You can find me all over Survival Freedom writing about what you should do in a tree stand. But about what you shouldn’t do? Frankly, that’s as important, if not more so. Much of it concerns your safety in the stand, and by taking it seriously, you can stay safe, hunt more often, and have more success.
As a seasoned hunter with hundreds of successful hunts under my belt, I have learned a lot of this stuff through trial and error. I hope you will trust what I say here about the complexities of a successful and safe hunt from a tree stand. It could save your life.
Here are ten things to never do in a tree stand:
1. Going Without a Safety Line and Harness
This is the most important of all. According to the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation, thousands of hunters fall from their tree stands each year, and many of them are severely injured because they aren’t wearing safety harnesses. A safety line and harness attach you to the tree so that if your stand collapses or you fall out of it, you remain suspended without hitting the ground.
You should always use a line and harness while climbing into and out of your tree stand and sitting in it. Most tree stands come with one included, or you can get a simple linesman harness. Just remember to keep it connected to the tree as well. The harness doesn’t do you much good otherwise.
2. Leaving Your Cell Phone at Home
Your phone is for more than just Instagram and silly games. It can be one of your most useful hunting safety devices. The reason is simple: you can use it to call for help in an emergency. According to a study in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, using a cell phone to report an emergency dramatically reduces the risk of death at the scene. In other words, emergency responders are more likely to arrive on time to save you.
Now, as someone who enjoys hunting precisely because it gets me out into nature and helps me disconnect from the hectic rhythm of everyday life, I understand how badly you probably want to ignore this rule. Don’t! You can still disconnect. Just turn your phone off, or put it on airplane mode, and stuff it down in your rucksack. Forget you even have it unless there’s an emergency.
3. Making Sudden Movements
The most obvious reason not to make sudden movements in your tree stand is that it might spook game. Deer have poor vision with limited depth perception and red-green color blindness. They mostly react to movement, so a jerk in your tree stand may very well be what clues them in to your presence.
However, sudden movements aren’t safe either. I’ve luckily never fully fallen out of my tree stand, but the times I’ve come close have always been due to sudden movements. I’m a twitchy guy and sometimes jerk as I’m nodding off to sleep or while reaching for my rucksack. At 6’3″, it’s easy to come off balance in a cramped tree stand and almost take a tumble. Don’t be like me.
4. Ignoring the Weather
The US Forest Service has a list of hunter safety tips, and it’s telling how many of them have to do with the weather. In fact, their very first tip is “Check weather reports before visiting the forest.” The weather can be dangerous in several different ways:
- Rain can make your tree stand slippery and dangerous to get in and out of. It can decrease visibility, putting you at risk of getting lost or injured by other hunters—combat rain by wearing a water-resistant outer layer.
- Cold temperatures: Cold weather is arguably the most dangerous and can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, and even death unless you stay warm with insulated clothing.
- Hot weather: Deer season in most places isn’t too warm, but with the wrong clothing, you could end up with heat stroke or dehydration.
- High winds: Wind can make the tree you’re in sway and throw you off balance if you try to stand up.
Remember to check the weather forecast before your hunting trip and plan your clothing accordingly, layering so that you can adjust. Also, check the weather the morning before you leave since it can always change. If the weather is especially severe, such as thunderstorms or extremely high winds, I recommend postponing your trip. You’re unlikely to catch a deer out and about anyway.
5. Using Damaged or Old Equipment
The Mayo Clinic claims that the average fall from a tree stand is around 15 feet, which is enough to break bones, cause paralysis, or even kill you. They also point out that one of the main reasons for falls is the collapse of a deteriorated stand.
While they advise avoiding permanent stands altogether, this also applies to hang-on, climbing, and ladder stands. You should check your tree stand before each hunt. I go so far as to test mine against a big oak in my backyard, ensuring it can hold my weight just a few feet up. Review the mechanical pieces and bolts, too, not to mention your safety harness.
Additionally, check your other equipment, particularly your weapon. A damaged bow can splinter when you shoot it, causing severe injury. And that’s nothing compared to a damaged firearm.
6. Overloading the Tree Stand
Not only am I a hunter myself, but I’ve written about hunting for years. That’s included writing about a lot of different tree stand models and reviewing them. I’ve never found a tree stand with a weight capacity over 350 pounds; those rated for more than 300 pounds are rare.
