Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Climbing Tree Stand - AKA "The Deathtrap"

I grew up hunting via the spot and stalk method. This works great for mule deer, but is usually not the most effective method for whitetails. I have resisted using a tree stand for a while, sticking to ground blinds and still hunting. This year I gave in and bought a climbing tree stand. I have enjoyed scouting and reading the land, determining what tree would give me the best opportunity. It has already paid off. While I haven't taken a shot yet, I have seen more deer already this year than all of last year.

Getting used to using a climbing stand has been a little scary though. In my backyard I practiced assembling it, climbing and descending a tree, and reassembling it in the dark. However, somehow things are much more difficult in the field. The first morning I actually used it I thought I was going to die, or at least hang by my safety harness for a few hours.

Things went well at the beginning of my first hunt. I made it to the tree I had chosen, assembled my stand, and made it up the tree. I was slower than most would have taken, but I made it up. I had misjudged the size of the tree. When I made it to the correct height my stand was tilted downward. This made it uncomfortable to sit. I felt like I was sliding out of it the entire time. My hunting buddies speak of falling asleep in their stand. I was so uncomfortable there was no way I was going to relax, let alone sleep!

At about 10:00 I decided to go down the tree and adjust the stand, hopefully making it more level. Those of you who use climbing stands know that there are two pieces to the stand, the top portion that you sit in and the bottom portion that you rest your feet on. A cable, or bar wraps around the tree. Your weight wedges the stand into the tree. If it is not bearing weight it can easily fall.  When you are climbing, the bottom portion of the stand is attached to your feet by a strap of some sort. You ascend and descend by raising the top portion to about chest level, and wedging it into the tree. You then pull yourself and the bottom portion up, wedging the bottom portion into the tree when you have brought it up as high as you can. I have to do this about a dozen times before I am at the proper height

If my description confused you here is a video showing how it is done:

 Anyway, the two portions of the stand should be connected by a rope. This way, if the bottom portion falls you will not be stranded. You need both pieces to go up or down (safely).

As I was descending one of the straps that was holding the bottom portion to my feet snapped. Manufactures defect, the buckle just broke. This caused the bottom of the stand to twist and slide off my other foot at an angle.  I managed to pull myself back up into the top portion, but the bottom was out of reach. It was connected by the rope, but I made the rope to long. I couldn't pull it up by the rope because it fell at an angle, wedging itself tight.

I saw the big buck back in there.

Fortunately, I didn't panic. I was wearing my safety harness, so I knew I was not going to die. I was stuck, however, with no easy way down. I sat there, tugging at the rope, which only made things worse, until I decided to do something daring.  At my job I often have to work in high ceilings. I often stand on the top rung of a six foot ladder and pull myself up into the rafters. I get down by basically jumping onto the top rung of the ladder. I'm fairly sure footed. I was up much higher than I am at work, and the slanted base of the stand only gave me an inch to drop down on, but I figured I had the safety harness, so what could go wrong?

It worked perfectly. I dropped down onto the one inch bar, balanced on one foot, and brought the top portion of the stand down. Unfortunately, I could not right the bottom of the stand, so I had to repeat this process half a dozen times before I got to the ground.

Saw another nice buck the next day right down there
After taking a break, I hiked back to my truck and got a ratcheting strap. I used the ratcheting strap to strap my feet to the stand base. I wasn't going to let this happen again! I repositioned the stand to make it level and climbed back up. That evening I saw the largest buck I have ever seen in the wild. While I didn't get a shot, it was still a good day.

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