I’m perfectly content to do my deer hunting with my feet planted firmly on the ground. I’ve been doing it for more than a half-century, have tagged about 150 deer, and see no reason to change now.
Plus, I’m afraid of heights.
The annual warning about hunting from tree stands issued by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency prior the start of deer season is not intended for me. It’s for the other 200,000 deer hunters across the state who do choose to hunt from atop a tree stand.
Actually the term “tree stand” is not accurate for most elevated stands nowadays. Unlike in the early days when most deer stands were home-made and consisted of some boards nailed in the forks of a tree, with more boards nailed to the trunk for a ladder, most modern “ladder stands” are metallic and commercially-made.
They can be as simple as a medal ladder fastened to a tree with a seat on top, or as fancy as a tripod equipped with a foot-rest, swivel seat, railing and canopy.
Whether plain or fancy, tree stands have one thing in common: the hunter is sitting high off the ground, and if he falls he’s probably in trouble.
I’ve told this story before but it’s worth repeating: several years ago a deer hunting acquaintance in Hardin County fell off a ladder stand and broke his back. He was a veteran hunter who had hunted from tree stands for years.
Prior to the opening of deer season he checked out a ladder stand left up from the previous season. He decided to shift its angle slightly. He climbed up and unfastened the strap that held it to the tree. The metal ladder sprang back, throwing him to the ground. He spent over a year undergoing painful, expensive rehab.
At least he survived; not all hunters are so lucky. The number of fatal tree stand accidents has steadily increased in recent years.
The TWRA says tree-stand accidents have become the No. 1 cause of hunting-related accidents, surpassing accidental shootings. Tree-stand safety has been added to the TWRA’s mandatory Hunter Education course.
Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents when you consider all the factors. Most hunters are not used to climbing steep ladders, and the metal rungs are often slippery with dew, rain or ice. Hunters generally wear cumbersome hunting boots, gloves and bulky clothing, and sometimes the climbing is done in the dark.
Once on top of the stand they often have to twist around into shooting position when a deer comes their way -- anxious, excited, hands shaking.
After taking a shot, they scurry down the ladder, adrenaline still pumping.
There’s no question that hunting from a tree stand can be effective. Deer tend not to look up very often – although they may be acquiring the instinct as more and more hunters take to the trees. Another advantage is that sitting atop a stand allows a hunter to see over low-growing brush and perhaps get a shot that a ground hunter might not.
But there’s also no question that hunting from heights can be dangerous. If a deer hunter trips on the ground it can be aggravating; if he slips high above the ground it can be disastrous.
It’s something for every hunter to keep in mind – every second he’s up there.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer.