Quantum Gravity Fright, RISING MOON Hunting Night

  • Big Bucks, Acorns and Apples
  • Dreaming about Scent Control
  • Elevated Hunting Stands REQUIRE SAFETY AWARENESS
  • Prusik, Gravity, Your Whitetail Deer Hunting Future

By Forrest Fisher

Healthy bucks roamed near the field edges along the apple trees and oak woods, captivating my attention with scrapes and rubs.  Jim Monteleone Photo

The phrase “Whitetails Unlimited” is catchy if you are a deer hunter, especially a whitetail deer hunter.  It’s also the name of an organization that has more than 100,000 members because the hunting messages they share are effective, useful and are delivered from the experience of real hunters and field contributors.  There is more than beginner value.

Whitetails Unlimited Communications Director, Jeff Davis, was his usual self. Modest and humble, unassuming, friendly and confident, as he extemporaneously addressed more than 150 outdoor communicators at the opening luncheon of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) Annual Conference at the Sportsman’s Lodge, on the Lake-of-the-Woods in Baudette, Minnesota.

His voice was passionate, descriptive and implicit with experience from encounters with an army of ardent whitetail deer hunters.  Davis has met hundreds of hunters and shared in many their most exciting tales and hunter secrets.  Hunter’s trust this hunter-gentleman because not many questions are ever left unanswered, at least not until the next issue of their extensive quarterly conservation and hunting magazine.  Magazine issue content is an art and delivery science.

Jeff Davis, Whitetails Unlimited Communications Director, is modest, humble, unassuming and highly experienced.  Davis delivered the message of “Tree Stand Safety” to outdoor communicators at the 61st Annual Conference of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, held at Sportsman’s Lodge on Lake of the Woods in Baudette, Minnesota.  Forrest Fisher Photo

With a slight grin that emerged to also offer a note of truth and sadness, “Not every tale has a happy ending,” Davis said.  He postured his oncoming message from experience and history, with an element of approach intended to share and impart his high concern for hunter success and safety.  His audible expression was unmistakable and optimistic. He was delivering advice for hunting and addressing an eager and robust audience that was all ears.  We all felt comfortable to learn more.

As Davis continued, my mind drifted off. Was his smooth delivery hypnosis? Not sure. Was I bored? No, but my tummy was full from lunch. Like listening to a short sermon in church, my brain had transcended into an imaginary place and I was on a hunt. All the elements of what Davis had been talking about were in my dream. I think I drifted into dreamland for just a minute or two, but I clearly remember the details of my dream.

There was a succulent white oak tree forest with mounds of sweet acorns next to a row of apple trees where my trail cams had chronicled bucks rumbling antlers with each other in the previous weeks. There was a highly traveled rub line and it was near sunset in my aspiration.   A full moon had just started rising in the eastern sky, it had a tinge of orange color.  Scrapes every 25 yards were visible. There were the sounds of apples and acorns crunching in the distance from my tree stand about 95 yards downwind. Yes, I had audio, and many deer. Imagine such unlimited whitetails. I was in my place of reverie as a deer hunter.

As summer wanes, the bucks lose their velvet and seek safe resting spots in heavy cover for daytime vigils and the annual “doe watch” in wait for the upcoming rut cycle. Jim Monteleone Photo

My tree stand was situated where it was because I wanted to be safe about human scent dispersal.  There I was, sitting in a hanging tree stand elevated 20-feet, vertical access from a stick-ladder and feeling very happy and safe.  I knew this was a good spot.  It was so quiet, except for those inconsiderate munching deer chewing in the distance.

Sitting on my butt in my stand, full-body harness in place – I wear it every time, my bow was resting on my lap. The deer on this night had dispersed and had no interest for my grunt and bleat combinations. Probably a wind direction issue. The sun had disappeared and it was time to head back. Disappointed, I started to think about what to do next time.  I dropped my bow down on the lift-line, my backpack too.  Then I started down the ladder.  Oops!  My foot slips on the top step and I was suddenly airborne.  In a split second, I crashed hard into the ground and could not move.  I could not feel my arms or legs.  What happened I thought to myself?  I had been in my dream spot.  I started to grunt a bit from my perceived pain when my better half woke me up and said, “Hey Forrest, the speaker just called your name from the raffle.”

