Trees hold dangers for deer hunters
November 4, 2010
Trees hold dangers for deer hunters
As deer hunting season gets underway around the country, trauma surgeons
in Ohio have a message for hunters: It's not the guns but the trees that
will get you.
A 10-year survey of hunting-related injuries at two major trauma centers
in Ohio found that falling out of trees is how the majority of deer hunters
"More and more frequently, we're seeing people showing up in our
emergency rooms that weren't shot but who fell out of tree stands," says
Charles Cook, a trauma surgeon at the Ohio State University Medical Center
and author of the study, which is in this month's edition of The American
Surgeon, a medical journal.
Tree stands are platforms that allow hunters to perch between 10 and 30
feet above the ground and wait, out of sight, for game to come by. They're
mostly used in the Midwest and the South, almost always to hunt deer. Tree
stands first became commercialized in the 1970s, and by the 1990s there were
more than 100 manufacturers, says John Louk, executive director of the
Treestand Manufacturer's Association.
According to the Ohio study, half of hunting-related injuries that sent
people to the hospital were caused by falls, 92% from tree stands. Gunshot
wounds made up 29% of injuries. Very few of the injuries (2.3%) were related
to alcohol use. "You fall from that height and something's going to break,"
Cook says. "We just admitted a guy this morning who fell out of a tree and
is now a paraplegic."
That patient was the eighth tree-stand-related accident since the
beginning of hunting season this fall. The most commonly reported injuries
are broken legs, arms and ribs, as well as back and spinal cord injuries.
About 80% of those who fall require surgery. The Ohio study included four
patients who ended up paralyzed.
The trouble isn't the stands themselves, which since 2004 have come
equipped with safety harnesses. It's that hunters aren't using the
harnesses, Cook says. The researchers have been asking those brought into
the ER if they used the protective device, and so far only one person has
"He was wearing his device, but then he clipped out to change position
and he fell. The poor guy ended up with multiple broken ribs and a whole
chest full of blood," Cook says.
There's no national data on tree-stand injuries because there's no
reporting requirement. However, news media accounts of tree-stand fatalities
reported this fall include three in Maryland, one in Michigan and two in
The problem is that hunters won't wear the body harnesses, Louk says. The
organization's own data on injuries, culled from multiple sources, put
tree-stand accidents at closer to 60% of hunting accidents, with guns
causing 40%, Louk says. Louk estimates that about 10% of tree stands
currently in use are homemade and typically don't contain any safety gear.
The presence of safety harnesses doesn't mean anything if hunters won't
wear them, and they won't, Louk says. "It's a mental block. They're just
assuming they can fly, but gravity will always win out in the end.".
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