Prepping For the Hunt, An Unexpected Brush with Death


Safety harness are finally becoming routine with most deer hunters, yet an increasing number of accidents are being reported prior to hunting season, when sportsmen are cutting shooting lanes, trying out new stands, and sight-scouting for deer travel. Here’s a chilling letter to Hunter Safety Systems that’s a great reminder of how dangerous hunting from stands can be and the importance of being safe every time:

Jon Mills, 33, of Oxford, Mich., went out to a spot he planned to hang a trail camera in the afternoon of Aug. 2. He had already cleared as much brush as he could with his pruner, and he was eyeing one last branch high above him when his wife called to hurry him home, as their hungry 16-month-old girl cried in the background. Mills told her he had just one more branch to cut, and he’d be on his way home for dinner.  Determined — and with the dinner bell ringing — he worked his climbing treestand 20 feet up the tree. He was about halfway through the branch still far above him when the unthinkable happened. His climbing treestand lost its bite, and like the trapdoor of the gallows opening, he was in freefall, following the climber down the tree for the split second until the tether of his HSS vest went taut.

SD Deer Oct 2011 411“I come from the professional-rescue world, working as a full-time firefighter/paramedic,” Mills wrote. “I see tragedies everyday, and I know how they intimately affect a victim and their families. I kind of have a motto to learn from others’ mistakes, so I or someone I know doesn’t have to learn the hard way.”

Mills started hunting with friends two years ago, and during that time, he heard numerous stories of treestand accidents; one in particular ended in the death of a man he knew from college and later from church, who left behind a wife and two children when he fell out of his treestand without a harness. “That’s not a way he intended to leave his family, and it’s most certainly not the way I want to leave mine,” Mills wrote. “I always wear a harness; no if, ands, or buts. It’s on me.”

Mills’ was one of hundreds of letters from survivors that Hunter Safety System has received over the years, and while the folks at HSS are grateful for each and every survivor, this story specifically stresses the fact that falls from trees can happen at any time.

“For an ever-increasing number of hunters, deer season is 1495152a year-round activity filled with brush clearing, tree cutting, plot planting, camera placing, and treestand hanging in the relentless pursuit of the elusive whitetail deer,” said Michael Wydner, HSS director of sales. “As the preseason has become an increasingly busy time in the woods, the frequency of falls from trees has also increased. But since these falls involve saws and treestand equipment instead of firearms or archery equipment, they aren’t usually reported as hunting accidents. That’s something that absolutely concerns us, as we want everybody to come home safe from their hunting experience.”

While TMA-approved harnesses are an absolute necessity in the minds of an ever-increasing number of treestand hunters, the number-one cause of hunting fatalities continues to be as a result of treestand falls, with an average of 25 deaths a year for each of the last three years.

“I am one of the most careful people around — due to my profession — and I almost always follow the rules,” Mills wrote. “It’s that one time that you don’t follow the rules that can give you a life-debilitating injury or worse, and you might not even know you’re doing it ’til it’s too late.

“Wear your harness. Life doesn’t have a rewind button.”

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Joe Byers
Joe Byers has more than 1,000 magazine articles in print and is currently a field editor with Whitetail Journal, Predator Xtreme, Whitetails Unlimited, Crossbow Revolution, and African Hunting Journal magazines. He’s spent the last three decades depicting the thrill of the chase and photographing the majesty of all things wild. Byers is a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and numerous other professional and conservation organizations.