There were people clapping warmly. “Oh, I said, sorry honey, I must have dozed off.”

I got up and approached the speaker’s stand when Jeff Davis said, “You win a THE Safe-Line from MUDDY!  Congratulations!  Enjoy.”  Wow.  Thank goodness I was dreaming!  I was literally trembling as I walked back to my seat, the dream had been so real for a brief moment, then at the end, a nightmare.  I smiled, trying to hide my brief moment of fear from far away in dreamland.

When used with a full body harness (fall-arrest system), the MUDDY Safe-Line allows hunters climbing up or down to stay connected to safety and avoid a fall that could result in serious injury or death. (Photo Courtesy of GoMUDDY.com)

As I sat there in a semi-stupor, I realized that in the dream I had been so focused on the next hunt, that safely getting down from the tree came second.  My safety came second.  My life came second.  My safety and how important I was to my family was not even part of my thinking in the dream.  It was now.  So I took a step back to really think about it.  I knew that another force from far away must have been talking to me to even have this dream, or maybe that Jeff Davis was one of those magic-maker speakers where everyone can get up and talk like a chicken upon request.  You’ve seen the act.  I laughed to myself and grinned over to my wife who said, “You’re so lucky!”  No kidding, especially this time, I thought.

So I continued in my post-dream thought, how could this accident have been prevented?  We know how my safety was compromised because every solid hunter has thought about the next hunt at the end of a fruitless day.  We can lose our focus for safety during “thinking moments” like that.

A MUDDY Safe-Line for secure descent would have saved me from this dream accident.  Under $40 worth of gear (www.gomuddy.com), the same gear I had just won.  I felt connected to another source of energy for a second or two.  Sort of unreal.  For a moment, no kidding, I felt an angel must have been telling me that I need to be more aware of safety.  Thank you Lord.

To use the Safe-Line, you attach the line to the tree just above your tree stand with the loop knot provided.  You leave this rope in place now during hunting season.  The body harness Carabiner Clip latches right onto the Prusik knot loop of the Safe-Line – it comes with two Prusik slip knots (for a two-man stand), the Prusik loop slides down the Safe-Line as you proceed one step at a time and down you go.  Safely.  The bottom of the Safe-Line is then tied around the tree at ground level.  Going up or down on slippery steps wet from rain, snow or ice is no longer a safety concern.  The Prusik knot will go with you as you gently push it up or slide it down with you in either direction.  If you should drop quickly, it immediately locks into place, saving you from rapid descent, a fall and possible death.

Fall arrest systems are comprised of a full body harness such as these from Hunter Safety Systems and include a tree belt, lanyard, relief device and climbing belt. When used in conjunction with a “Safe-Line” and Prusik Loop Knots, hunters are protected from ever falling to injury during ascent or descent. Photo courtesy of www.hssvest.com.

Davis’s message from Whitetails Unlimited Magazine for the attending outdoor journalists visiting from across the country was TREE STAND SAFETY.

I think I got the message. In my case, Davis had help even he did not know about. No, I’m not superstitious, but I am listening to thoughts of safety much more now.  The dream honestly scared me.

My grandkids are just coming of age to hunt deer and the kids will be just like many of us in the outdoors, hunting from that one place that deer rarely see, an elevated tree stand.  Safety will be the first concern for each of us when we consider the future safety of our grandkids.

Write it down as a MUST-HAVE:

One (1) Safe-Line (MUDDY, www.gomuddy.com) for every tree stand and one (1) full-body harness (HUNTER SAFETY SYSTEM, www.hssvest.com) for every hunter in your party. 

