Whitetail Handbook: No-Fall Insurance

Scott asked us to post this short article, originally published in the September 2007 issue of the magazine, in response to the following question from reader Gina_;_

My new boyfriend is a big hunter and uses tree stands. Just want to know how to keep him from breaking his neck if he falls. I've heard too many horror stories ... any input would be helpful!

Gina, we hope this helps! --The Eds.

I didn’t even realize my mistake--of confusing a small dead branch with a tree step--until I lay flat on the sodden ground, gasping for breath, with fat raindrops slapping me in the face. Only luck and a well-stuffed daypack that cushioned my landing saved me from serious injury, or worse.

The majority of tree-stand falls--more than 800 reported each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission--occur during climbs or descents. Ironically, most hunters (like me on that November day) don’t attach their safety harness until they’re in the stand.

Instead, protect yourself from the instant your boots leave the ground until they touch down again by using one of the products below. It just might save your life.

Integrated Safety's FallGuy Retractor
($40; 866-477-6723; integratedsafety.us)
This ingenious device works much like a car's seat belt. It's been proven effective by a crash-test dummy nicknamed--what else?--FallGuy. In the field, you strap it to the tree above your stand and clip your safety harness to 20 feet of retractable webbing contained within a weatherproof housing. When you descend, the webbing pulls out easily; return to your perch, and it rolls into the housing as you ascend. If you slip going up or down, it stops fast to catch your fall.

Hunter Safety System's Life Line
($40; 877-296-3528; huntersafetysystem.com)
HSS looked to mountaineers and arborists--who've relied on ropes and knots to prevent falls for decades--to design the Life Line. Basically, it is the same Prussic knot system used by expert climbers but all assembled and ready to go. Just attach the 30-foot, 1/2-inch-thick rope above your tree stand and hang it down along your steps or ladder. Then clip your safety harness into the Prussic loop attached to the rope, and slide the knot up or down as you climb or descend.

Summit Seat-O-the-Pants Tree Descender
($25; 256-353-0634; summitstands.com)
An arrested fall is a whole lot better than an unarrested one, but the former can bring its own problems--namely, what to do (other than just hang there) if you can't reach your stand, steps, or ladder. Enter the Tree Descender, a safety rope that you can retrieve from a pocket and loop around the tree trunk. Two Prussic loops serve as movable footholds. As one supports your weight, you slide the other down and alternate left and right until you finally reach terra firma, safe and sound.

--Scott Bestul