Safety Belts, Not Always So Safe by Joel Baldwin

In my first couple of years of hunting, I had not yet discovered the amazing device, known as the safety belt and was often forced to cling to a tree when hunting in tree stands. However, about two years ago, I used a safety belt for the first time. What a wonderful device! Now I could actually watch for deer instead of wondering what would happen to me in strong winds. My first experience was one of awe and wonder, and I soon developed complete faith in safety belts. However, the last time I used a safety belt my faith was vanquished forever.

It all started when my father, two brothers, and I decided that we would spend a week together hunting at my Uncle's property. I woke to an annoying, persistent buzz of the alarm clock. I peeled the frozen sleeping bag off my bare skin, and brutally slammed my hand down on the alarm switch. The cold began to overtake me, and I hurriedly tried to dress before I froze into complete motionless,

After everyone was dressed, we all met outside with uncle and two cousins. Everyone announced where they would be hunting.

"Where are you going, Joel?" my father asked.

"I think I'll hunt from Ricky's stand," I replied quickly, as though I had put some real thought into the subject, when actually I had no idea where the other stands were.

"All right," my Uncle said. "There's safety belts in every tree, use them. We don't need anyone falling out of their tree stand and getting hurt." We all headed out to our stands.

Safety belts come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They can be a harness or just a belt that you wraps around the tree and the hunter. My particular safety belt consisted of one seat belt from a car, buckled around the tree trunk, with another belt looped at each end, connecting the one around the tree to the one around the occupant's waist. I buckled myself in then tugged at the belt to make sure it was secure. Confident, I settled down on the seat and waited and waited for the monster buck I was sure was coming my way.

For the next three days we hunted and froze, not necessarily in that order.

Thursday morning arrived and only my older brother had seen a deer. After trying several other stands, I decided that I would return to Ricky's stand. Once again, confidently buckled in the stand I sat, looking out over the branches, bowed over with snow, beneath me.

I sat carefully listening to the sounds around me. This was the last day we would hunt. At every sound my muscles froze so that the deer wouldn't run off because of movement. Then I would turn my head slowly toward the noise to find out what it was. Usually it turned out to be the wind or a couple of playful squirrels.

Then I heard a noise somewhere behind me. Again I froze and waited a moment. Slowly I turned my head, but no matter how I turned I could not see around the trunk of the tree. Moving slowly I hung my bow on the bow hanging device, the nail, and stood up. Planting my feet I leaned out away from the tree trunk until my safety belt was tight. Then shifting my weight, I slowly swung to my right, and was able to see around the tree trunk.

Nothing was there. As I pondered what could have made the sound, I suddenly realized that the once taut safety belt now contained a considerable amount of slack. My next observation was that I was now parallel with the branches of the pine tree. Somehow in the process of the fall I had spun myself around, facing the trunk of the tree which was rapidly growing more and more distant. After a short fall backwards, I found myself resting on the branches below the stand. Thankful that the person who had put up the safety belt had not cut off the limbs below the stand, I quickly took note of my predicament in order to find a way out. About the time I realized I was still some distance from the ground, I felt the sensation that I was again plummeting toward that frozen ground.

When I finally reached the ground, I was lying on my back with my feet sticking straight up through the branches, and my bow lying across my chest. I quickly realized that my arrow was missing, and nervously looked around expecting to find it buried in my back or some other vital place of my body. I stopped cutting bandages when I found my arrow lying near the tree, several feet away. After I gathered everything up, my lower lip begin to throb. With a cold finger I touched it and discovered it was bleeding. My next dilemma, was whether or not to get my brother.

After ten minutes debate and knowing that he was counting on me to pick him up, I whistled to Talon, to let him know I was coming. Of course, trying to whistle through a fat lip only produced a loud blowing sound. But, Talon eventually got the message and whistled back.

"I'm going in," I lisped, "You've got another fifteen minutes." I turned and started back to camp without waiting for a reply.

"No, wait. I'm coming too." He called after me. I stopped, regretfully. I could already predict the barrage of questions he was soon to ask about the noise I had made in my stand, and I could foresee the rolling hysterics he would suddenly burst into after he heard my answers. He lowered his bow down the tree and began to climb down.

"Did you hear that beaver?" he asked about halfway down, "That stupid beaver knocked a tree in to the water." He scoffed.

"That wasn't a beaver," I replied quietly, dreading the next question I knew he'd ask.

"What was it?" Talon asked, somewhat confused.

"It was me." I said softly, hoping he couldn't hear me. His face changed from slight confusion to a grin as he began to chuckle.

"What happened?" he questioned, as the chuckle grew into weak laugh.

"I fell out of my tree stand," I said. The weak laugh suddenly grew more rapidly until it turned into rolling hysterics.

"How?" He continued, the embarrassing barrage of questions.

"My safety belt broke." I replied dismally, showing him the still attached belt around my waist and the loop that dangled at my side.

"Are you all right?" he asked somewhat concerned for my safety, yet he continued his guffaw.

"Yea." I answered solemnly, wishing we were on our way back to camp.

"Come on, we better let Dad take a look at your lip, you may need stitches." He walked on ahead of me, still laughing.

We got back to camp and I went into my uncles camper while Talon went for my dad. I could still hear him laughing out loud as he passed several yards away, on his way to get my dad. After a few minutes I heard two voices laughing together almost in harmony, and soon my dad popped his head into the camper.

"Dad almost fell out of the tree laughing," Talon said, with a burst of fresh laughter. While dad looked at my lip, with a large grin on his face.

"Yep. We better get that looked at."

My dad, and I jumped in the jeep to go to town, while Talon watched camp. On the way I retold the story to my father. At different times he would burst out laughing and then apologize by saying, "It isn't funny. I shouldn't laugh," then burst into laughter again.

We arrived at the hospital and even the people in the emergency waiting room laughed at me, while the nurse tried to be serious when she asked what had happened, though I could tell she was laughing hysterically inside.

After the doctor inspected my lip, and decided that I didn't need stitches, he let me go. We all jumped in the jeep again to head back to camp.

"Fasten your safety belt," my father said out of habit. He then realized his mistake and looked at me, hoping he hadn't offended me.

"No thanks, Dad, I think I'll just hang on!" I answered. I reached up and grabbed the bar over my head, with the same intensity that had kept me in my tree since before my first experience with safety belts. With a sigh, at the comfort brought by my tight hold on the bar, my father pulled into traffic on our way back to camp.