Thoughts While Falling From a Treestand


Editor’s Note: Dr. Craig Harper, Extension Wildilfe Specialist at the University of Tennessee, is a QDMA Life Member and a staunch friend and supporter of the organization. He contributes regularly to Quality Whitetails magazine and was also a contributor to our “Quality Food Plots” book. He speaks regularly at QDMA educational events, including National Convention, Deer Steward courses, and Branch events. On August 23, 2012, he spoke to a crowd of more than 130 at QDMA’s ACE Basin Branch event in South Carolina, then he headed to his family’s property in North Carolina to hang trail-cameras and prepare for hunting season. Craig picks up the story of what happened to him next.

On August 26, 2012, while putting out trail-cameras, I came across one of my stands that I have had in place for about four years. It is a lock-on, and I suspected the straps needed replacing. I climbed up to check them. There was one on the bottom of the stand to hold the platform tight to the tree and there was one at the top to hold the stand to the tree. I loosened the bottom strap and “checked” it. It appeared sound, so I re-tightened it to the tree. I then loosened the top strap and “checked” it. It also appeared fine. I pulled on it with my hands (as if that could simulate the weight of my body!). I then tightened it back around the tree. Everything appeared good for another season.

Note that I didn’t have a safety harness because when I left the house, I had no intention of hanging or checking stands. That should have meant I couldn’t change my mind and decide to check a stand anyway without going to get a harness, but it was only one stand, it was not all that high, and besides – that couldn’t happen to me.

After attaching a stand to a tree, what do you do next? Sit in the stand! I climbed into it, kind of “jumped” on it to make sure it was secure (while holding onto a limb), then turned around and sat down on the seat. When I sat down, the top strap broke and down I went.

Amazingly enough, I can remember every millisecond and every thought I had on the way down.

First thought: “Oh sh–, that strap broke.”

Second thought: “I can’t believe this. I’m falling from a treestand. This doesn’t happen to me. This happens to people who are careless and unprepared.” (Yes, I know. That was me in this story).

Third thought: “This isn’t good. People get hurt very badly when they fall from trees. What will happen to me?!?”

Fourth thought: “When am I going to hit the ground?”

[Note: I know it is difficult to believe all these thoughts went through my mind in the milliseconds it took me to fall, but this is exactly how I remember it.]

Final thought: “Okay, here it comes, I’m about to hit.”

The stand was about 16 feet off the ground, and let me say that falling as a result of gravity happens extremely quickly. While it is amazing I recall so many thoughts, somehow there was no time whatsoever to think strategically, as in looking for a limb to grab or anything practical like that. That only works in the movies. When you fall, you fall fast, especially if there are no limbs between you and the ground, which was the case with me.

I was falling feet first. At impact, I had another thought to try and land and roll. My left foot hit first. When it hit, it buckled to the inside. I crinkled like an accordion. The next thing to hit was my face, and my face hit right beside my feet. I hit hard. Stars flew.

I then remember thinking, “Wow. I just fell from a stand, and I think I’m okay. My ankle hurts, but I think I’m okay.”

I could breathe. I could move my entire body, though my left ankle was in a lot of pain. I felt extremely lucky. When I looked down at my foot, I saw it was turned inward at a very unnatural angle from the rest of my leg. Not good. Luckily, I had my cell phone on me, and I dialed 911. I used the phone to snap a photo of the EMTs as they carried me out of the woods on a stretcher (the photo is included in the Gallery below).

As it turns out, I broke three bones in my ankle, with multiple breaks in all three bones. It will require multiple surgeries and a long recovery (the photo in the Gallery below shows my ankle on August 29 after the first surgery, including the rod that keeps me from moving my ankle). However, I am blessed. I could easily have died or suffered paralysis. Thank God the stand didn’t break when I was facing the tree. If it had, I am convinced I would have fallen backwards and landed on my back, neck, and/or head. Instead I fell straight down, feet first.

My first lesson is, never climb into treestands without being secured at all times with a quality safety harness! This includes climbing into and out of the stand, no matter what type of stand it is. And it includes “checking” stands as well as actually hunting from them.

My second lesson is, replace those straps! You can’t “check” them by pulling on them! You can check and see if squirrels have chewed on them, but you cannot test their breaking strength. They don’t cost that much.

Needless to say, I will be hunting from the ground this year as I won’t be able to climb a tree.

Before I close, I would like to express my thanks for the professionalism, promptness and excellent care provided by the Lewisville, N.C. Volunteer Fire Department and the Forsyth Medical Center of Winston-Salem, N.C. They have been very good to me.

Happy hunting to all, and be careful.

About Craig Harper

Dr. Craig Harper is a Professor of Wildlife Management and the Extension Wildlife Specialist at the University of Tennessee. Craig is a regular contributor to Quality Whitetails and a Life Member of the QDMA. Dr. Harper and his graduate students concentrate their work on applied management issues, including forest management, early succession management, food plot applications, and the effects of quality deer management.