More and more Arkansas deer hunters are getting harnessed.
They are buying and wearing in elevated stands those rigs of sturdy straps that secure them to a tree or a stand in case of a fall.
Harnesses work, safety experts and folks at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission tell us.
By no means is the use of harnesses widespread on our state, but they are increasing in popularity. Hopefully, the numbers of deer stand accidents, the leading cause of hunting mishaps in Arkansas, will begin to decline.
You don’t have to be ancient to recall when self-styled "real" deer hunters ridiculed people for wearing fluorescent orange garments. But orange increased in popularity, the state made it mandatory and the rate of accidental shootings came tumbling down.
From 30 or more shooting accidents each deer season, there are have been a half-dozen or less annually in recent years.
"It is highly recommended that everyone use a fall restraint system. Commercial harnesses are designed for use while hunting and are very comfortable to wear," said Joe Huggins, the hunter education coordinator for the Game and Fish Commission and a strong proponent of tree stand harnesses.
"Manufacturers have designed different attachments to allow hunters to be attached once they leave the ground until they return to the ground," Huggins said. "This is important because most falls occur while climbing in or out of the stand. It’s the responsibility of each hunter to protect themselves from injury and veteran hunters should always be a good example to all beginner hunters by being a good example about how to be safe while in the woods."
Safety rigs for deer stand use are not new. Hunters have tied ski ropes to their belts and to the stand tree for quite a while. They have used other items.
All these have a shortcoming in that the hunter is not fully protected in case of a fall. Dangle upside down in the air with a rope around your middle, and you are in a predicament even after you are saved from falling to the ground and the resultant death or serious injury.
Harnesses, the good type, fasten securely around the chest and shoulders and have straps that fasten around thighs. Most have waist bands. Most have sturdy loops like D rings in the back that connect to the strap around the tree or the stand.
You fall, and you probably are going to be upright even while hanging in the air. You can reach or swing to the stand, grab it, let yourself down and walk away unhurt – except maybe in pride. You can even keep quiet about what happened and deprive your loudmouthed buddy from knowing about the mishap.
Many safety harnesses are close cousins to those used by professionals in several jobs — utility and construction work, high rise window washers and such.
These harnesses come in a wide price range, from $29.95 to well over $100. Most are designed to allow enough freedom of movement so you can effectively shoot a rifle, shotgun, bow or crossbow from the stand at various angles.
Some safety harnesses can also be used as climbing belts. The safety rope is looped around the tree while the hunter climbs to the stand.
A suggestion is to try on a harness in a store before you buy it. Be sure all of the webbing of the harness lies flat against the body. Work the fasteners until you are confident with them in case of a fall.
With or without a harness in the deer stand, keep in mind a major cause of falls — the hunter goes to sleep. Keep in mind also another major cause of falls — rotten boards or deteriorated metal in stands or steps. Check these closely before deer season opens.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock.