Hunters that hunt from tree stands know that the four point harness is the way to go to be safe. That is still true. However, there are some hazards to be prepared for if you end up dangling from your harness. If you should slip and fall and cannot get back on your stand or to the ground, you can get Suspension Trauma, or Hanging Harness Syndrome.
What is Hanging Harness Syndrome?
The blood vessels in our legs are very elastic and can hold much more blood than they do under normal circumstances. The circulation process is aided by skeletal muscles in your legs (acting as small pumps), and one way valves in your blood vessels when you move your legs. When the body is suspended or is in the upright position and the legs are not moving for an extended amount of time, the blood starts to pool in the lower extremities. Constrictive leg loops or straps contribute to the trauma. The danger comes not only from constriction but being vertical and immobile. Also, with the lanyard being high between the shoulders, as you lose strength, your head will sag forward and constrict your breathing. As the blood pools, your brain and vital organs are robbed of blood flow and oxygen and you may lose consciousness.
What should we do if this happens to us?
1: Be prepared. Carry one or two screw-in steps on your person. They can be placed to give yourself a foot hold to self rescue or take pressure off your legs.
2: Use a mobile phone.
3: Cut Free? Depending on your physical capabilities, you may consider bear hugging the tree and cutting your lanyard to climb down. Take into account how high you are. Use care.
4: Carry a 10-12 foot piece of rope, or strap. This can be used to tie from hip to hip on your harness, and then you can hook your heels into it and push up. This helps take pressure off of your leg loops and aid circulation.
5: Keep moving/change positions. Face the tree. Try to pull your knees up and into a sitting position. This will move the leg straps away from your groin and aid circulation. Keep moving your legs. Pedaling will keep blood flowing.
6: What if we find someone in this condition? If you manage to rescue the victim to the ground by some means, DO NOT LAY THEM DOWN! They should be kept in a sitting position. This will allow the pooled oxygen deprived blood to slowly re-enter the circulatory system. If laid down, they will most likely go into cardiac arrest.
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