Then and only then, can you go up and down from your elevated tree stand in total safety while thinking about the strategy for the exciting day ahead, or for the strategy on that next deer hunt.  I had a lucky dream, then a lucky raffle.  Don’t you be unlucky by choice.  Conquer safety. Make it habit. Start now.

Pass it on. Please.

About Whitetails Unlimited: Founded in 1982, Whitetails Unlimited is a national nonprofit conservation organization that has remained true to its mission, making great strides in the field of conservation. We have gained the reputation of being the nation’s premier organization dedicating our resources to the betterment of the white-tailed deer and its environment.  On behalf of our 105,000 plus members, we welcome you to browse our site and learn more about WTU, our past accomplishments, and the organization’s commitment to caring for our priceless renewable natural resources. We appreciate your interest in Whitetails Unlimited and hope that after reviewing our site, you will consider joining the whitetail team “Working for an American Tradition.”  The Whitetails Unlimited quarterly magazine (60-80 pages, 4 times per year) is not available on newsstands, only through membership.

How Knot to Fall – #1 Hunting Tip

Prusik Knot – The Prusik knot is an elegant and economical way to protect yourself from the ground to your tree stand and back again.
  • Tree Stand Safety
  • Prusik Knot

Many hunters don’t know that accidental falls from tree stands – not firearms-related injuries – are the most frequent cause of deer hunting-related injuries.

Until fairly recently, hunters who used tree stands simply accepted this risk as inherent to their sport. Few took measures to prevent falls and those who did had few options. You could tie yourself to a tree or use one of the commercially made safety belts. Both of these options were likely to cause as much harm as no restraint at all.

The situation is much better today. Virtually every commercial tree stand now comes with a safety harness. Some are better than others, but none of them are very good. The best harnesses on the market today are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You can get one of these at a professional tool store or from an online forestry supply company such as www.baileysonline.com.

If you fall from your stand and your harness stops your fall, you still aren’t out of the woods, however. Inexpensive safety harnesses can cut off circulation to your arms and legs, rendering you helpless in minutes. If you are rescued, blood clots that form when blood pools in extremities can enter your bloodstream and kill you. Cheap harnesses also can restrict breathing, causing loss of consciousness and, eventually, death.

One way to avoid these outcomes is to position your tie-off point so it won’t suspend you beyond reach of hand-holds that enable you to climb back to your stand. Installing screw-in steps on the tree trunk is one solution. Another is keeping a length of nylon cord in your pocket, enabling you to lasso a branch or ladder rung and pull yourself into a better position.

Harness – Inexpensive safety harnesses like the one on the left will stop a fall, but they might not help you much after that. The Rescue One CDS harness, shown on the right, not only protects you in the air, it provides a safe way to the ground.

Even with such measures, however, many hunters simply are not physically fit enough to climb to safety. To the rescue comes the Rescue One CDS. This product combines a safety harness with a controlled descent system that allows users to lower themselves to the ground safely. This is a one-time investment in safety. You don’t have to install one in every tree stand, and it will last for years.

The Rescue One CDS has a few drawbacks. The biggest one right now is availability. The hunting version currently is out of production. If you can’t find one on EBay or Craig’s List, you will have to wait until 2017 to buy one. The manufacturer, Elevated Safety Systems (ESS), sells an industrial version. It can lower you 43 feet, twice as much as deer hunters need.

There were ergonomic drawbacks, with the original version of the Rescue One. The harness was bulky on your back, where it stores cord for the controlled descent system. This made sitting in a tree stand less comfortable. ESS says they are replacing the original cord with a thinner but stronger line, which dramatically reduces bulk while maintaining safety.

A bigger drawback is the fact that the activation cord for the controlled-descent system is inside the right shoulder strap, exactly where most hunters mount a rifle or crossbow stock. I’ve killed several deer wearing the Rescue One CDS, but the added bulk on the right shoulder makes gun handling awkward, especially if you aren’t shooting from a rest. ESS might offer the harness in a left-hand configuration, which would be excellent.

