With bow season cranking up across almost the entire state, that means hunters will once again be heading into the woods and getting positioned up in their favorite trees in hopes of a close encounter with that big buck they’ve been watching on their trail cameras.

But using your climber or ladder stand comes with some risks, as accidents can happen fast at 20 or 30 feet in the pre-dawn hours in the deer woods. One misplaced step, a mud-caked boot or even an icy platform late in the season can lead to disaster.

Sean Ferbrache, chief operating officer for the American Hunting Lease Association, said the No. 1 tip for hunter safety is staying connected to the tree with a lifeline — before ever even leaving the ground.

1. Stay connected

“For being a simple rope, it’s kind of a new thing. Attaching your safety harness to a lifeline while you’re still standing on the ground, then proceeding up the tree, virtually eliminates tree stand falls,” Ferbrache said. “If you’re connected, you cannot fall to the ground. 

“You might fall 2 or 3 feet and get a bit of a jolt, but that’s nothing compared to falling 20 or 30 feet and having the ground stop your fall.”

The key to the lifeline system is a Prusik knot, which can slide freely up and down the lifeline as you ascend and descend the tree — but cinches tight in the event of a fall. 

The lifeline, which can be installed in the tree initially by using a lineman’s belt, is positioned above the hunter’s head up in the stand, and also attaches to the base of the tree to provide tension on the rope in the event of a fall.

2. Remove and inspect your equipment

Not making the effort to remove stands after hunting season ends can sometimes have deadly consequences. 

“Every one of us that hunts seriously hangs a tree stand, and you get it the way you like it and have it in a good spot — and then you leave it,” Ferbrache said. “It’ll be there next year and the year after that. Some of us have even seen tree stands literally grown into the tree ….

“The problem with that is those cables rust, the straps get chewed on and dry rot, and they get wet and eventually deteriorate. You might hunt in that tree stand 10 years in a row, and that one time where you put all your weight on it and you’re not buckled in is all it takes. Then boom — you’re on the ground and you’re lucky if you have a chance to get to a hospital, because there are people who don’t survive that initial fall.”

After each season, Ferbrache said he cleans up his stands, and then does preventative maintenance like painting, replacing bolts and inspecting cables to make sure they’re ready for the following fall. 

3. Buckle your safety harness

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you probably know someone who insists that harnesses just aren’t comfortable, or the tether interferes with their draw.

“Wearing a full-body safety harness is a necessity — no more waist belts that don’t really do the job,” he said. “A full-body safety harness that goes around your legs and under your arms has to be buckled on every time,” Ferbrache said. “It’s the cornerstone of tree stand safety — you’ve just got to be buckled in.”

And the beauty of the harness in combo with the lifeline is that you’re literally always connected before making your first step up the tree.

“Honestly, my balance isn’t what it was 10 years ago,” he said. “So you get 20 or 30 feet up in the air and you step from a skinny ladder onto a skinny platform — things can get wobbly pretty fast.

“If that tree stand slips out from under you and you weren’t already connected, you might be wearing your harness — but you weren’t buckled in.”

So this season, take those extra steps to make sure you’re extra-safe up in your stand — if not for you, then for your family members.

“Falls are unnecessary and are 100 percent preventable,” Ferbrache said. “The average age of a person who falls from a tree is 47. It’s those of us who know better that are the ones falling.

“That’s surprising to me, but the numbers bear that out.”