Jones also is leery of "hang-on" style stands.
"Those are the ones that have a V-notch that grips the tree, and a chain that goes around the tree to hold the platform in place. The problem with that kind is that guys don't often use enough screw-in steps to get above the platform and step down onto it.
"When they try to come in from the side, they knock the platform sideways and they go to the ground, sometimes hitting a few of the screw-in steps on the way down."
Jones said one of the most popular stands - the "climber" style with upper and lower platforms that allow users to inchworm their way up and down tree trunks - is relatively safe if users attend to one important detail:
"Tie the two pieces together," he said. "If you don't tie them together, and you get 12 or 14 feet in the air and lose the footrest [platform], you're stuck up a tree with no way to get down."
The safest type of tree stand, and the one Jones recommends, is the ladder-style stand.
"It's the safest of the bunch because the ladder provides a solid, dependable way to get up and down," he said. "Ladder stands are heavy and awkward to set up, but with two people it isn't much trouble."
Like all equipment that sees rugged outdoor use, stands should be checked regularly for broken or missing parts and for signs of excessive wear.
"Before the season starts, all stands should be checked for rust, corrosion and broken bolts," Jones said.
Hunters who have put on a few pounds should make sure they don't now exceed their stands' weight ratings.
"Taking a stand weighted for 175 pounds and trying to put a 250-pound man in it is asking for trouble," Jones said. "And even if someone only weighs 175 pounds, they'd be wearing clothing and carrying equipment that would put them over the rated weight. It's important to buy stands that are rated for enough weight to hold both the hunter and the hunter's gear."
All tree stand manufacturers are required to provide safety harnesses with their products. Jones said, however, that some safety harnesses aren't safe at all.
"Most of those that come with stands are cheap and not weight-rated," he said. "It's wise to pick up an aftermarket harness of the full-body type, the kind that has leg straps as well as straps for the upper body. In our classes, we recommend harnesses from Hunter Safety System or the Rescue One Controlled Descent System from Mountaineer Sports."
The key to any harness, Jones added, is to attach it to the tree at the proper height.
"The ideal tie-off is at eye level when you're standing on the tree stand's platform," he explained. "That allows you, with a normal 3-foot strap, to sit comfortably, and you'll still be waist-high or higher on the platform if you fall.
"If you tie off too high, you won't be comfortable. If you're too low, you won't be able to climb back into the stand."
The early November whitetail rut marks the peak of West Virginia's bowhunting season, which means a lot of hunters will be sitting in a lot of trees. Jones said a little caution on everyone's part would go a long way toward keeping hunters in the woods and out of emergency rooms.
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.