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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Use Treestands Safely

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 24, 2012.)

Do you use a treestand? Do you use one safely? Did you know that 50% of treestand hunters don’t use a fall-arrest device? Did you know that deaths due to falling from treestands exceed accidental shootings while hunting?

Broken bones and heads aren’t the only danger, 
and maybe not even the most serious.

According to a 1993 study by Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, almost 90% of hunters hunt from elevated stands. Whether the number is higher or lower today, it’s still a lot.

The first climbing treestands were unbelievably unsafe. Hunters used them because they understood the lethal advantage they offered while hunting deer. However, they were also lethal to hunters. Since then, the industry has come a long way with safer designs and better education, but risks still exist.

A number of years ago a friend of mine suffered a severely broken ankle while on a Canadian bear hunt, caused by a design flaw in the treestand he was using. Most design flaws have been corrected over the years, and design flaws can seldom be blamed. That’s why every treestand manufacturer does its best to train hunters how to use treestands safely.

Also, the many fall-arrest devices on the market are easier to use. The assumption is that the easier they are to use the more likely hunters will use them. But accidents still happen. A few weeks ago fellow hunter at a camp in Ohio suffered a fall due his own mistake. He was trying to make an adjustment in the stand while halfway up the tree. He ended up hanging upside down from the stand before falling. He spent two nights in a Columbus, Ohio hospital with broken vertebrae, broken ribs, and a broken wrist.

Most of us think about broken bones and head injuries as a result of treestand falls, but broken bones and heads aren’t the only danger, and maybe not even the most serious.

People say it’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end. That’s meant to be funny, but it’s true. That sudden stop has the potential to tear internal organs loose and cause sudden and severe internal hemorrhage. If that happens, your time is up.

Maybe you’re one of the 37% who has fallen from a treestand. Or maybe you know someone who has had a serious fall from a tree stand. For sure, you know someone who knows someone for whom a fall was a life-changing – or life-ending – event.

Here’s my advice: Respect treestands like you do a deer rifle. Research them for safety features. Make sure the one you use is well designed, in good condition, and you know how to use it. Be afraid of home-made stands. Research fall-arrest devices and safety harnesses, and know how to use them. Treat every move you make off the ground with absolute safety. Take a few minutes each year to review safety practices – a quick Internet search will lead you to instructional videos worth watching.

I sometimes use treestands, so I’m certainly not against them. But I am against falling, and virtually all falls from treestands can be prevented by taking advantage of of today’s well-designed treestands, a quality fall-arrest device, and easy to find training materials.

These 600 words serve only as a warning, and are not a replacement for educating yourself on treestands safety. If you don’t take the warning, you’re increasing the odds that you’ll spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. You don’t want that. Your family doesn’t want that either. Nor do they want you to spend the last few seconds of your life lying on the ground below the treestand you fell from.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Old Is That Buck?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 10, 2012.)

When I first started hunting, people didn’t seem to think much about how old a buck was. Although most hunters had some idea that age could be determined by teeth, few knew how to do it.

A good many hunters still don't know how to age a deer. Some tie age to body size, but the well-fed offspring of a big mom and dad can be bigger than his peers.

Magazine articles, TV, seminars and 
the Internet have made deer science
more accessible to the average hunter.

Some think the grayer a deer’s muzzle, the older the deer. Although a very old deer might acquire some grayness (just as you and your family dog might), a young deer might also be gray. Some are reddish, some are dark, some are light. Color variations are a genetic trait, as is albinism (white) and melanism (black).

Other hunters think that the longer a deer’s muzzle, the older the deer. That might sound like it makes sense because fawns have short faces, and as a deer gets older his muzzle gets longer to accommodate more teeth in his jaw. But teeth aren’t all the same size, and a mature buck can have a short, broad face, just as some people do.

Some connect age to antlers – they point to traits such as gnarly tines, or the “beading” around the bases, and claim a buck is an old timer. Still others focus on pedicel size (the “stalk” from which an antler grows). Perhaps a few still remain who naively think a buck’s first rack is a spike, the next year he grows a four-point rack, then a six, and on.

That would make a 10-point 5½ years old in the fall, but the truth is that a well-nourished doe with good antler genetics (at least half of a buck’s antler genetics come from his mother) can produce a buck that has 10 points on his first rack.

Some hunters think body size is a factor of age, but last season a 4-point and an 8-point hung around me for two hours and I examined both closely. The 4-point was clearly bigger than the 8-point, but age might have nothing to do with the difference.

Some believe older bucks will grow non-typical points and drop tines, but that’s not necessarily true. A year and a half old spike sporting his first set of antlers might have a non-typical point sprouting from the base.

Through the years, magazine articles, seminars, TV and the Internet have made deer science more accessible to the average hunter. We’ve learned that aging a deer based on observation isn’t easy, and age-related characteristics are displayed in many ways.

Body proportions give clues to age. A deer with small shoulders is likely a young deer, regardless of how big his antlers are. It takes until a deer’s third year before his front end matches his back end, and ultimately his caboose might end up small compared to his shoulders.

Along with the shoulders filling out, a deer’s girth increases with age. His belly, when he’s young, slopes upward into his groin. At about three it will be more parallel with the ground, and as he gets older it will probably sag a little.

Checking the number of molars and how much they’re worn is a way to determine the age of a deer, but even that can be misleading because of an individual deer’s chewing habits, and the type of soil where the deer feeds.

The only sure way to determine a deer’s age positively is to extract a front incisor, cross-section it, stain it, magnify it, and count the number of rings in it – yes, just like counting the rings in a tree.

One sign that times have changes since I began hunting is that today, one of the biggest deer came debates is "How Old Is That Buck?" This year, when you or your friends shoot a deer, have a good time debating the issue.