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Tree Stand Injuries - interesting statistics

November 29, 2010

This is an interesting article. While hunting orgs minimize the number of accidents that take place every year, every so often an article like this slips through and we get a more accurate estimate of what the true numbers are.

Back in 2009, Ron Kolbeck, a certified HuntSAFE instructor in South Dakota stated that there were 4,114 hunting accidents in the state in 2008. When we posted this info the hunters went nuts, telling us that we were making these stats up.

So here is another article I recently found that also discloses that the number of accidents that take place are far higher than the hunters will admit.

Tree Stand Injuries

Hunting in the U.S.

Hunting is a popular sport in this country. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 12.5 million Americans 16 and older hunted in 2006. The hunters took 185 million trips and spent $22.9 billion.

More than 85 percent of hunters go after big game, like deer and elk. Roughly 38 percent hunt for smaller game like rabbits and squirrels. Less than 20 percent hunt birds.

Tree Stands for Hunters

A tree stand is an elevated platform placed from 15 feet to 30 feet above the ground and secured to a tree. The platform is typically small, with just enough room to sit or stand. Tree stands can be purchased from a retailer or built by hand. Many permanent tree stands are constructed by hunters rather than purchased.

There are several different kinds. One of the most popular types is the climbing stand. These are designed to be moved as the hunter climbs the tree, then secured when the desired height is reached. A fixed position stand attaches to a tree trunk for an extended period of time (like all of hunting season). A vertical ladder stand has a ladder attached to the platform. The ladder can often be disassembled and reassembled for carrying the stand into and out of the woods. The last type of stands are permanent tree stands. As the name suggests, these are designed to remain permanent and used season after season.

According to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, more than 90 percent of hunters use some type of tree stand for hunting. Although tree stands were initially most popular with bowhunters, many rifle hunters use them also. Elevation enables the hunter to see game at a greater distance. In addition, the hunter canít easily be seen or smelled by animals, improving the odds of bagging game. Some tree stands also have canopies that protect the hunter from the cold, wind, rain and sun.

Injuries Associated with Tree Stands

Researchers estimate about 10 percent of hunters who use tree stands are injured while using the platforms. Investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, looked at hunting accidents across the U.S. from 2000 to 2007. During that time, there were about 46,860 injuries to hunters associated with tree stands (Note: This averages to be 5,875 tree stand related injuries per year. Add to this all the other accidents that do not have anything to do with tree stands - JM) , mostly from falls. Male hunters were twice as likely to suffer a tree stand injury as females.

The researchers found injury rates to be highest among hunters 15 to 24 and lowest among those 65 and older. Gerald McGwin, M.S., Ph.D., Injury Epidemiologist, says the reasons for the highest rates of injury among younger hunters aren't clear. However, he believes younger hunters are not aware of, or may not take appropriate safety precautions while using tree stands (like wearing a safety harness). Younger hunters may be more apt to take risks than older, seasoned hunters. Alcohol may also play a role in the risk for tree stand-related injuries. One study found 17 to 18 percent of hunters injured during use of a tree stand had been drinking at some point prior to the accident (NOTE: this means that 999 - 1,056 accidents per year - JM) .

The investigators found the most common consequences of tree stand injuries were fractures (especially of the spine, shoulder and arms), lacerations of the head and neck, and abrasions and bruises of the torso. McGwin says head and spinal injuries can be especially devastating to younger patients because they have to live with potential long-term disabilities. In the most serious cases, hunters may die from tree stand falls Ė either as a direct result of their trauma or by strangulation/asphyxiation when caught up in an improperly secured harness.

Tree Stand Safety

Many tree stand injuries can be prevented by taking a few extra steps: Check your stand. Experts discourage using home-made tree stands because they may not be properly constructed or unable to hold your weight. Even tree stands that are purchased from reputable dealers need to be inspected every season to ensure they are solid and will hold the weight of your body and equipment.

Use a harness. Researchers estimate more than half of all hunters injured in a tree stand accidents didnít use, or failed to properly use, a safety harness. A harness is attached to the tree and designed to prevent a fall or catch a hunter who steps over the side of the tree stand. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends a full body harness. The harness should be inspected before each use and replaced if it shows any signs of wear or weakness. Roughly 50 percent of tree stand injuries occur when going into or leaving a tree stand. So itís important to put the harness on before climbing the tree and keeping it on until you are safely back on the ground.

Donít carry equipment while climbing or disembarking. Carrying equipment can affect your balance and cause you to fall. In addition, a gun can be accidentally discharged. Use a separate line to haul equipment up to the tree stand after you are settled in the tree stand. Also, donít load the weapon until it is safely in the tree stand with you.

Have a plan. Let others know where you will be hunting and how long you expect to be gone. Carry a cell phone in case you have an emergency and need help. Carry emergency equipment in case you fall. While the harness may prevent you from hitting the ground, you can still die if you are suspended upside down for a significant amount of time and are unable to free yourself. Some experts even suggest practicing how to free yourself from the harness so you are better prepared to handle an emergency.

For information and tips on preventing tree stand injuries:
The National Bowhunter Education Foundation, Project STAND
Treestand Manufacturerís Association
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service .

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