Many things can cause you to lose balance while on a tree stand, especially an open one. You can get carried away when trying to shoot, you may make a sudden move and slip, among many other things.
It does not matter how careful or alert you are, treestands can be very risky.
That is why every hunter needs a harness.
Safety should be the most important factor for you. Always remember that your loved ones are waiting for you to come back.
Why should you take the whole harness thing seriously?
According to statistics, treestands are now more dangerous in hunting compared to firearms.
If you have never fallen, chances are that you are going to. Falls from treestands can lead to paralysis or death. Most falls happen while the hunter is ascending and descending.
One common misconception is that ladder stands are safer so you do not necessarily need a harness – wrong! As long as you are using any kind of treestand, you need a harness. Contrary to what you may be thinking, very few bow hunters (about 33%), wear a harness/fall restraint; be among that number and make sure your friends are too.
See full statistics here.
How to Choose a Hunting Harness
From the above information, you now know why you need a harness if you are treestand hunter. Before you go picking any harness you come across, first understand what makes various brands different and how you should go about this decision.
Here are the factors that you need to consider:
What is the harness made of? A hunting harness is meant to bear all your weight and extra force in case of a fall. Inspect the material and make sure that it can withstand sudden force without giving in. Factor in your weight; the heavier you are, the more careful you should be while checking material. A small mistake may end up costing you your safety. Take your time and read the product information. Know the kind of material used to make every part and assess its strength.
Often, quality goes hand in hand with the materials used. A high-quality harness is made using strong materials. However, sometimes a harness made with great materials may have some weaknesses such as poor stitching and in some cases, tears. This may be an honest mistake from the manufacturer. Nonetheless, thoroughly evaluate the quality even if the materials used already have you sold. Remember that this harness may be whatever stands between you and serious injuries when you slip.
The mere thought of being trapped in an uncomfortable harness is itself scary. There is no telling how long you will be stuck on the tree stand. Considering the fact that you need to have a harness on the entire time, comfort is important. Besides, it can affect how you hunt. It will be extremely difficult to look for prey, aim and shoot when you are feeling a pinch or when some parts of your body are twisted awkwardly. It is better to try one on before buying so you can get an idea of what it feels like.
Hunters come in all shapes and sizes— so do harnesses. Do not assume that just because they are not exactly clothes you can randomly pick one. Pay attention to the specifications of the harness. When making a purchasing decision, consider not only your weight but also your height. Better still, look for a harness that is adjustable so you can have some freedom and flexibility. A very tight harness or a very loose one may prove to be just as bad as having none at all. During a fall, the distribution of weight is crucial. Make sure you get this right.
Fun (or not-so-fun) fact: safety harnesses come with an expiration date. How does something made of mostly belts expire? Manufacturers recommend that you use a harness for a certain amount of time (usually three to five years) and then get another one. During that period, your harness is exposed to elements and strain which may weaken it. Some hunters argue that you can continue using it if it looks good. This depends on many things and requires sound judgment from your side. One way to tell the durability of a harness is by checking the warranty. When the manufacturer is confident in their product, they offer a long warranty.
This factor has to do with preferences. Modern-day hunting requires a number of accessories such as archery devices and cell phones. There are hunters, however, who prefer to do it traditionally. If you like to use devices, you should look for a harness with many pockets. If you are the traditional type, then a few or no pockets will be just fine for you. Some harnesses also include fancy accessories to maximize safety and if you can afford, it would not hurt to get yourself one.
Are you looking for a specific design or camo pattern? Even if you are up high on a tree and out of an animal’s line of sight, you still need camouflage. Choose a pattern that matches the rest of your outfit and environment. Also, decide on whether you want a full body harness or one with less coverage. According to experts, a full body is probably best because of the whole distribution of weight issue. What kind of weather do you hunt in? Since weather determines the layers of clothes that you put on, it will also determine your harness. If you hunt all year round, you will need a very adjustable harness so you do not have to buy several of them for the different seasons.
This is a tricky factor especially if you are working with a tight budget. On one hand, you want a quality piece and on the other hand, you do not want to break the bank. The secret here is to refer back to the other factors above. Look for something that is within your budget, but be sure to inspect the quality and materials.
