No one likes a safety sermon. It's like being told to eat your vegetables. This sermon will be brief, because I'm confident you know of at least one hunter who is crippled -- or dead -- as a result of a treestand accident. Personally, I find that sufficient motivation to wear a harness, but there's more. Every time I take my grandsons out to shoot their bows or go fishing, the motivation for safety escalates.
When Carson and Easton arrow their first deer, play basketball, graduate from high school, and become young men, I want to be there -- in one piece.
Even more important, I want to set a good example that teaches them to hunt safely. I want them to be able to participate in all of those activities, too -- in one piece.
Family. What more incentive could anyone possibly need to hunt safely?
Okay, the mini-sermon is over. The important thing now is to find a fall-restraint system that's comfortable, functional, and easy to use. The better the system, the more likely you are to wear it.
You might think a safety belt around your waist is sufficient, but it is not. Remember -- it's not a given you'll be conscious during or after a fall, so righting yourself quickly may not be possible. Hanging from a waist belt will kill you in minutes.
A full-body harness is the only way to go. You might think it will be too cumbersome or bulky, but a harness really does not interfere with hunting, and I promise -- you will learn to trust and depend on your harness. Eventually, it will be the first thing you grab when you head to your treestand.
I would recommend against buying a harness system that does not include a lineman's belt option. The lineman's belt ensures safe climbing, and it frees both of your hands for trimming branches and hanging stands.
One "harness hassle" you'll likely encounter is long, dangling straps. Do not allow these strap ends to twist and flutter in the breeze to attract attention. Customize your harness by first putting on the maximum clothing you might wear in cold weather. Then put the harness on and adjust the straps for a comfortable fit. If your harness has lots of excess strap, mark the strap to leave about six inches of excess, and cut the strap at the mark. To prevent fraying, "seal" the ends with a lighter or small propane torch.
Another option is to wear the harness underneath outer clothing. This prevents straps from dangling and gear from clinking against buckles. However, the safety lanyard will have to run out the back of your collar, which may be un-comfortable. If you fall, your jacket will pull up and crowd your face, so keep it slightly open at the collar. Some jackets have holes sewn into the back to accommodate a harness tether.
Keep in mind -- simply wearing a harness isn't enough. Studies have shown that more than 70 percent of treestand accidents occur while hunters are ascending, descending, or making the transition into or out of a treestand. To ensure total safety during these dangerous moments, use a climbing system of some type. These systems consist of a heavy rope that attaches to the tree near your treestand. Before you start to climb, you attach your safety tether to the rope, via a prussic knot or similar sliding device, and slide the tether up as you climb (down as you descend). With such a system, you are connected to the tree at all times.
Listed on the next pages are some quality safety harnesses. Choose one and wear it. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family.
Ameristep's Climbing Vest Harness is a complete system with a microfiber vest enclosing the harness straps to prevent tangling. Adjustable leg straps are the key to safety with any harness because, in the event of a fall, they safely support most of your weight. A system that places pressure on the chest and waist can be as bad as no system at all. A sternum strap keeps the vest and shoulder straps in place, but this one has a feed-through slip buckle that's bulkier and more cumbersome than a snap buckle.
I do like the heavy lanyard designed to double as a tree strap and a lineman's belt for use when climbing. It is strong and adjustable; has heavy duty carabiners at both ends, which are easy to attach and detach; and includes a rubberized D-ring to snap onto. Ameristep also offers a Lifeline for totally safe climbing and a Fall Recovery System designed to help you get back into your stand in the event of a fall.
CONTACT: Ameristep, (810) 686-4035, www.ameristep.com
The harness system from Gorilla is a standard strap harness sewn inside a camouflage vest. A sternum strap with a small snap buckle keeps the vest closed, and a large web strap and plastic slip buckle serves as a waist belt. Leg straps with similar buckles are suspended from a single strap at your side.
The tree strap slips through a loop in the safety tether anchored near your upper back and then cinches tight to the tree trunk above you. A lineman's belt is available that attaches to the square D-rings at your waist. These can be hidden when not in use. This is a lightweight vest at an economical price.
