On one particular afternoon in mid-January, my son-in-law, Jody, had the itch to head over to his favorite deer-hunting area to try and get a crack at a couple of elusive, mature bucks he had captured on trail camera. The weather was right, and the wind was blowing from a favorable direction, enabling him to get into a really thick area where these late-rut bucks seemed to be holed up.
After dressing and gearing up, he made the 10-minute drive, thinking about how best to stalk his way in and remain undetected. Arriving at 2 o’clock, Jody parked his truck and began the hike in for his afternoon vigil.
His destination was a lock-on stand about 20 feet up in a decent-sized pine tree. The stand was secured by two nylon ratchet straps and was accessed from the ground by a long, stick ladder secured to the tree trunk with nylon straps.
Jody had not actually visited the stand since the previous season, but everything had been fine and dandy the last time he’d sat in it. It was in a great location for catching a late-season, pressure-shy buck due to a patchwork of heavy hiding and bedding cover that blanketed the area. His laser focus was on outwitting one of these bucks and nothing else.
Jody did adhere to one hard, fast safety rule. Unless he was going to be in a platform or shooting house or in a tripod stand, he always wore a safely vest with an integral harness secured to the tree above shoulder level by a heavy duty nylon strap.
After arriving at the stand, he climbed the stick ladder, swung over onto the stand’s platform, secured his safety strap to the tree trunk, pulled the seat down into position and settled in for what he hoped would be a successful afternoon.
The stand was situated with respect to the wind direction, and in anticipation of the expected direction of deer travel, it was necessary for Jody to orient himself on the seat pivoted somewhat to his right. The first hour and 15 minutes he was in the stand, he twisted his head and upper body to the right to keep a close watch on the trails he expect deer to be using.
The trap door
Then, on one of his over-the-shoulder sweeps to the far right, the seat felt a little wobbly and seemed to have some play in it. Almost without thinking, he wiggled his backside on the seat to see what was going on, and before he could even think, the stand dropped out from under him with a loud clang, like the trap door of a hangman’s platform at the moment of justice.
He instantly released the grip on his rifle as he grabbed and clawed for a hand-hold. His rifle clattered 20 feet down, bouncing off the broken tree stand and into the muddy leaf litter. As Jody’s body began to fall, the safety strap attached to his harness reached the end of its travel with a bone-jarring jolt that almost knocked the wind out of him.
Luckily, Jody was still attached to the tree and alive with no apparent broken bones, but his back was against the trunk and the stick ladder was on the opposite side of the tree trunk and unreachable.
Keep a level head
As the initial shock and panic began to subside, he looked around to assess what options he might have. He had a knife on his belt that could be used to cut the safety strap loose if needed, and he had his cell phone secured in a jacket pocket if he had to call for help. As his mind cleared, he focused on a tall, skinny hardwood sapling right in front of him, a short distance away, originally left in place as cover for the stand. He realized it just might be the best ticket out of this dangerous predicament.
By swinging his legs and arms, he managed to hook some limbs and pull the skinny trunk of the sapling close enough to gain a foothold. In spite of the trunk swinging like a pendulum, he was finally able to maneuver himself upward about a foot, which created enough slack in the harness strap to enable him to eventually wriggle it free and get it to release from the tree strap.
Once free, he slowly, carefully shimmied down the skinny tree trunk to the ground. Jody was shaken, bruised and sore, but nothing was broken. He was extremely lucky, having learned a valuable lesson about checking and testing every single tree-stand strap before the season starts every year. Any and all straps that show any sign of deterioration should be replaced. Never get into a tree stand that has any potential mechanical issue or has not been thoroughly inspected beforehand. We can all learn something from this story and from Jody’s good fortune.
Thinking back over my 48 or so years in the whitetail woods, several close calls come to mind. I was extremely lucky in all of my tree stand incidents, having had no severe or lasting injuries, but “luck” is not a plan. I can only wonder now, how razor-thin might the actual margin have been between serious injury, permanent paralysis or even death? This collective passion of ours is inherently dangerous on multiple levels, so we should always think ahead and practice safety first.