The words always and never are rarely valid in deer hunting discussions, but when the subject is tree-stand safety, there are a few rules carved in stone.
--Never climb trees when they're wet with rain or covered by ice. If nasty weather blows in while you're aloft, descend immediately.
--Never climb with a weapon. Leave your gun or bow on the ground and haul it up with a tether rope.
--Always wear a quality, commercially made chest harness from the moment your feet leave the ground. The Hunter Safety System Vest ($100; 866-476-8378; www.huntersafetysystem.com) is a good example.
--Never trust any dead limb when climbing to a fixed-position stand. Saw them off so your foot won't find one, especially when descending in the dark.
--Always use enough steps. Place a screw-in or rope-on step every 16 inches or less. Install the final one so that you can step down on the stand platform.
--Always maintain three contact points with the tree when you ascend. Example: As your foot reaches for a step, keep the other foot and both hands on a step. --SCOTT BESTUL