John's Journal...

What Dr. Robert Sheppard Has Learned from a 20-Year Study of 35,000 Deer Hunters

Day 5: Why Longtime Deer Hunter Dr. Robert Sheppard Prefers Tree Steps for Hunting

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Sheppard of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, teaches medicine at the University of Alabama and has adapted his teaching to the new and better methods that evolve each year. Too, Sheppard is the consummate hunting student, always willing to learn, study and develop new strategies – which is what he’s done after conducting a 20-year study of 35,000 hunters at Bent Creek Lodge ( in Jachin, Alabama.

Click for Larger ViewI’ve hunted from just about every type of tree stand known to mankind. I’ve also used almost every device created to get from the ground to the tree. For me, I believe tree steps provide the best advantage for going up to a tree stand, coming down a tree and getting into and out of a tree stand. Today’s modern tree steps are compact, lightweight and easy to carry into and out of the woods. I tend to hunt further way from an access point than most hunters do. I may walk 2-miles into the woods, before I put up a tree stand, so the light and compact tree steps suit my method of hunting. My tree stand only weighs about 6 pounds; I don’t even notice it’s on my back.

Click for Larger ViewI’ve found tree steps to be very safe. They very rarely fail. When you put tree steps into a tree and then remove them, no one can tell where you’ve hunted. You don’t leave any sign behind. I’ve tried both the strap-on and screw-in types of tree steps, and I use both kinds of steps. There are some places like national forests and public lands, where you are required to use strap-on tree steps. But, where permitted, I prefer to use the screw-in trees steps, and I especially like the Easy Climb brand. They don’t sponsor me in any way; I just like their steps. Another advantage to tree steps is that I can stay attached to the tree, while I’m putting the steps in and/or taking the steps down. Most safety harnesses today have the advantage of using a lineman’s belt that you can put around the tree and adjust, as you put the steps in or take the steps out of the tree.

Click for Larger ViewI’m very safety-conscious. Today I always wear a safety harness. Forty years ago when I first started bowhunting, I never wore a safety harness or any type of restraint. Then one morning I got up to go hunting, and my wife really got on my case about why she thought I should wear a safety harness. She was very persistent. I brushed her off and used that macho saying, “I’m safe going up and down a tree. I’m not going to fall out.” Actually I realized this was a fool’s lie that I told myself. That morning I was sitting in my tree stand for a few minutes, started thinking about what my wife had said and decided she might be right. I reached into my backpack, got a rope that I always carried with me to drag a deer out of the woods, tied the rope around my chest and tied the other end of the rope around the tree. Later on in the morning, the weather was kind of cold, and I was good and warm. Suddenly, I felt like somebody just had jerked me up out of my tree stand. As I came to, I found I was hanging by that rope around my chest just below my tree stand. The first thing I thought was, “My goodness. What in the world happened?” Then, I realized I’d gone to sleep and fallen out of my tree stand. This was the first time I’d used any type of fall restraint, and there was no doubt in my mind that as high as I was in that tree, if I hadn’t had that rope tied around me, I either would be paralyzed or dead. Since that day, I never have climbed a tree without having a safety harness.

Click for Larger ViewOn that same morning, I learned that even though the rope had broken my fall, and prevented me from being dead or paralyzed, that a rope was a terrible thing to use as a fall restraint. I had used a clinch knot to secure the rope to my chest, but every time I took a breath, when I exhaled, the rope got tighter on my chest. I was swinging around, skinning-up my knuckles and bruising my knees, trying to decide how I would get back up into the tree stand. Then I really got scared, since I knew that every time I breathed, the rope was tightening on my chest, and breathing was becoming much-more difficult. As soon as I got back in my tree stand and then finally on the ground, I went that day and bought me a safety harness.

Today I put my harness on when I’m on the ground and use the lineman’s belt to attach myself to the tree as I’m putting-in my tree steps. Once I’ve put-in two tree steps, I slide the lineman’s belt up the tree, climb up one or two steps and then put in the next set of tree steps. If I fall going up the tree or coming down the tree, that lineman’s belt will catch on the last step I’ve put in, and prevent me from falling. I put my steps even above my tree stand, stand-up on my steps above my tree stand and then step down into it. I’m attached to the tree from the time I leave the ground, until I get back to the ground. I strongly advise anyone who hunts with a bow to save his or her life, by always wearing a safety harness.

To learn more about Dr. Sheppard’s research findings and hunting tactics and to order his book, “Whitetails,” go to his webpage

You’ll learn deer hunting information and tips in the Kindle eBooks, “Bowhunting Deer: The Secrets of the PSE Pros,” “Jim Crumley's Secrets of Bowhunting Deer,” “Deer and Fixings,”"How to Hunt Deer Up Close: With Bows, Rifles, Muzzleloaders and Crossbows,” “ PhD Whitetails: How to Hunt and Take the Smartest Deer on Any Property” and “ How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro” by John E. Phillips. Go to, type in the name of the book, and download it to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, Smart Phone or computer.

About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (AMA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Check back each day this week for more about "What Dr. Robert Sheppard Has Learned from a 20-Year Study of 35,000 Deer Hunters"

Day 1: What a Trophy Buck Knows about Bowhunters
Day 2: The Effect Moon Phase Has on Hunting Deer with Dr. Robert Sheppard
Day 3: Deer Hunters Need to Make Some Mistakes Before They Hunt Trophy Bucks with Dr. Robert Sheppard
Day 4: Hunting Storm Fronts for Deer with Dr. Robert Sheppard
Day 5: Why Longtime Deer Hunter Dr. Robert Sheppard Prefers Tree Steps for Hunting

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Entry 697, Day 5