CONTACT: Gorilla, 1-877-685-7817, www.gorillatreestands.com
Hunter Safety System
Hunter Safety System built a quality vest around a safety harness to prevent the tangled, confusing mess so common with early harness systems. Several features stand out in this product, starting with the seatbelt-like buckles that terminate the straps around your legs. In the event of a fall, a new saddle-leg design transfers weight away from your crotch to your upper thighs. With both the sternum strap and waist belt connected via quick-snap buckles, this vest goes on with very little effort.
Several versions are available, inclu
ding the Pro-Series with a mesh vest material and deep, useful pockets. My one complaint is the Velcro on the flaps. I'm sorry, but in my opinion, Velcro has no place on bowhunting gear. It's too noisy.
I do like the lineman's belt design because it incorporates strap loops on your hips instead of noisy metal D-rings. The safety lanyard, or more correctly rope, section has dual carabiners that hook into the strap loops. A Tree Stand Life Line is available for keeping you attached to the tree at all times.
The Hunter Safety System vest also comes in a reversible, camo/blaze-orange model, as well as the lighter Treestalker version and the Lil' Treestalker for young bowhunters. The Hunter Safety System vest is also available through API Out-doors at Bass Pro Shops.
CONTACT: Hunter Safety System, (256) 773-7732, www.huntersafetysystem.com
The Safeguard Series of harnesses from Muddy Outdoors is well-designed with all the necessary features. This non-vest harness has a tangle-free design with foam padding in the back, waist, shoulder, and leg straps. A heavy-duty sternum strap keeps the shoulder straps in position at all times. A unique sliding binocular holder built into the shoulder straps keeps your optics close at hand.
The heavy duty safety lanyard attaches to the tree then to the back tether on the harness. The lanyard can also be converted to a lineman's belt for placing treestands. Leg straps have cinch-style buckles that allow for instant, hassle-free adjustment. The metal D-rings at the hips can be removed so they're not clanking against your treestand or bow. Some serious thought went into this non-vest safety harness.
CONTACT: Muddy Outdoors, (573) 346-4747, www.muddyoutdoors.com
Summit's new Seat-O-The-Pants Fast-Back Lite is a streamlined yet effective 4 Point Fall Arrest System. A triangle of camouflage material across the back keeps this harness from tangling, but the minimal design has little effect on your mobility or comfort, particularly in warm weather.
Leg straps on this harness crisscross at the hips and attach with a quick and silent slip-through buckle design that eliminates dangling strap ends.
The D-rings for the lineman's configuration are rubberized to reduce noise, and the safety lanyard doubles as a lineman's belt. You can even use two safety lanyards so one is attached to the back-mounted safety tether while using the lineman's belt for hanging stands or negotiating around limbs while climbing.
I've been using the Supreme X6 Harness Vest version because I like the sternum strap and long pocket on the left chest for holding my lanyard as I'm walking. Several options and sizes are available. The Summit Climbing System, a 30-foot rope with a prussic hitch, will keep you connected to the tree from the moment you leave the ground to the moment you return.
CONTACT: Summit Treestands, (256) 353-0634, www.summitstands.com
Trophyline USA, the makers of the Tree Saddle, have adapted their designs into two safety harness models. The Armourlite is a lightweight harness with no vest but with all the safety features you'll need. The safety lanyard, which attaches at the upper back, has a built-in "Decelerator Pack" to lessen the force felt during a fall. A unique Suspension Relief Seat cushion incorporated into the leg straps helps get the weight off your legs while suspended.
A Tree Belt comes with the harness, but the Climbing Belt, which doubles as a suspension relief device, is optional. A gadget retractor, sewn into the right shoulder-harness strap, works well for holding your rangefinder or grunt call. To improve comfort, the sternum strap is elastic and adjustable. For colder weather, the Gadget Extreme model is a vest harness with nine pockets for all your gear. Both harnesses have a removable bow strap for securing your bow while elevated.
Trophyline's Tree Saddle also doubles as a safety harness and a treestand.
CONTACT: Trophyline USA, 1-866-444-4868, www.trophylineUSA.com