Superlative! Such was the exclamation I shouted as I came down from yet another climb and sit with my hang-on treestand. Taking advantage of a slightly rainy Sunday that drove people from the local park, I was able to embark on what was probably my 30th climb in the last six months. The irony of it all is that I’ve never hunted a day during any of those climbs. I believe the adage that “practice makes permanent,” and I’m determined to make solid, safe climbing a permanent part of my approach to hunting.
I’m a new bow hunter, and to say I’ve been bitten by the archery bug, well that would be an underwhelming cliché to describe my immediate and immense love for archery. Aside from the physical challenge, I learned that every arrow released is an exercise in the ultimate man vs. self conflict. Learning solid technique and doing it repeatedly, that’s the crux of being a good archer; and learning the smart, safe, and lawful approach to hunting, and doing that repeatedly, that’s the crux of being a good bowhunter.
Fortunately, in my hunter development journey, my determination to become a safe and proficient bowhunter married well with my love of research. Diving into the pursuit of all things bowhunting, I absorbed an array of content from Hunter’s Ed courses, articles, podcasts, and YouTube channels. During that research, what surprised me most is, for all the great content shared by many providers, there are several people on social media demonstrating the use of climbing stands without any kind of safety harness whatsoever. Call me confused.
Now, I get that it’s important these days to be as light as possible. Getting down to a one-stick climbing method is often presented as the current must-do approach to tree hunting. Hunters seem overly concerned with shedding every possible ounce. I’m waiting for the day when I see someone climb in nothing but their underwear because they saved a few pounds by shedding their pants. Sheesh! Yet, if we consider the fact that most whitetail hunters venture less than half a mile from their vehicle, a little extra weight should be fine. Especially if it means you are bringing the right safety gear. So, for me, I’m fine with carrying three sticks, my hang-on stand, and my safety gear. My safety harness isn’t something I view as an extra piece of equipment, it’s an integral part of my climbing setup. Using that equipment properly isn’t an option, and during September – Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month – I encourage, no implore, every treestand hunter to do the same.
Sadly, research by the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation (TSSA) said there are some 3,000 tree-stand related accidents each year. That’s three times the number of injuries associated with hunting with a firearm.
Information such as the content from these sources instilled in me a desire to have a “perfect climb.” So that’s what I do. I just climb – and climb – and climb. I wear different clothes and boots to reflect different hunting conditions; climb in dry and wet weather; and climb in the early morning and late afternoon. I climb with different safety harnesses, in case I have to switch to my back-up harness for some reason. I assess my mistakes, I make adjustments, and in doing so, I become more comfortable and conscious of the importance of each interconnected step in the process. And the best part is that the rangers at my local state park, Ridley Creek, are very supportive and glad to see someone practicing before the season.
Let’s learn to have the quality of our hunts become contingent not just upon the size of the deer harvested – or the first one that I hope to harvest (smile), but also base it upon how safe we were during that chase. No hunt should be considered a success if it wasn’t safe.
So, whether you are a new or experienced treestand hunter, get out and climb. Be smart, be sure, and be safe. Use this Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month to practice the approach that you want to make permanent.
Wishing everyone a safe and prosperous hunting season!
About the Author: Gregory Clarke of Pennsylvania is a new NDA member and recently became interested in bowhunting. He will be participating in NDA’s northwest Pennsylvania Field to Fork hunt this year and hopes to take his first deer this fall. He works in communications at W.L. Gore & Associates.