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Deer stands can be dangerous, deadly for hunters

October 23, 2010

John Burke: Deer stands can be dangerous, deadly for hunters 

This past week, a Pennsylvania man hunting in Maryland suffered fatal injuries when he fell out of a tree stand. Paul Joseph Kemper Jr., 55, of York, Pa., was bow hunting for deer when he fell from the stand that reportedly was 25 feet from the ground.

According to the Outdoor Wire, Kemper was located by his hunting companion, also of York. Kemper had an unattached safety harness near him when he was discovered.

The accident is being investigated by the Maryland Natural Resources Police, which has investigated 12 hunting accidents during the state's fiscal year of 2010 and 14 for the year 2009.

Tree stand accidents totaled six and seven, respectively, in these investigations.

Popular choice

With the deer season moving into full swing (bow hunting is in, the firearms season is only a few weeks away), tree stands are the choice of most hunters.

But if the rules of safety are not heeded, their use can prove dangerous, even fatal.

Tree Stand Hunting, in its report on Accidents in Tree Stands and Tree Stand Safety, notes that a 1993 survey conducted by Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine found that more than a third of tree stand hunters will at some time fall from a stand, and that three percent will suffer crippling injuries.

Too, that of all the tree stand accidents, 75 to 80 percent occur while climbing up or down, and that most hunters were not wearing a safety harness or vest.

The report also said that during the 2005-06 Georgia hunting season, 54 percent of all hunting accidents involved tree stands - 28 of them, with two resulting in fatalities.

One hunter reportedly fell asleep in his stand and then fell 17 feet, breaking his neck.

The other fatality involved a hunter who was descending his stand, lost his grip, fell and died of internal injuries.

Main causes

Relative to overall tree stand accidents, Tree Stand Hunting says the main contributing factors were improper stand installation and careless use, while the majority of falls were caused by structural failures of stands and steps, especially those that are homebuilt and wooden, by screw-in type steps that often broke or pulled out, and rotted wood on permanent stands, which often broke or nails pulled out of them.

Another cause was tree limbs breaking off, especially in colder weather.

A friend of mine who lives in Augusta, a few years ago fell from a tree stand that he made - the stand apparently giving away.

Badly injured with broken bones, he was unable to move. It was not until the next day that he finally was located.

Common injuries

As Tree Stand Hunting further notes in its report, common injuries from falls include broken bones, spinal cord injuries and brain damage.

It refers to a survey in Deer and Deer Hunting magazine on tree stand injuries that found 39.4 percent of those injured reported cuts and bruises, 25.5 percent reported muscles and ligaments torn or strained, 12.2 percent reported broken bones, and three percent reported permanent damage.

A team of researchers, conducting a study in West Virginia on the type of injuries resulting from tree stand accidents over a six-year period from 1994-99 involving 90 hunters, found that 47 percent had fractures of legs or arms, 36 percent had spinal fractures, 20 percent had head injuries and 21 percent had other minor injuries. Of the 90, seven died.

The report closes by saying that when using a tree stand, a fall restraint system is the single most important piece of equipment.

"A full body harness is preferable. A rope or belt around the waist can be almost as dangerous as fall to the ground. A belt around the waist can cause a hunter to turn upside down should they fall, and the tightening of the belt around their waist can cause internal injuries."

Something to think about if you plan to use a tree stand.

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