With fall upon us, I sit drinking my coffee on the back porch listening to the rustling of the leaves and can't help but get the itch to string up my bow, clean my gun and get my gear treated. September is a month when all hunters fill the shops, by their tags and stock the cabin. Countless times though, a number of hunters will completely disregard their own safety in the hopes that the freezer back at home will once again be full. As one strolls through the aisles of hunting gear, the vendors pile on the importance of high visibility and keeping your feet dry. However, one hazard still looms, and is the leading cause of hunting related injuries and deaths nationwide.
In the past 3 years, I have had the opportunity to preach the message of safety to countless people willing to listen. Most of these meetings are one hour long awareness classes that for the most part just get the ball rolling. All in all, with each class it is stressed that hazards do not disappear once the card is punched and the car is headed home.
Once home, the possibility of an accident or death abounds with each activity we do. One activity that sadly accounts for many deaths and injuries is hunting. Hunting is a very fun sport. Part of the thrill and excitement is getting ready and spending time with friends and family. However, hunting presents its own set of hazards; early start time, low visibility, weather and much more are what hunters for years have had to contend with. In most cases, hunters alike will be walking in the face of uncertain injury or death and not even know it or simply just ignore it. One threat that rears its head each year in overwhelming numbers is the rate of death resulting from falls out of tree stands.
When you hear "hunting accident" the first thing that probably comes to mind is an accidental shooting. It turns out that the most common hunting accidents are tree stand accidents. In fact, according to Tree Stand Safety Awareness (TSSA), tree stand accidents are the number one cause of serious injury and death to deer hunters. It is estimated that more than one-third of hunters who use tree stands will be involved in a fall sometime in their hunting careers.
In 2013, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources warned hunters of the danger, announcing that 300-500 hunters are killed annually in tree stand accidents and about 6,000 more sustain tree stand accident injuries, according to a study by the International Hunter Education Association (IHA).
Tree stand accidents are almost entirely preventable if basic safety measures are taken. But tree stand safety isn't popular. For one thing, it requires wearing a full body harness. It also requires using it properly.
The majority of tree stand accidents occur while climbing or descending. They can also happen when hunters fall asleep in the stand.
It is easy to understand why tree stand safety is overshadowed by firearm safety, but tree stand accident injuries can be fatal and those who survive can be permanently disabled. Tree stands are typically placed anywhere from 10 to 30 feet above the ground. A fall from that height is serious. The ground is often rocky, making brain or spinal cord injury even more likely. The ground may also be sloped, causing the person who falls to roll and incur more injuries.
Tree stands are often used in remote locations surrounded by rough terrain. It can be hours or even days before an injured hunter is discovered, or before they can be transported for medical treatment. The delay in treatment makes survival less likely and contributes to serious complications from the injuries. While waiting for help, hunters can suffer more injuries as a result of exposure to the elements and dehydration.
Any time a decision is made to use a tree stand or go hunting, a contact person should be established as well as a time line for when you will be home. This will help in recognizing if something may be wrong in the event you are not home, at which point help can be dispatched. Having a cell phone is important, but also being able to access it if something happens is even more important. Many of the stories I have read where a cell phone could have summoned emergency services, the phone was not in arms reach because it fell during the fall. Another tip is to hunt in groups and make sure a buddy system is in place where a buddy check can be done every half to one hour. In the end, every hunter, whether you are using a bow, shot gun, or in a tree stand, has to take the necessary precautions and courses to establish a safety-conscious mindset and atmosphere. Delivery is imperative not only during, but before the fun begins, and it could save a life.