by Jennifer Piasecki-Dums - Monday, May 11, 2020
In the fall of 2018, I was finally lucky enough to draw a Wisconsin black bear tag. After many long years waiting on preference points, the time had arrived to begin planning a hunt. From the beginning, I knew I was going to have to hunt this bear from an 18-foot-high ladder treestand on our property. My husband had taken his black bear from that exact spot three years prior. The setup was essentially ready to go. All I needed was something to draw the bears to me. That is where the fear started to creep in as I had never once climbed into a treestand to hunt. Up until this moment, I had done my big-game hunting by stalking or from a blind. Now I realized that I was afraid of heights. I also knew that I had waited too long for this tag to let anything stand in my way. I had to figure out how on earth I was going to be comfortable being up in that tree.
I wanted to be hands-on involved in planning this hunt and that started with running bait. I brought small amounts of bait back to the hunting area daily, rain or shine, and diligently checked trail cameras to see what had moved through the previous day. Every day, I would look at that treestand and shudder at the idea of sitting up there, with a gun, by myself, hunting a black bear.
After a few weeks of this, I decided I had to start tackling the ladder stand. The first time I placed my hands on the rungs and took a few steps up, I panicked. I couldn’t do it. I walked back to the house almost in tears wondering what I was going to do. My husband and I discussed that maybe I should use a ground blind, but we decided the tree was a better and safer option. So, back out I went the next day determined to do this. This time, I made it all the way up to the top, slightly shaky and nervous. Then I immediately came back down the ladder. That was enough for the first day.
Overcoming a fear of heights is not easy, nor does it completely go away, at least not for me. However, with time and patience I got more comfortable with the idea of sitting 18 feet off the ground. Here’s how: Every few days, I would climb up that ladder stand, clip my harness to a safety rope around the tree and sit down for five or 10 minutes in that tree with that uncomfortable feeling before climbing down again. After just a few times doing this, the shaking stopped, the lump in my throat was gone and the heaviness in my stomach subsided. I did it! I was able to sit in that stand without feeling scared. The acrophobia wasn’t completely gone, but that overwhelming fear of being up in that tree had decreased and I knew I could do it.
When it came time to hunt, I was ready. Safety was definitely key for the success of this adventure. A good safety harness, tether rope and hoist rope were absolutely necessary to feel confident in my treestand. (Many states, such as Connecticut, offer clinics in treestand safety.) I climbed that ladder, hoisted up my gun and waited. The first night I was able to see a sow and three cubs. It was an amazing experience to watch these animals in the wild. On the third night of my hunt, a beautiful boar made an appearance and I was able to pull the trigger and notch my long-awaited tag.
So whether you’re getting ready to head out on a bear hunt this spring while social distancing or your tag is for the fall, I’m proof that you shouldn’t let a phobia get in your way.
E-mail your comments/questions about this site to:
Get the NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum newsletter for at-a-glance access to all the latest news about the legislative challenges hunters face—delivered directly to your Inbox.