Aug 24, 2021

Hunt Smart

Today’s editorial comes to us from Marilyn Bentz, the Executive Director for the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF). Thank you, Marilyn!

Summertime activities are coming to an end, and you may have more free time to look at what’s ahead this fall. Put that time to good use by tuning up your equipment and techniques. And specifically, make sure tree stands are in top condition before you hit the field with them. In addition, make sure you’re in top mental and physical condition to be using those tree stands this year.

Think about this statistic*: 84.5% of the people that have a tree stand accident are not wearing a harness or any form of fall arrest. The solution seems simple, right? Every manufactured tree stand since 2004 has come with a full body harness….and who hasn’t purchased a new stand since then? There are over a million sold every year!

Most elevated stand users don’t think an accident will happen to them. You probably classify yourself as a smart hunter. You know about whitetail habitat, harvest a nice deer nearly every year, and know all about the latest and greatest gear to make you successful. So why not be even smarter and quit playing roulette with your life? Get as smart about tree stand hunting as you are about the rest of your hunting.

There is no shortage of tree stand safety information. The internet, magazines and organizations like the National Bowhunter Education Foundation have an abundance of up-to-date information that can help save a life. The point is, whether you consider yourself a serious hunter or the weekend warrior type, tree stand incidents are a black mark on hunting in general. And any incident is unacceptable as it jeopardizes human life…especially because we know how to prevent the largest percentage of these accidents.

Wearing a harness properly won’t by itself keep you safe, but it certainly is one of the most important steps you can take along the way. Here are some additional strategies:

  1. Use a haul-up line to get your equipment from the ground to your tree stand (and back down). Attach the haul-up line to your person in such a manner that it doesn’t interfere with your climb and so that you have both hands free at all times.
  1. Stay attached to the tree from the time you leave the ground until you get back down. This can involve changing how you now ascend and descend a tree and it assumes you are already wearing a full body harness. Once you use this technique you will feel so safe, you won’t ever hunt from an elevated position without doing it. There are products widely available as well as known techniques that are easy to understand to help you master this. Statistics show 98% percent of fall victims were not attached at the time of their fall and approximately 1 in 11 falls resulted in death. *
  1. Use a lineman’s belt. Your harness probably came with a lineman’s belt. If it didn’t, you need to purchase one. A lineman’s belt helps you maintain three points of contact when you are hanging a stand as well as when you are ascending or descending from your stand. And another use is as a suspension trauma relief strap if you do happen to fall. This is a simple and handy gizmo that once you use it, you will wonder how you ever hunted without it. And who knows, you might need it to help you drag that deer out of the woods!
  1. Consider ground blinds. When you are out setting stands, give yourself a break by selecting a couple sites for ground blinds. There are times you just do not need to be climbing…frosty mornings, days when there is a sheet of ice on everything, mornings when you are exceedingly tired or times when you might be groggy from medication. By already having a ground blind set up or at least a spot in mind, you are giving yourself permission NOT to climb that tree when you really shouldn’t. Be a smart hunter by assessing these conditions prior to climbing.
  1. Be realistic about your physical capabilities. With age, mobility decreases. The average age of a person involved in a tree stand incident is 48. * Know what height you are comfortable with prior to setting a stand or using a climber style...and stick with it! Don’t push your comfort levels. Most elevated stand falls occur when hunters lost their balance or their grip or slip. * Many times, tree stand height doesn’t matter when it comes to being silhouetted against a skyline. In addition, the target area on the animal becomes smaller the higher you climb and decreases the odds of making a good shot. Ethical, educated hunters hunt as low as possible. Elevated stand incidents occur from an average height of 16-feet. *
  1. Let someone know where you are going, what time to expect you back and take along emergency notification devices (cell phone, PLB, radios) in case you have a problem. Make sure those devices will work in the area where you will be.

“Plan for the hunt and hunt with a plan” - that doesn’t just mean arranging the plane ticket or making sure you have the right camo! In bowhunter ed, one of our lessons is that safety isn’t an accident, you have to plan to be safe.

  1. Perform tree stand preventative maintenance as described in the manufacturer’s instruction manual. Inspect and contact the manufacturer of the elevated stand prior to making any repairs or altering the design. Altering the design or making unauthorized repairs may render any warranty void. Never discard paperwork (instructions) or documentation of purchase of an elevated stand or harness system.
  1. Plan a “practice” day at home with your hunting buddies where you get out and inspect the stands you will use this hunting season. Then with assistance close by, practice at ground level all the techniques you will be using in the woods including putting on that harness. With someone nearby and the stand at ground level, also practice suspension trauma relief as well as getting back onto the stand if a fall occurs. This way there won’t be any surprises like being 12-feet in the air and discovering the top and bottom of your climber aren’t attached to each another!

Do yourself and your sport a favor this year: Hunt Smart and Hunt Safe.


Marilyn Bentz is the Executive Director for the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF). The NBEF curriculum involves extensive information on tree stand safety. In addition, they also conduct an in-depth instructor course on tree stand safety designed to educate hunter ed and bowhunter ed instructors. If you would like to know more about tree stand safety, the NBEF also distributes a video titled “Treestand Safety: It’s Up to You.” The video and other products are available at or for more information call 605-716-0596.

*Statistical information provided by the Tree Stand Safety Awareness organization. Check them out at