Accidents in Tree Stands
It is impossible to know exactly how many hunters are injured from tree stand accidents because:
- Not all accidents are reported
- Not everyone who falls seeks medical attention
- Not all tree stand accidents are recorded as a category by themselves in hospitals
- Recording varies from State to State
- There is no national collation of data
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 about 3 % will suffer crippling injuries.
Of all the tree stand accidents, 75-80% occurs while climbing up or down.
Most hunters injured were not wearing a safety harness/vest.
In 2005/2006 in the Georgia hunting season, 54% of all hunting accidents were tree stand accidents  with 2 fatalities. Both fatalities saw the victim falling from the stand. One hunter 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.
The severity of injuries tends to increase with the distance the victim falls, however even short falls can cause spinal injuries and paralysis or death.
The main contributors were:
- Improper stand installation
- Careless use
The majority of falls were caused by:
- Structural failures of stands and steps, especially those that are homebuilt and wooden
Steps that are screwed in often broke or pulled out and rotted wood on permanent stands often broke or nails pulled out from them.
Another cause was tree limbs breaking off, especially in colder weather
A team of medical researchers in Pennsylvania carried out a study on tree stand falls. Their study of the database of emergency rooms and trauma centres covered the period 1987-2001. During that time 280 hunters received treatment for tree stand falls. Of the 280 hunters, 6 died after falling from their stands. The main findings from the study were:
- The highest rate of falls were in the 50-59 year age group
- The median height for the falls was 18 feet [falls ranged from 4 feet to 40 feet]
- 63% [176 hunters] had some alcohol in their blood
- 10% [17 hunters] were legally intoxicated
Common injuries from falls included broken bones, spinal cord injuries and brain damage.
A survey in Deer and Deer Hunting magazine on injuries from tree stands found 39.4% reported cuts and bruises, 25.5% reported muscles or ligaments torn or strained, 12.2% reported broken bones, and 3% reported permanent crippling.
A team of researchers conducted a study in West Virginia on the type of injuries resulting from tree stand accidents. The study covered a 6 year period from 1994-1999 and included 90 hunters.
There were 7 deaths. The results were:
- 47% had fractures of the legs or arms, 36% had a spinal fracture, 20% had a head injury, 21% had other minor injuries
- Majority of accidents involved homebuilt as opposed to commercial stands
- Most hunters were not wearing safety straps or harnesses.
A hunter in Granby fell 40 feet out of a tree stand in 2005. His injuries included hip and pelvis separations, leg fractures and an ankle injury. He was very lucky he was not killed.
Not everyone is as lucky as the hunter in Granby. Looking at a few of the deaths over the last year provides an insight into the main cause:
- Alleghany County, North Carolina – December 2005. Hunter  killed when he lowered his gun from a tree stand and it discharged and shot him in the leg
- Delta National Forest Mississippi – December 10, 2005. Hunter  fell 15 feet from his tree stand and struck his head on the base of a tree – not wearing a harness
- Pike County township, Pennsylvania – December 1, 2005. Hunter  found dead next to his tree stand
- Sundquist WMA, Tennessee – November 21, 2005. Hunter  fell 20 feet from his tree stand – not wearing a harness
Remember: When using a tree stand, your fall restraint system is your 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 falling 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.
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