A few winters ago, one of my best hunting buddies nearly got killed while pig hunting in Florida. He wasn’t charged by a raging wild boar. He fell head-first out of a lock-on stand and broke his neck. Since the stand was no more than 12 feet off the ground, he didn’t figure he needed a safety belt. He recovered and can walk today, but I don’t have to tell how just how lucky he was.
My buddy wasn’t new to this; on the contrary, he’s been bowhunting longer than I’ve been alive. I think year in and year out, when I see hunters climb into stands without wearing a safety harness, they are experienced hunters more often than not. Guys who’ve hunted from treestands for years without a problem. That simply amazes me. Whether you’ve climbed a tree 20 times or 2,000, it doesn’t take but one fall. The 2004 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, which studied many accidents around construction sites, reported that a fall from 11 feet or higher increases the probability of death to 85 percent. How many of you think 11 feet is high enough for bowhunting?
Thing is, with products on the market today, treestand falls can be all but eliminated. Virtually all new stands are packaged with a full-body safety harness. If that’s all you have, use it—when worn properly, they work quite well. From a hunter’s standpoint, though, such harnesses can be a pain to wear properly. Straps must be weaved through buckles (which is confusing), and once in place, many of the straps are left dangling, and that can get in the way.
For that reason, I’ve always been a fan of vests with a few more features, such as those from Hunter Safety System. This year I’ll be wearing the new HSS Hybrid Vest, and it’s about ideal for my use. I do a lot of early season bowhunting in Kentucky, and it’s hot. This vest is lightweight (2.5 pounds) and lean on fabric, and it’s so easy to put on. There are no straps to weave. Just three solid buckles.
Despite the trim design, it’s loaded with pockets, which is a big gripe I have against many other safety harnesses. These pockets are big enough to carry a bottle of water, a book, a rangefinder, a flashlight, toilet paper or whatever else I might need. The chest straps sport two handy little clips, too. Point is, in addition to keeping you safe, the Hybrid Vest is a useful hunting tool.
I’ll be pairing the vest with the HSS LifeLine System on all my lock-on stands. This isn’t a new product from HSS, but it’s a new one for me. And I like it. Studies show the majority of treestand falls today don’t happen while you’re actually sitting in the stand—they happen while climbing in and climbing out. With the Lifeline installed, you simply clip the strap of your vest to it on the ground, before taking that first step. You’re held in place via a Prussic knot on a heavy climbing rope and secure form the time you leave the ground until the time you climb back down.
These products are a little pricey. The Hybrid Vest sells for $140. A LifeLine is $40, or you can buy a three-pack for $100. I’d say in the event of a fall, you’ll be dang glad you spent the extra coin.
(Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the Hunter Safety System 12 Weeks of Hunting Giveaway)