Hunting for Safety: Standards for Treestands
For hunters, treestands offer many advantages. They enable a longer range of visibility, offer more time to prepare for a safe shot, and allow the hunter to move around outside of most animals’ field of vision.
But hunting from a platform that’s upward of 20 feet off the ground or more comes with risk – namely, falling from that height and becoming injured while in the backcountry. The good news is that according to several sources, injury numbers are dropping. And many credit ASTM’s work developing treestand-specific industry standards.
“If there is any one factor that’s improved treestand safety, it’s the use of full-body harnesses,” says John Louk, executive director of the Treestand Manufacturers’ Association and a member of the subcommittee on treestands (F08.18), part of the committee on sports equipment, playing surfaces, and facilities (F08). “A survey in 2022 went out to 244,000 hunters and had over 7,800 respondents in all 50 states. 55% of respondents indicated that they used their full-body harness 100% of the time and 75% of respondents had no incidents. Only 7% had an incident that resulted in an injury. That’s a big deal and a very positive message for the treestand industry.”
And it has all happened in barely 20 years, Louk explains.
The last time hunters were surveyed about safety practices was in the early 2000s, before full-body harnesses were being widely used or supported by the industry, and the injury statistics were worse. That all changed when ASTM passed its first standards requiring every treestand to include a full-body arrest harness in 2003. Since then, more than 20 million treestands have been sold that meet industry standards, leading to a 391% increase in the use of these full-body harnesses and a 68% decrease in overall treestand injuries.
“That really gave us the opportunity to move forward as an industry,” he says, “because falls had become a leading contributor to injuries when hunting. There have always been risks with firearms, but when treestands came on the scene in the 1990s they became very popular, and we started seeing more falls. If we had not worked with ASTM to develop these standards, we wouldn't be a viable industry today, I really believe that.”
READ MORE: Standards Make the Outdoors Safer
A number of standards have helped the industry improve treestand safety.
1) Standard test method for treestand fall arrest system (F2337)
In Louk’s view, no single ASTM standard has had as much of an impact on treestand safety as F2337. It outlines a test method to ensure that the full-body harnesses included with treestands and sold as aftermarket harnesses are strong enough to arrest a fall in the case of an incident. It also determines the load capacities for these fall arrest systems and all of the component parts and safety devices F2337 requires.
2) Standard practice for treestand instructions (F2123)
Standardized equipment only goes so far when different manufacturers are talking about safety and their equipment differently. That’s why industry-wide best practices like those spelled out in this standard are so important. Explains Louk: “It takes a lot of work to agree as an industry on what you should be talking about as far as safety is concerned. But this standard actually was embraced by our industry. We sat down at the table as competitors and we agreed on best practices.”
As a result, treestand manufacturers nationwide now include the same video instructions and other educational materials with every treestand and harness they sell. These instructions demonstrate how to safely use the product; how to use a harness safely; the unique considerations with all the different types of treestands; and the most important things consumers need to know in general about using a treestand safely.
“That solidarity and uniformity are big deals for our industry,” Louk says. “We can't all be teaching different things.”
3) Standard specification for treestands, climbing sticks, and tripod or tower stands (F3249)
This standard replaced F2122, which was approved in 2005, requiring for the first time that full-body fall arrest systems be included with each treestand sold. “This was a big decision for us to require that of every treestand,” Louk says. “But by actually approving and implementing that in our standard we got some breathing room as an industry because of our willingness to include full-body harnesses that met the requirements of F2337.”
This standard in particular covers a wide range of treestands and other climbing devices used for hunting, photography, and general observation. It defines the minimum warning and package labeling required as well as the necessary instructional content, safety device requirements, and physical testing parameters.
“The number one issue with treestands is the risk of a fall,” Louk says. “You have to eliminate that risk, and to do that, you have to be able to arrest a fall. And that's what the ASTM standards have done for us as an industry. They formed a clear test method and requirement for full-body harnesses that have made a significant difference in hunter safety since they were adopted.”
Tim Sprinkle is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, CO. He has written for Yahoo, The Street, and other websites.