Regular tree stand maintenance is a vital part of adhering to tree stand safety principles. Making it a pre- and post-hunting season ritual will help keep you IN the saddle.
By Shawn Lentz | PUBLISHED October 31st, 2022
Endless weeks of long hunting days, chilled bones, and busted feet have finally ended. By now, you're either processing venison or agitatedly plotting next year's revenge after blowing a chip shot. As such, tree stand maintenance is probably the furthest thing from your mind. If I had to make a guess, your stand went from hanging on a tree to hanging on a nail beat into your basement drywall. But, hey, at least it's off the tree, and that's the first step!
In all seriousness, regularly inspecting your whole treestand rig is an important task that shouldn't be overlooked. Unfortunately, out of all the hunting methods, hunting from your tree stand is most likely to cause you harm while doing it. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports that "one in three people who hunt from an elevated stand will have a fall resulting in serious injury."
Those are not my kind of odds.
Therefore, in the name of treestand safety, give your stands the attention they deserve. Then store them properly in an odor- and moisture-free area after the hunting season ends.
Here's how to do it.
Check Platforms, Frames, and Seats
Although today's tree stands are engineered with the best available materials and science, they are still just a hunk of metal welded, bolted, and cabled together. By their very nature, tree stands are prone to failure. The fact that tree stands take a pretty good beating during transport and while set up in the woods only compounds matters.
Visually inspect the welds on the platform's bracing, mesh, and pivot points–such as where the platform attaches to the seat. For hang-on stands, this is where the platform typically folds up to the seat. Push in on the metal mesh while checking for cracks or full breaks on all the welds along the sides and front of the platform.
The same goes for climbing stands.
On ladder stands, you'll also want to check the ladder rungs. Give the rungs a solid pull while looking at the welded points on both sides.
Using a camLOCK system? Don't forget to inspect the stabilizer post for hang-on tree stands that utilize the camLOCK system (such as Millennium). The stabilizer post is a critical point and the only one that attaches the stand to the tree via the receiver.
Also, check the receiver. The receiver is the piece that the stabilizer post locks into. camLOCK receivers come in two types: one that uses a chain to secure it to the tree and one with extra-durable webbing on a ratchet strap. First, check the chain version to ensure all links are solid, with no apparent stretching, fractures, or other imperfections. Next, inspect the attachment points where the chain connects to the cam.
The webbing on the ratchet-style receiver should not be frayed, and the stitching should be intact from the ratchet to the attachment points on the cam. Check the sewn loops here for signs of fraying or tearing.
Also, ensure the powder coating is still intact, and no rust is forming on susceptible parts.
Tighten any locknuts or knobs that have come loose. Inspect the system's cables, seat fabric, and straps for wear or fraying. Cables shouldn't have too many nicks or gouges in the rubber coating that would allow water penetration. Replace anything that looks suspect. Most tree stand manufacturers have readily available replacement straps, cables, and other parts.
If you find your deer stand has developed some squeaks or has been through extended periods of severe weather, feel free to use a non-scented lubricant. Jared Schlipf from Lone Wolf Treestands suggests using plumber's silicone grease. Plumber's silicone grease has no odor. It just looks like clear silicone–not the thick automobile grease you may be thinking of.
Don't Forget the Climbing Sticks, Ladder Sections, and Safety Gear
Apply the same method to your climbing sticks or ladder sections. Check the welds, screws, bolts, and nuts. Tighten anything that has come loose and retire any ladders with cracks or stress fractures.
Pay particular attention to ladder sections that have U-shaped braces on the backside. The attachment straps run through these support braces, usually attached to the ladder sections with a bolt and wingnut.
A common issue with the wingnuts is they like to work themselves loose. So, make it a point to check them. The Catch-22 is that too much cranking down on the wingnuts (locknuts as well) will compress the metal tube framing and cause it to indent. Adding a little Loctite on the bolt threads to hold the wingnuts in place is not a bad idea.
Finally, don't forget to make sure your safety harness and safety lines are in good shape. Most manufacturers and TMA (Treestand Manufacturers Association) recommend retiring a safety harness after five years of typical use, although some go as far as recommending three years. The build date of your harness should be stamped on the orange tag stitched to the inside of the harness strap if you need to jog your memory.
If you've previously taken a fall in your harness, it's done. Don't try to reuse it, just replace the thing. The breakaway stitching on the tether is designed to reduce shock-loading, which can wreak absolute havoc on your back and body with a significant fall.
It's the same concept as dynamic climbing ropes (10-40% stretch) for rock climbing. Taking a "whipper" on a static rope (zero stretch) would just about snap you in two. Similarly, a fall in a harness with a breakaway tether will still not be extra awesome. But it will take a lot of the punch out of it. Better with the breakaway than without it.
Safety lines, ideally, should be replaced after two years of service. Exposure to the elements, UV light, and small mammals eventually takes its toll on the photodegradable polyester weave. However, I tend to squeeze another year or two out of my safety lines since I only use my treestands a couple of weeks out of the year.
There you have it. Regular tree stand maintenance is an essential box to check on the ol' hunting to-do list. I'm of the mindset that if you take good care of your gear, it will take care of you. So, keep the good times rolling by taking proper care and minimizing treestand accidents.
Make pre- and post-season inspections of your tree stand a regular thing. Checking potential points of failure in your tree stand system will help keep you from having a really bad day in the deer woods.
Shawn Lentz is a full-time copywriter, freelance outdoor writer, and former Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery specialist. He’s written for online and print publications such as Pelican Outdoor, Wide Open Spaces, Boone and Crockett Club’s Fair Chase Magazine, deerhuntingguide.net, and more. He finds writing for Okayest Hunter quite cathartic and thinks the brand is straight-up badass. For more info, go to www.shawn-lentz.com