Wear a Harness…and Beware of Owls

Beware of Owls

By Matt McCaskill

Now that we are in the icy late season–when treestands get particularly dangerous–let’s have a quick safety talk.  Here goes: 

Safety harnesses are a good thing, and you should wear one.  That’s it. Today’s treestand harnesses are comfortable, easy to use, and 99-percent of the time they will save your life. 

But, as I can attest, there are other times. One in particular.

On a cool autumn day I found myself nestled 30-feet high in a pine tree at dusk with whitetail does milling around below me.  Trapped in a situational awareness that is the inbred sister of buck fever, all my senses were hyper-focused on the activity below, leaving me open to an unsuspected aerial attack.  

A great horned owl, like a Filipino fighting chicken, sailed in silently and hit me directly behind my right ear, knocking the absolute hell out of me. Wings shuffled and talons slashed for a two-second eternity.  In the instant the strike landed, my plummet to a quick death was much preferable to being tethered to a tree by a harness with no escape from this possessed raptor.  Thank God the bird finally realized I wasn’t a squirrel and didn’t come back for another sortie!

Yes, it actually happened. And I’ve never been more terrified in my adult life.  Shaken and shaking, I decided to call it quits, climbed down the tree, and called my wife both to tell her about the blitzkrieg and to let her know I’d be home early.  

I guess word traveled fast.  When I arrived home my mother (a registered nurse) was waiting with a complete surgical/triage kit.  When she saw that it was just superficial scratches and dried blood in my hair she laughed at my misfortune. If that wasn’t enough, in a sad yet effective trolling attempt she bought me a Christmas tree ornament that year. You can probably guess what it was. Though I laughed good naturedly when I opened the box and posed with the miniature owl, on the inside I was dying of a 30-foot drop and painful embarrassment.  

But a treestand harness saved my life that day, and it can save yours.  Fact is, people often don’t get over a treestand fall, even if they survive it.  Harnesses are cheaper than insurance and hospital bills, so play the percentages and use one.  Strange things happen afield.