It's best to not take anything for granted before heading afield, especially when it comes to tree stands
The archery season for big game in western New York opens on Monday, October 1 at sunrise. The bucks I have seen appear to be healthy, and there are some fine racks of ivory-colored antlers out there. I suspect this year might just be a banner year for hunters.
Many if not most bowhunters will use a tree stand for much of their hunting activities. Some have multiple stands situated at various places where bucks travel or feed so they can shift their positions and strategies according to the many variables such as weather and wind that they might encounter on any particular day.
But hunting from tree stands can be dangerous if safety and caution are not the paramount consideration. Last year more than a dozen archers died across the country as a result of falling out of their stands. According to an Ohio study, deaths due to falling from tree stands (all hunters, not just archers) often equals or exceeds hunter-related firearms deaths.
Here is just one example. That occurred two weeks ago. An Oregon hunter is in critical condition after falling from his tree stand and getting tangled in his safety harness over 20 feet in the air, hanging upside down for two days. The man, 70, suffered critical injuries and is currently in a medically induced coma.
But there are plenty of things that hunters who want to hunt safely from elevated stands can do to reduce or even eliminate accidents. Most fall under the "common sense" heading, but they are still worthy enough to mention here.
First, be smart and buy smart. Purchase stands that are certified by the Treestand Manufacturers Association (TMA). These stands are rigorously tested under all normal and adverse conditions before they receive certification. And inspect them each time they are used to insure they have not been damaged.
When placing the stand, try to select a live, straight tree. These are the safest choices and often offer the best visibility with the least effort or movement. And only mount the stand as high as necessary. Thirty feet up is not necessary if 15 feet will suffice. The vital zone on a deer decreases with elevation, while the likelihood of a serious injury from a fall increases dramatically.
Always wear a full‑body safety harness, even for climbing up or down. Remember that most falls occur going up and down the tree or while getting into or leaving the stand. Concentrating on the job at hand during these times will reduce the chances of a mishap.
Never carry your bows or any firearms up and down trees. Always use a suitable haul line to raise and lower all gear. And please, always make sure that firearms are unloaded and that any bow lowered is not under the place where you will likely impact the ground should you slip.
A good suggestion from the TMA is to familiarize yourself with your gear before you go. The morning of opening day is not a good time to put your safety belt or harness on for the first time. And practice installing the tree stand before heading afield.
And one other tip is worth mentioning. Be extra careful with any long‑term treestand placement. Constant exposure to the elements and critters like squirrels can stretch or damage straps, ropes and attachment cords. The stand's stability can be compromised over time.
And one suggestion I always try to make at this time of year is to make sure you know the laws and regulations. On state lands, it is illegal to place nails or other hardware into trees. On private lands, you must have landowner permission to trespass before you hunt. And you will want to know the landowner’s conditions before you erect a tree stand or cut shrubs or branches.
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I have it on good authority that there is a healthy deer population on both Iroquois and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuges. And both refuges offer big game hunting opportunities for both bow and gun hunters.
There are special regulations applying to hunters. Some areas on both refuges are closed, but the majority of federal land in both areas is open. Maps of open hunting areas are available, and preseason scouting for good spots is usually permitted.
I am more familiar with Montezuma, and I can offer some tips for bagging deer. Because of the generally marshy conditions, the deer often stick to trails. Finding a well-used trail and setting up on it is often productive.
And, one of the biggest bucks I have ever seen was on the west side of Chestnut Hill, a moraine on the west side of the refuge in the Tsache Pool area. That buck may be long gone, but its progeny are still there. A refuge map will show you the location.
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Game wardens sometimes get lucky even when the outdoor dummies are smart and well-practiced at their illegal games. On April 23, ECO Keith Kelly was at a vantage point overlooking Eagle Creek, a brook that flows into Fourth Lake of the Fulton Chain.
He was there long before first light. Fishermen are allowed to use dip nets between April 1 and May 15 each year to take up to eight quarts each of rainbow smelt between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.
At approximately 4:25 a.m., a vehicle stopped near the brook and three men jumped out. They were already wearing their hip waders.
As the officer watched, the three fishermen began shining their lights into the water looking for smelt and catching them with long-handled dip nets. Then the three rushed out of the creek, loaded their catch and sped off. It was obvious they had done this crime before.
Kelly ran back to his patrol vehicle and moments later apprehended the three subjects. Evidence seized included 46 quarts of smelt, nearly twice the legal limit.
The trio were charged with taking smelt by dipping before legal hours. Each subject paid fines and surcharges of $650.
And three more dummies got baptized by the law.
Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet .net.