By Dale R. Larson
In the fall of ’92, I went on a weekend whitetail hunt in southwest Kansas with my hunting partner to his stomping grounds from previous years. The first morning, we split up to hunt two different areas. I dropped him off at his location, and then drove to my spot, as we intended to hunt all day.
My plan was to still-hunt a section of timber that would bring me to the edge of an ungrazed field that connected two sections of woods. When I reached the field edge, a monster buck was pushing a doe through the field in my direction. Also in the field, several other does and small bucks were coming my way a couple of hundred yards ahead of the big buck and doe. As this first group of deer entered the timber, I let them pass and moved over to their entrance location.
Just as I had suspected, there was a well-used trail at this point. This would be a good spot to surprise the big buck. I planned to stay on the ground so that I could adjust my ambush sight to meet its approach.
While watching the buck, I looked around and noticed a leaning tree that made a perfect natural stand. Thinking my chances were good that the pair would follow the other deer to cover, I opted to climb the tree. It was perfect; I could walk right up the trunk and sit on one limb and rest my feet on another. There was even a perfect limb to hang my bow. Settled in my comfortable natural stand, I had a commanding view of the buck’s actions. It was just a matter of time before it got into bow range.
The next thing I remember is lying on the ground with a terrible pain in my back. I tried to sit up, but that didn’t work. I rolled over and got up on all fours; then tried to get up, but still couldn’t stand. While on all fours and starting to get my senses back, I began taking inventory on my injuries. I definitely had some kind of back injury and pretty much hurt all over. I had to get out and back to the truck, by myself.
I finally managed to get to my feet. It hurt like heck to stand straight up, but if I hunched over a little that helped relieve the pain. I started taking baby steps toward the truck, with only one half mile to go. I was lucky enough to travel on a well-used cattle trail, so I didn’t have a lot of obstacles. My first problem came when I had to open a barbed wire gate that took me several attempts. From the other side of the gate, I could see the truck.
I drove to my hunting partner’s parents’ house and told them they would have to pick up my partner. Then I drove 30 miles to the nearest hospital. It turns out that two of my lumbar vertebrae were crushed. I spent 11 days in the hospital, including an 8-hour surgery to bolt me back together. Yet I am one of the lucky ones; I didn’t die, become paralyzed or lose use of my legs. I can still hunt even though it’s definitely at a different pace.
After my fall, and given a second chance, my approach to hunting from an elevated stand definitely changed. I no longer think that I can’t fall without catching myself or that, “It won’t happen to me.” I know that it’s just a matter of time until a fall does happen, and I now take safety precautions.
One important step is to use a safety harness, not a safety belt. Hunters stand a better chance of avoiding injuries with the harness. Test the harness in a controlled environment to make sure it will handle your weight. Become diligent in checking its condition.
With safety in mind, I have updated to using climbing sticks or ladders to all my stands. They are by far the safest access to stands and provide solid footing for stand placement. Most accidents occur while climbing to the stand. Run the climbing device past the treestand height so that you can easily step onto the stand.
Set up an inspection schedule prior to each season for all stands, climbing devices and safety devices. Inspect the equipment when setting up, before use and prior to off-season storage.
Inspection should include checking for damaged or worn straps, chains, cables and buckles. All bolts and fasteners should be inspected as should the metal for cracks, bends or broken welds. Additionally, while climbing to the stand in the dark during the season, check the straps. Prior to standing on the platform, check the stand-holding devices by putting one foot on the stand and checking its weight-holding ability before climbing completely onto it.
Do yourself and your family a favor and take the necessary safety precautions. Nobody wants to sit on the sidelines when the rut kicks into high gear.
This article was published in the October 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.