ESCANABA - Since 1998 Michigan firearm deer hunters have been utilizing the privilege archers previously enjoyed, hunting from an elevated platform.
In those 11 years, tree stand technology has improved immensely, making it a safer sport. What needs to be understood is there is still a transition that must be considered when going afield this time of year.
There is a study conducted by Deer and Deer Hunting magazine that dates back as far as 1993. It reported more than one third of tree stand hunters will at some time fall from a stand, and that about three percent will suffer crippling injuries.
Climbing stands allow a hunter to ‘walk’ a stand up a tree with climbing devices for hands and feet. They should not be used in ice or snow.
Of all the tree stand accidents, 75-80 percent occur while climbing up or down. Another cause for falling was when the hunter fell asleep while on the platform.
In a 2006 report done through the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), it was determined that, "the average age of victims who fell or hung to their death was 44 years old. These are tree stand archery hunters with up to 20 years experience. They got lazy and too familiar with the risks. In the 75 percent of the deaths the subject was not wearing a full body harness, even though every stand now comes with one co-packaged. In this group 55 percent were using climbing style tree stands and 45 percent hang-on or ladder style stands."
In 2004, a group from Detroit's auto industry, and familiar with the latest seatbelt technology, applied their knowledge toward solving at least part of the problem by developing the new full body "vest harness." It replaces the four point body harness and the dangerous original single belt and strap concept.
The new technology is designed to hold the user right-side up and not restrict breathing should there be a fall. They also incorporated a quick release system.
While some hunters still utilize the self-climbing style platform, many hunters are now assisted by use of climbing sticks (steps welded on a single tube and tightly secured to a tree trunk with ratcheting tie-down straps), ladders (attached directly to the frame of the platform and either chained or strapped to the tree), or screw-in steps.
The latter version is illegal for use on and public or corporate land open for public recreation in Michigan.
Although mostly used on private land, there is a growing popularity among hunters to use a tower (free-standing) stand. These are similar to a ladder stand but are free-standing and can be placed anywhere that has a firm base.
Any elevated stand placed on public and corporate land open for public recreation must have the owner's name and address permanently affixed to the unit and visible from the ground. The standard size of lettering is two inches in height.
The second week of Michigan archery deer hunting is underway and the conversion to more seasonal weather is about to take place. The forecast for the weekend shows a mix of rain and snow. High temperatures in the mid to low 40s and lows dipping into the high 20s is a sure sign we are about to get our first taste of winter. That will mean some hunters will bulk up with outdoor gear protecting them from the elements to handle the long sitting time. It is important to review your safe use program if you utilize an elevated platform.
Michigan leads in accidents and deaths. I don't believe falls from tree stands is classified and thus tallied as a hunting accident unless it involves a firearm. Still, insurance carriers and healthcare facilities that deal with fall injuries have shared data to gain simple numbers of injuries.
With climbing determined to be the highest risk, hunters should consider re-checking the anchor points of their platforms. Moisture, like that received throughout the UP this past week, can cause woven tie-down straps to loosen.
The tree should be the type without loose bark and certainly without disease. Use extra care when hunting from a smooth-barked tree (such as aspen, maple and beech) when it's raining as they get slippery.
The steps of the climbing device may have ice build-up. Be sure they are clear. Also consider your footwear.
If you are switching to a more insulated pair of boots, they too may be larger and in some cases, more difficult to fit the steps.
Heavier clothing can have some impact on mobility, bulking up your body and occupancy of space. You may want to consider a few practice shots with all your foul weather gear on and note what adjustments are necessary for making a clean killing shot.
If you have not already done so, police the grounds immediately under your hunting platform. You can be impaled on any sticks or stumps protruding upwards should you fall.
Even though it may be new, re-check your vest harness for cuts or wear points on the fabric and seams every time you put it on. Damage can and will occur with repeated use. Be sure it fits over the extra clothing.
Lastly, never attempt to carry a firearm up to an elevated hunting platform. Hunters should assure their guns are unloaded, in barrel and magazine, and attach a cord (haul line) to the gun that will have the barrel aimed downward once lifted.
Consider some type of waterproof fabric to protect the gun as it is laid on the ground during inclement weather. Only utilize the haul line after you have climbed into the stand and secured your vest harness.
The best stories are about the time you've had hunting success, or the one that got away. Those are the memories we hope you have and not those of when a tragedy occurred that may negatively and perhaps forever impact your life.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.