How to Use a Treestand Harness
You must never leave the ground without your harness on. Remember it is mentioned above that most falls happen during the descent and ascent.
First, hold the shoulder straps and straighten them out to remove tangles and twist. Put them on and fasten the chest strap. Take your time; do not be too eager. Next, put on the leg straps properly around your thighs and secure them accordingly. While fastening, make sure the straps are neither too tight nor too loose. They should be snug, allowing you to move freely.
Next, fasten the tree strap to your body harness. At this point, you should have the treestand attached to the tree and ready for the climb. You can now go up the tree safely. See video.
What If You Fall?
Statistics suggest that you are going to fall sometime while hunting on your treestand and there is not really much you can do about it. The more you hunt the more likely you are to fall. A harness is only meant to keep you safe not prevent you from falling. Unfortunately, the fall can still be fatal even with a harness because of suspension trauma. The good news is that there are steps you can take to be safe even during a fall.
So, what should you do when you fall?
When you slip, the safety harness ensures that you remain in an upright position when you are suspended in the air. It also protects you from sustaining any serious injuries. If you do not fall far away from your treestand, you can step back on it and call for help or get down.
The problem arises when you are suspended far from your treestand and have nowhere to step on. The thigh straps will exert pressure on your thighs and interfere with blood circulation. This is what leads to suspension trauma.
In this case, there are two things that you must have; a suspension relief strap, a cellphone and radio/whistle. Both the strap and communication device should be accessible (make sure you can reach them regardless of the position you are in). Take the suspension relief strap and connect it to the loop at the bottom back of the harness. Next, step on the suspension relief strap. Now you can call for help. See video.
Safety Tips to Adhere to, Always
Carry a cellphone, radio or whistle. You must never go out hunting without a communication device. In case of an unfortunate event, you want to be able to reach someone or call out for help. For example, when you fall and manage to suspend yourself using the relief strap, you will need a helping hand so you can get down.
You must have a suspension relief strap. You have seen above that this small equipment can save your life. Without it, you risk suspension trauma and, consequently, a tragic ending. Carrying it is not enough. It should be accessible at all times.
Look for a strong and healthy tree. Avoid picking a tree based only on its position. It may be on the perfect hunting spot but if it is weak, leave it alone. Stay away from trees with branches that look rotten or dry and easily breakable. If you have already settled for strategic hunting spots, consider going a few days before to pick out a tree. This way, you will not be in a rush and you are likely to find a great one.
While on a treestand, avoid vigorous and fast movements. Treestands do not offer the luxury of ground blinds where you can let your guard down. You have to be alert so you are not startled by sudden events which may cause fast movement. This applies when you are climbing and coming down too. Also, do not move too much. Be as still as possible and only move when necessary.
Test your equipment beforehand. The best time to see if everything works fine is not during the hunt. Find any strong tree near your house and try using the equipment. Make sure the treestand is strong, the harness has no signs of weakness and that the relief strap is sturdy too. More importantly, adjust the strap so that if you need it while hunting, you will not struggle to make adjustments at that crucial moment.
Tell your loved ones where you are going. It is ideal to go hunting with another hunting buddy but that is not always possible. Let the people that care about you know exactly where you will be and how long you plan to be gone. If you are not back by that time they will come to find you. A cellphone is not reliable because poor service is a possibility and you cannot rely on the whistle if you are very far from other people.
Every time you go hunting on a treestand you increase your chances of falling; whether you are a beginner or a pro. The fall can leave you with serious injuries or cause you to lose your life. A treestand harness distributes the force making the fall ‘safer’. You may sustain injuries but you are sure they will be small bruises. Another benefit is that you will end up in an upright position. Being suspended upside down with no means of reaching your stand can be dangerous.
Harnesses are good and all that but they do not prevent falls and they can cause suspension trauma. However, if you carry a suspension relief strap or other devices that may help relieve that pressure, you will live. Never forget to bring a suspension relief strap and a means of communication. Be sure to adhere to the safety precautions outlined above. You can never be too careful; better safe than sorry. Have no fear, though. As long as you prioritize safety, you can hunt in peace and enjoy the experience. Having fun is a big part of hunting—never forget that!