I push 200 pounds, so that only leaves me 100 pounds for gear. That’s not a lot. Before heading out, I weigh myself with all my gear on, holding my bow. I make sure this number isn’t more than what the stand can hold.
7. Hunting While Intoxicated
This one seems obvious, but then we all know the hunter who likes to take a case of beer with him to the tree stand. This is dangerous for a ton of reasons. First, your reflexes and reasoning are hindered when you’re drunk (or on drugs), and you could fall out of the stand, shoot another hunter, or injure yourself in an endless variety of ways.
Not only that, though, hunting while intoxicated is also illegal in pretty much every state, even if you’re bowhunting. The classification and penalties for the crime vary, but you can usually expect to lose your hunting license at the very least.
8. Leaving Weapons Unsecured
Modern firearms and crossbows have extensive safety features, but there’s still a small chance that if you drop one, it could go off. This could injure you or someone nearby. Plus, in addition to dropping, leaving your weapon unsecured could cause other mishandling or injury.
You should always make sure your weapon, be it a gun or a recurve bow, is secure in your tree stand. If the stand doesn’t have a specific holder, consider getting one or using a haul line. Always unload a firearm before carrying it into a tree stand.
9. Forgetting About Noise and Scent Control
This one is less about safety, but it’s so essential to a successful hunt that I had to include it. I’ve met far too many hunters who think that getting up in a tree stand completely hides them from deer. It does give you a significant advantage and makes it harder for your quarry to hear and smell you, but it’s not magic. You still have to do your part.
As for noise, you can minimize it by getting the proper clothing and being careful with your movements. Odor is more complicated and requires a dedicated strategy of washing and scent-killing. I like to store my gear in a box with brush and leaves for a few days before going hunting. You can also look for gear with specific scent-control technology.
10. Hunting Without an Emergency Kit
We all want to cut down on weight and bulk in our gear, but as a former Boy Scout, I live by the adage Be Prepared. You never know what could happen in the wilderness, and you need to be ready for dire situations.
Hunter educators recommend a basic survival kit consisting of the following:
- Two trash bags
- 10 yards of rope
- Waterproof matches
- Whistle and signaling mirror
Outfitters and professional guides also suggest you take first-aid items as well:
- Bandages, gauze, and medical tape
- Alcohol wipes
And my personal recommendation? A knife! In fact, I take one everywhere I’m legally allowed to, not just hunting. It’s an infinitely useful tool.
This table captures the essentials of what not to do in a tree stand, focusing on safety precautions and the rationale behind each point.
|Don’t Do This||Reason / Consequences|
|1||Going Without a Safety Line and Harness||Risk of severe injury or death from falls|
|2||Leaving Your Cell Phone at Home||Cannot call for help in emergencies; increases risk of death|
|3||Making Sudden Movements||Spooks game; risk of losing balance and falling|
|4||Ignoring the Weather||Adverse weather increases the risk of injury and hampers hunting|
|5||Using Damaged or Old Equipment||Increased risk of falls and equipment failure|
|6||Overloading the Tree Stand||Risk of stand collapse due to excessive weight|
|7||Hunting While Intoxicated||Impaired judgment, increased accident risk, legal consequences|
|8||Leaving Weapons Unsecured||Risk of accidental discharge, injury, or mishandling|
|9||Forgetting About Noise and Scent Control||Reduces hunting success; deer can still hear and smell you|
|10||Hunting Without an Emergency Kit||Unprepared for emergencies in the wilderness|
I can’t stress enough the importance of safety in tree stands. This should be your number one priority when it comes to what to focus on doing in a tree stand. That’s why this article on what not to do revolved around keeping you safe.
Neglecting harnesses and safety lines can lead to dangerous falls. While phones serve as emergency lifelines, swift movements and ignoring weather conditions can jeopardize hunts. Using old equipment, overlooking scent control, and not carrying an emergency kit can be perilous.
I hope this article has been helpful, and happy hunting!
For more, check out How to Bowhunt From a Tree Stand | All You Need to Know.
Christian grew up in the Ozarks where he spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ homestead learning about guns, hunting, and the great outdoors.
An avid traditional bowhunter, much of his writing covers this and other similar topics, but he also covers just about everything from history and economics to motorcycles.
See more of his work at ChristianMonson.com.