Whitetail Hunting photo

I say it every year, but it bears repeating: If you are not wearing a treestand harness, you’re nuts. Take a look at this picture. The man hanging from the strap is Jim Barta of Hunter’s Safety Systems, makers of one of the original high-quality, hunter-friendly safety harnesses designed to keep you upright if you fall from a tree stand. I shared a camp with Jim on my recent Oklahoma hunt, and during a lull in the action one afternoon, he delivered his popular harness demonstration, wherein he intentionally steps off a tree stand hung 20 feet up. It’s pretty cool. It also gets people’s attention.

Part of Jim’s normal routine is to deliver a portion of his it’s-important-to-wear-a-safety-harness lecture while dangling from the tree. Then he swings himself over to a tree step or ladder stick and climbs back on the stand to finish the speech. But this time, just as he grabbed the stand to help him reach the ladder, the stand–a brand-new model hung by experienced guides–inexplicably collapsed. Now Jim had no platform, just the ladder. Did we help him? No. We took pictures. But this wasn’t Jim’s first rodeo, and he handled it all expertly. After a few more swings, he had his feet safely on the ladder.

The point is this: Unforeseen stuff happens, even to a professional in a highly controlled situation. I’ve already heard about three guys in my area pitching out of their stands this season–all experienced deer hunters who’d scaled hundreds of trees over the years.

People, it can happen to you. And if you hunt long enough, it probably will. But if you’re wearing a harness–especially in conjunction with a safety line–you’ll just have a scary story with a happy ending. Like the one Jim Barta can now tell.