It Will Never Happen to Me
I grew up in the Black Hills but currently live in South Georgia. Hunting in the Deep South is good but there's just something special about going home to the Hills for archery hunting, especially during the pre-rut. As soon as online applications were being accepted, I applied for and received my non-resident archery any deer tag for 2016.
I arrived on the 29th of October and spent the ﬁrst day and a half getting caught up with family. I hunted the evening of the 30th but the warm weather and southerly winds were not in my favor and I didn’t see much moving. The weather forecast for the upcoming week was not encouraging, more southerly winds and high temperatures pushing 70 degrees. I thought I would be coming to hunt in below freezing temperatures but arrived to unbelievably warm weather for the Black Hills in October / November.
Halloween morning I was determined to get out into the woods to try to ﬁll my archery deer tag. The forecast was calling for wind that would be gusting to 30 miles per hour which is hardly ideal for chasing whitetail bucks with a stick and string. I decided that given my limited time to hunt I had to get out in the woods at any chance I could get. The evening before the hunt my brother explained that he recently placed safety climbing lines on the tree climbing sticks leading up to our favorite lock on stands.
Well, the following morning I set out for my hunt with all my gear in tow. Bow - check, arrows - check, safety harness - check. I had the whole thing planned out, but you know what they say about the best laid out plans.....I walked to my tree stand in total darkness, save my headlamp. Up ahead I could see the bright reﬂection of the new safety line my brother placed on the ladder going up to the waiting stand some 20 feet up in the tree. I walked up to the tree, placed the safety line connector in my hand and hesitated. I've never used a safety line while climbing a tree and for some strange reason it seemed like an inconvenience to attach myself to the safety line. So, ignoring the newly installed safety line and my brother’s advice, I started making my way up the climbing sticks attached to the tree.
Upon reaching the upper most section of the ladder, about 18 feet off the ground, the strap holding it to the tree suddenly snapped.
The ladder immediately started to pitch left, away from the tree. I was on my way to a very serious injury, or even worse. By the Grace of God the section of ladder didn't snap completely off, slowing its descent just long enough for me to lunge back onto the tree. If you are like me you have most likely played out a few “worst case scenarios” in your mind and probably have a “this is what I’ll do” response planned out. I must admit that I had thought about this type of thing happening in the past and thought about what my response would entail. However, when the strap broke loose there wasn’t time for a planned response. My brain just reacted and miraculously, I ended up back on the tree, not exactly sure of what happened. Very shaken, I climbed back down the remaining sections of ladder. I paused at the bottom and picked up the safety line again.
I thought to myself, "How dumb are you? This was put here to save your life and you ignored it".
Very shaken, I decided that I needed to sit right where I was at so I would not spook the deer returning to the bedding area. Since I was going to sit there I decided I might as well try to put myself in a position to fill my deer tag. I picked out a spot in a blown down old dead tree that was directly under the damaged and contorted stand hanging above me. I carefully cleared out a spot to sit and started thinking about how I would get into shooting position if the need should arise. Honestly I didn't have high expectations but I stuck with it. To my surprise the deer were moving all around me seemingly unaware of my presence, and I had several deer just 15 short steps away. I saw a nice buck working his way through the timber towards me and I was able to get to my knees, draw my bow and send an arrow into his vitals. A pretty incredible ending to what could have been a life changing accident.
Yes, I was successful and harvested a great buck. However, my ignorance could have cost me my life.
My advice to you is please, please, PLEASE do not climb any tree without using the proper safety equipment. Your family and friends want you back the same way you went in to the woods. Hunt hard, but hunt safe. I learned many lessons from this near miss. First, I will be taking all stands and ladders down at the end of season. Second, I will inspect ladder straps and stands for damage. Lastly and most important, I will ALWAYS be physically attached to the tree via safety harness and lines while climbing up, in, sitting, and climbing down. The steps will add work and time to my process but that is outweighed by the safety assurances.
God bless and thanks for reading.