There are plenty of other, OSHA-approved safety vests on the market. Many are heavier than you would want to lug into the woods, but they will keep you safer than the ones that tree-stand makers supply to immunize themselves from lawsuits.


No harness, regardless how good, is worth a hoot if it isn’t attached to something. If this seems ridiculously obvious, consider that most falls from tree stands occur when climbing up to, into, out of or down from tree stands. If you are one of the few savvy hunters who clip onto a safety line before taking the first step up to your tree stand, go to the head of the class. Better yet, go out and shoot a deer.

If you are among the majority of hunters who are only protected while sitting in your stand, read on.

A friend of mine broke his back in a fall that occurred when he climbed down to tag a deer he had just shot. He was lucky and survived to hunt another day, but now he never climbs into a tree stand without first connecting his harness to a fall-arrest system. He uses a system that has a retractable, 25-foot safety strap. You tie the retractor above your tree stand and use a cord to pull the safety strap to ground level and hook up before each climb. The retractor reels in the safety strap as you climb up and lets it out as you climb down. If your rate of descent accelerates – as in a fall – an inertial clutch – like those in seat belts – locks up, stopping the fall. The system protects you from ground to stand and back again.

I bought two of these systems – one for each of my tree stands. I left them out year-round, because if I took them down, I would risk falling when I brought them in each winter and when I put them back up the following fall. Eventually, I began to worry about their reliability. After all, they had been out in all sorts of weather for years. So I finally took them down. I was glad I had. The mechanisms might have been fine, but sun and the elements had visibly degraded the nylon straps that held the devices in place. And since any mechanism is bound to deteriorate with age, I decided to retire them.

That is when I discovered the Prusik knot. The knot is named for Karl Prusik, an Austrian mountaineer who is believed to have invented it. It is extremely simple to tie and equally effective at preventing falls. Also known as the “cow hitch,” the Prusik knot is made by tying together the ends of a short length of flexible rope to form a loop, then passing the knotted part around a heavier rope and through the loop three. Each turn should lie inside and close to the previous one. Video instructions available online illustrate the process nicely.

A Prusik knot slides easily up and down the safety rope as long as no weight is placed on the loop, where you attach your safety harness. Pull down on the loop, however, and the increased tension and friction cause it to lock tight, stopping a fall.

The Prusik knot – combined with an OSHA-approved harness – now is my preferred fall-restraint system. The necessary rope costs a fraction of what mechanical systems cost. This makes it affordable, even if you have a dozen tree stands. Inspecting the ropes for wear and tear is simple and easy, unlike mechanical systems, which are necessarily enclosed in a housing to protect them from the elements.

If you haven’t been using these safety devices, now is the time to get up to speed. No matter how much you love deer hunting, but you shouldn’t have to risk your life to do it.

Give Up Wooden Tree Stands!

A True Story of Survival

Using a haul rope to bring gear up and down from your tree stand keeps your hands free for climbing and reduces the likelihood of a fall.

Dave Reid of New Bloomfield had been in his tree stand for about three hours on opening day of the November deer season. He was stiff from sitting as still as possible, so he allowed himself the luxury of a stretch.

“I stood up, and the stand just went out from under me,” he recalls.

The plastic covering of one of his stand’s mounting cables was old, and the cable had slipped out of its clamp.

“There I was, 20 feet off the ground,” said Reid. “If I hadn’t been wearing a safety harness, I could have been killed.”

Bob Legler of West Plains wasn’t so lucky when he took a day of vacation to celebrate his 55th birthday. It was November 16, the peak of the rut, and Legler climbed into a wooden deer stand on his home property, hoping for a birthday supper of venison loin. The wooden tree stand was swaying noticeably in the wind, but he didn’t think much about that.

Everything fell into place around mid-day. He dropped a fat doe with one well-placed shot and savored the moment with a steaming cup of coffee. The temperature at dawn had been around 20 degrees and the hot drink helped chase away the morning chill.

