If hunting from tree stands is a new experience for you, or if you are an experienced tree-stand hunter who has been operating under the misconception that tree stands are not potentially hazardous to your health, do a quick Google search on the Internet for “tree-stand safety.”

The glare from the amber light of warnings about safe use of tree stands should give you second thoughts. The record is clear. Every hunting season, hunters, in an effort to elevate themselves and their scents above the ground and the game, fall out of trees. Some receive disabling back and neck injuries. Some are even killed in their falls, no matter how well designed or rigged.

I have been messing around with tree stands for years. A number of home-built, wooden ladder stands have been assembled in my workshop. I also own a couple of manufactured portable seat stands that I have used for hunting deer and bear.With fingers crossed, I can boast that I have never even had a close call in a tree stand — at least not until this September.

In need of a so-called climbing tree stand for a bear hunt, a “climber” was borrowed from my son, Josh. Over the phone, he gave me verbal instructions. Wanting to get the hang of it before actually hunting, I practiced climbing a birch tree in the back yard. Two mistakes were made at the outset. First, I used a smooth-barked tree and, second, I did not secure the platform section of the climber to the upper seat climbing section. You guessed it. On my first ascent, at an elevation of approximately 12 feet, the lower platform fell away from my feet and slid down the tree to the ground. I was left dangling, swinging in the wind, held up only by my elbows on the seat section of the climber. In an attempt not to sound panicky, I called in my most controlled baritone to Diane, who was working in her flower garden on the other side of the house. “Say, Hon, could you come here for a second.?”

No answer. My elbows were tiring fast.

I screamed in high-pitched full-blown panic. “Diane, Diane! Come quick!”

We learned later, after I managed to make a shin-burning, controlled crash-slide down the tree, that she had been talking on her cell phone and never heard my cries for help.

Frankly, that was a sphincter-tightening experience. I’ve slid down trees before. No sweat. And, I’m a pretty agile guy for my years, but I’m no gymnast. You try making the awkward conversion from your elbow perch on the climber rails to the tree trunk. Anyway, I’ll have no part of tree stands that are designed to be “climbers.” They are death traps, designed by youthful sadists intent on scaring old hunters half to death. I’m sticking with the more traditional portable seat stands that include a portable climbing ladder attached to the tree.

My bear-hunting buddy Ron, a robust man in the 200-pound range, who is longer in tooth than even I, refuses ever to elevate himself in the woods after fallen off a ladder stand from 12 feet or so. He hunts bear and deer from ground blinds. Being at ground level at a distance of 30 feet from an active bear bait doesn’t seem to give him pause. ” I’d rather have a bear breathing down my neck than a doctor at the emergency room,” he says. He was soon to learn that you are only as safe as you think you are.

Let me set the stage. Ron’s ground blind is a scant piece of flat ground that looks down a very steep bank. At the bottom of the steep grade the terrain flattens out. There he has his bait site. It is, as bear bait sites go, in ideal setup. The bears hang out close by in the cool bog not far from the site. Ron has killed a couple of big bears there. Diane got her first bear there, as did two retired game warden acquaintances of ours. The hunter sits in the blind next to the hill on an old metal folding chair. Getting the bear carcass up the hill is a challenge even with an ATV and strong ropes.

This September, on his first afternoon in the ground blind, after one of Diane’s sumptuous bear-camp meals and a generous piece of blackberry pie, Ron apparently dozed off during his bear-bait vigil. As he later recounted for us back at camp when we inquired about the cut on his nose and neck, Ron made an involuntary, unscheduled visitation to the bait site at about 5 p.m. Not a good time to be at the bait. He got there by leaning back and falling out of his chair and rolling down the hill with his .308 Savage held above his head like Lee Marvin in Sands of Iwo Jima. Not seriously injured, luckily, he compounded his lack- of- stealth faux pas by checking the safety on his gun. It, apparently damaged in the fall, was not working. The .308 promptly discharged.

An intrepid hunter who never quits, Ron, ignoring his facial cuts, clambered back up the hill, tidied up his ground blind and renewed his bear vigil. He said that it was easier staying awake after that. For some reason, the bear never showed.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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