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Your life depends on tree stand safety
Times photo: Lee Fahrney The nails and screws used to anchor this tree stand have broken off, leaving its user vulnerable to a life-threatening accident. It has since been replaced by a factory made model.
There are more than a dozen of them scattered around the family homestead - each one set up precisely where that monster buck is sure to pass by at just the right moment.

The inventory includes commercially built one-person ladder stands purchased off-the-shelf at some outfitter's store or durable double stands with enough room for a father and child team to share the moment.

There are homemade stands, some of them squared off platforms with solid 4x4 posts at each corner while others are skinny models stretched between two trunks of an oak or other hardwood.

The "Trump Tower," offers the finest accommodations here at Five Oaks. Anchored by four power poles left over from a local Alliant Energy project, the grand edifice was built along a finger of old growth bur oaks lining a deep ditch that at one time delivered run off from the marsh to the Pecatonica River.

The eight-foot-by-eight-foot platform is completely enclosed with a window on each side. In one corner, a swivel seat borrowed from a fishing boat offers 360-degree coverage of the lowland. It is about as safe as a hunter can be at 14 feet above the ground.

Not so much for some of the other home-made models. Cobbled together in haste when one of the boys discovers a heavily traveled deer thoroughfare nearby, these potential death traps lack comfortable access, armrests or front railings. Most have been replaced by safer, sturdier and much more comfortable ladder stands.

We have long since abandoned the use of screw-in tree steps (suicide sticks) after one broke off mid-climb - the same type of accident that left a neighbor with a shattered foot and ankle a few years back.

The worst part of that episode was that it was the first week of bow season, and he was concerned it would end the hunt for that year. Being a good Christian and a thoughtful neighbor, however, I offered the use of one of our stands located just over the knoll from his house.

Once comfortable with his brand new walking cast, he was able to work his way into position on the edge of a pine plantation where deer would often bed down during the day. To honor the man's courage, we thought it only right to rename the site the Gimpy Stand.

As is true of most hunting domains, we have names for all our stands, the more quirky the name the more enabled are we to communicate with one another about plans for the day's hunt or for rehashing the exact spot where that doe or 10-point buck emerged.

The Bat Stand is so-named for the chiropters that emerged one evening from a crack in one of the tree trunks to which the stand was attached. Furious debate erupts later in the Bunk House about whether the stand should be moved.

The naysayers are soon crushed, however, by the logic of those who insist there are no other suitable sites in the area.

"Maybe the 'fraidy cats would like to go make us some coffee while we talk this over," says an indignant proponent of the status quo.

"Oh, yes, and could you bring a couple of donuts while you're at it. And don't forget the fluffy napkins," another chortles mercilessly.

The Spooky Stand (legend changes periodically) derives from the weird noises commonplace right before daybreak and just after shooting hours have ended. Surely, it is the mournful moaning of ghostly buck that was dealt a fatal shot there, but was never recovered.

The Skinny Man Stand is no place for the chunky hunter, and we all appreciate the Thanksgiving Stand and its penchant for delivering some of the finest deer we have ever taken.

The Salt Lick Stand, as one might surmise, had a salt block lying somewhere nearby - now illegal within the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone. Never comfortable with the arrangement, I am content to see this crutch disappear from the landscape.

Most of the stands have been inspected for damage, as the bow season is already under way. The others will need to be checked out thoroughly before first use and every time visited thereafter.

I have already discovered an arm brace where a lag screw that previously held it firm to the trunk of an oak has broken off. Another widow maker with a penchant for disconnecting from its moorings has been dismantled.

According to Wisconsin Bowhunter Association member Larrie Hazen of Mt. Hope, there is acid in the trees that will disintegrate any hardware sunk into them. This action, plus a good windstorm, will wreak havoc on stands as the tree trunks weave to and fro, causing nails or screws to pop.

Larrie should know. An avid bow hunter, he claims to spend more time in tree stands during deer season than on the ground. He has also fallen three times in his life, one due to a piece of equipment that broke. Of those who dwell high up in trees to hunt whitetails he warns, "There are those who have fallen and those who will."

We all know someone who lost the battle with the ground from 15-feet in the air. Think of them and all your loved ones this year as you check out those tree stands before a safe and successful hunting season.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2008 or