A careful hunter, Legler lowered his rifle and backpack to the ground with a rope before climbing down to tag and field dress his deer. Adrenalin surged when the first 2X4 handhold he grasped as he left his stand gave way as he put weight on it. He grabbed at another piece of lumber nailed to the tree, but it too broke free, plunging Legler 20 feet to the ground. He landed on his back.

“At impact, I felt a sensation in my legs like an electrical current pulsing through them,” he recalls. “The pain was intense, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I knew I was hurt bad. I was alone, half a mile from home. No phone.”

Legler lay on the ground for several minutes trying to catch his breath. He prayed. After a while, he noticed that he could move his toes. That answered one of his prayers. He rolled onto his stomach, which triggered a wave of pain. He tried to push himself up onto his hands and knees, only to find that the fall had broken his left arm and wrist. He rolled back onto his back and checked his wristwatch. It was 11:30 a.m.

Legler’s friends and family had considerately stayed out of the woods so he could have them all to himself. It would be hours before help arrived. He tried repeatedly to rise, but excruciating pain stopped him each time. Finally understood that his back was broken, and attempts to move risked severing his spine. He lay back down, tried shouting for help, but his weak voice was swallowed up by the blustery wind.

Knowing that hypothermia was an imminent danger, he used his good arm to scoop dry leaves around his body for insulation. He prayed, recited scripture and sang hymns to bolster his spirit. Then the shivering began. First in his legs. Then in his abdomen and finally in his chest. Legler came to terms with the very real possibility that he would die before help arrived. But he was spared, his wife and son found him around 7:30 p.m.

In the emergency room, doctors determined that Legler had shattered his first lumbar vertebra, an injury that often results in paralysis of the legs. But Legler’s luck held. After surgery and six months of physical therapy, he walked again and regained most of the use of his left arm.

Examination of the faulty tree stand revealed that the deck screws Legler used to anchor lumber across two tree trunks had snapped under stress. The screws had less tensile strength than common nails. However, even stout nails might have loosened or broken after years of exposure to weather and stress from two swaying trees.

Reid and Legler’s cautionary tales are especially important this time of year. Archery season opens in just a few days, and gun seasons aren’t far behind. The Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t maintain records of tree-stand accidents, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they far outnumber firearms-related deaths and injuries. Here are some important tips for using tree stands safely.

  • Don’t hunt from wooden tree stands. They are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents.
  • Use commercially made tree stands only if they are approved by the Tree Stand Manufacturers Association.
  • Check all components of tree stands for rust, wear or deterioration before and during the hunting season.
  • Pay special attention to the tightness of nuts, bolts, cables and other hardware.
  • Always wear a safety harness when climbing to and from tree stands, as well as when on the stand. Most accidents occur when climbing up, down, into or out of stands. For a reliable, inexpensive climbing safety device, use a Prusik knot and safety rope.
  • Use only OSHA approved, full-body safety harnesses. Lesser devices can cause injury when falls occur or leave you suspended with no way to get back to the tree or down to the ground. Even worse, substandard harnesses can cut off circulation to extremities or impair breathing, leading to suffocation.
  • Keep yourself on a short leash. If you fall only three feet, you are traveling at more than 25 feet per second. The impact when your safety tether snaps tight at this speed can break bones.
  • Use a haul rope to bring guns, bows or other gear to the stand and lower them after hunting. This keeps both hands free for climbing.
  • When using climbing stands, secure them to the tree with a safety chain.
  • Leave your stand if you get sleepy or if it starts to rain, sleet or snow, or when the tree begins to sway in the wind.
  • Use a rope and harness while hanging stands. Practice at ground level before starting.
  • Carry survival gear, including food, water, signal whistle, space blanket and, where practical, a cell phone in your pack, just in case something goes wrong.
  • When hunting alone, always leave word with someone about where you will be and when you expect to return.

Using tree stands safely isn’t hard, and the alternative is too grim to contemplate. I can’t think of a more appropriate topic for the old saying, “Better safe than sorry.”