fall restraint device while on stand. Be sure to use a full body harness only. In the event of a fall, a full body harness will hold you upright and prevent too much pressure under the rib cage, which could cause suffocation. While there are many models to choose from, but my favorite is the Hunter Safety System vest. (

2. The vast majority of falls occur in the act of either climbing into or out of a treestand. Be sure to use a lineman’s belt when ascending or descending trees to halt you in the event you slip or fall. An even better option is the Tree Stand Life Line (also made by Hunter Safety System) which is a length of rope that you attach to the tree and hook your safety vest onto. It slides freely while climbing or descending, but will stop you automatically in the event of a fall.

3. Affix your safety harness around the trunk of the tree before stepping onto the platform of the stand. In the event you should slip or the stand should give, this will prevent a nasty fall. If using a Life Line will already be safely secured.

4. Likewise, do not detach your safety harness from the trunk of the tree until after you have stepped off of the platform.

5. When using metal tree steps, make sure they are screwed completely into live, solid trees. A correctly installed tree step should be screwed in so the back of it rests parallel with the trunk of the tree.

6. Never use branches or limbs as steps. They can appear solid but be rotten or cracked.

7. Be careful when using steps or climbing sticks in wet or icy conditions.

8. Be sure to clean off any mud from your steps or climbing sticks before using them.

9. Always clean off any mud, ice or debris from your stand platform prior to stepping onto it.

10. When choosing a tree for your stand, first check it out in the daylight for straightness and irregular shapes, knots or angles. Your first climb should never be made in the dark.

11. Be especially careful when using portable or climbing treestands on smooth-barked trees such as aspen, maple or oak as the stand may not hold tightly and slip.

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12. Use a pull rope to raise and lower your bow or gun. Never attempt to carry them with you while climbing.

13. Purchase quality, comfortable treestands. Hunting out of an uncomfortable treestand can cause you to fidget and shift your weight which could lead to trouble.

14. Take your time and move slowly and deliberately whenever climbing into or out of your stand. Getting in a hurry can cause you to slip.

15. Never modify a commercially made stand or safety device.

16. When using climbing treestands, be certain to use a length or rope connecting the upper and lower sections of the stand. By doing so, if the platform section of the stand should fall down the tree, you can recover it by pulling it up with the rope.

17. Always wear your safety harness while climbing with a climbing treestand.

18. Climbing into a treestand should be avoided if you are on any medication or are extremely fatigued.

19. Certain types of clothing – whether bulky or tight – can hamper your ability to climb effectively.

20. Always maintain three-point contact when climbing into or out of your stand.

21. Read and follow all of the manufacturer’s recommendations. Knowing how to use your equipment properly and safely – and its limitations – can go a long way in preventing injury.

22. Familiarize yourself with your equipment prior to the start of the season.

23. Always inspect your equipment before each hunting season.

24. Never hunt out of homemade treestands.

25. Treat treestands as you would a loaded gun. The minute you stop respecting them, you put your life at risk.

26. If you don’t hunt with a partner, make sure to inform others of when and where you will be hunting and when you expect to return. Leaving a detailed map for a family member or friend of the area you will be hunting and is also a good idea.

In my mind there is no better sport than hunting, so it only makes sense to protect yourself and take the necessary precautions to ensure that you have many more hunting seasons to come.