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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hunters shouldn't forget tree stand safety

The crispness in the morning air has Alabama deer hunters salivating. Bow hunters will be in their tree stands in less than a month. Gun hunters will get their turn in about two months.
Preparations for the 2011-20012 Alabama deer season have already begun. Most deer hunting clubs have had work days of some sort. Some have prepped food plots for planting. Many have their strategies in place for what seeds and fertilizer to plant where.
Deer hunters are no doubt thinking about their personal strategies, too. Good bow hunters have already begun scouting a little. Others are allowing deer travel routes and tree stand placement to creep into their thoughts.
About the only thing left unchecked at this point is the most important thing of all: tree stand safety. I'm guessing that important aspect of deer hunting hasn't drawn a single thought from a single hunter.
Five Alabama deer hunters won't get the opportunity to hunt this season. They died last season after falling from trees.
Despite hunter education courses and constant preaching about safety, none of the five had safety harnesses or safety harnesses that were attached to the tree they were in. Instead of coming back to camp to get laughed at for falling and hanging in a tree, there were funerals and a lot of broken-hearted loved ones.
When most people think of deer hunting fatalities, they think of a hunter accidentally being shot. It is every deer hunter's worst fear.
Hunters wear orange walking to and from their stands to alert other hunters who may be in the area. Many carry flashlights to draw attention to the fact that they are humans and not deer. Thankfully, mistaken-for-

game accidents are extremely rare.
Falling from trees is not rare. It happens every week of the season. Many of these accidents result in broken ankles, broken arms and broken legs. Those accidents often go unreported to the state. Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries investigated 18 tree stand accidents last season but the agency knows that is just a small percentage of the real number.
Conservation officers usually hear only about the bad falls -- the falls in which hunters die, get paralyzed or shatter their legs and have to lose them.
Avoiding serious injuries from tree stand falls, and avoiding tree stand falls altogether, is actually pretty easy. Hunters frequently allow the excitement of the hunt to overcome good common sense and that's when accidents happen.
Many falls occur because of equipment failure. That was the situation in three of the cases that the state investigated last season. The portion of the stand that attaches to the tree is a common point of failure. Welds and bolts should be inspected thoroughly.
A common mistake hunters make is finding a bolt or pin missing and hurriedly replacing it with just any bolt or pin from the basement or the hardware store. Cheap zinc-plated bolts often can't stand the stresses and will shear. Grade 8 bolts and nylon lock washers are a must.
Another common mistake hunters make is, for the sake of convenience, leaving their stands up all year. The weather takes a toll on aluminum and nylon straps. Straps are made of nylon so they don't rot but the sun damages nylon over time.
Sooner or later, all tree stand hunters are going to fall or at least come close. That's why a harness attached to the tree is so important. In three of the fatalities last season, the hunters had no safety harness at all. In another fall, the hunter was wearing a safety harness but it was not attached to the tree. In the fifth fatality, the hunter was hunting from a tripod stand and had no way to attach a harness.
Four of the five fatalities would have been avoided if a harness had been used.

Mike Bolton's outdoors column appears on Sundays in The Birmingham News. Email him at

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