Dec. 6, 2017
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
A colleague once received a pair of jumper cables from his father-in-law for Christmas. The only response he could give was, “Thanks, I hope I never need them.” They may not have had the charm of a new set of golf clubs, but those jumper cables have bailed him out of more serious trouble than any sand wedge. Life jackets and safety harnesses fall into that category of unexciting gifts, but they may be the only things under the tree this Christmas that could save your loved one’s life.
The most common hunting fatalities each year include falling from a tree stand and drowning after a boating accident. Every death is tragic, but suddenly losing a loved one to an accident can turn people’s worlds upside down in an instant. Knowing that death could have been avoided by simply wearing a piece of safety gear makes this sort of hunting accident even more painful.
According to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, 3 in 10 hunters who use tree stands will have an accident at some point in their hunting career. The proper use of safety equipment can separate those fatal or life-changing accidents into a near miss that you walk away from.
Everyone at the AGFC hopes that you’ll never have to truly “use” a safety harness, but much like those trusty jumper cables, it’s something you should never be without. Some safety harnesses, particularly those supplied with tree stands, can be a confusing mess of straps and buckles. But many aftermarket safety systems are not only easier to put on, but also have added pockets and features for hunting. Learn how the harness works at home and on the ground before trying to use it in the field. Label the shoulders with “right” and “left” marks if it helps you put it on straight, and learn how the system secures to the tree so you’re not left wearing an unattached harness in the field.
“It’s important to have contact with the tree from the time you leave the ground until you get back down at the end of the hunt,” said Joe Huggins, AGFC hunter education coordinator. “That moment making the transition from ladder to stand is one of the riskiest times in hunting, and it’s often the moment when many hunters are not attached.”
Huggins says some safety harness makers also make a lifeline that runs from the ground to the stand and helps prevent falls during that critical transition.
“There’s no guarantee that wearing a safety harness is going to save everyone from every type of hunting accident,” said Joe Huggins. “But by and large, if the people in our incident reports had been wearing harnesses properly, they could have gotten back on their stand instead of falling.”
Life jackets are another major safety device often left unused when hunting. Boaters are required by law to have a life jacket on board their vessel for every passenger, and boats 16 feet and longer also are required to have a throwable floatation cushion. Unfortunately, many of these life preservers remain cushions in the bottom of the boat during hunting season.
“Life jackets must be worn properly for them to work effectively,” said Alex Hinson, AGFC boating education coordinator. “Many victims of boating fatalities had life jackets in the boat, but were not wearing them when the accident occurred.”
Hinson says there are many well designed float coats that address a duck hunter’s need for comfort and offering floatation needed if they take a tumble overboard. Inflatable life vests also have come a long way. Some are so comfortable, hunters will forget they are wearing them after they’ve had them on for a few minutes.
“Sportsmen spend countless dollars on equipment,” Hinson said. “They tend to plan hunts for months, but unfortunately there are times when their planning and preparation overlook a quality PFD (float coat or inflatable lifejacket).”
Tell someone you care about them and want them to return home from a trip in the field this season. Consider gifting them a high-quality safety harness or life jacket.