What do you think of when you hear the words “hunting accident”?
If the phrase makes you think of an accidental shooting, you would not be alone—but you would be wrong. The most common cause of serious injury and death to deer hunters is tree-stand injuries.
According to the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation (TSSA), approximately 4,000 tree stand-related falls resulted in significant injury or death in 2017.
Hunter education has reduced the rate of hunting-related shooting incidents by 25 percent since it was made mandatory in Virginia in 1988. The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) does offer information related to tree stand safety and includes information in their hunter education courses.
However, hunter education is required only for first-time hunters and those ages 12-15.
According to a 10-state database of falls by TSSA president and Jefferson College of Health Sciences dean Glen Mayhew, D.H.Sc., the most common cause of injury from tree-stand falls is hunters slipping or losing their grip or balance.
The majority of falls (60 percent) happen while climbing up or down or during the transition into the stand. Eighty-six percent of those who fell were not wearing a full-body harness, and the 14 percent who did have a harness on were not attached to the tree when the fall occurred.
"For a harness to be effective, it must be attached to the tree," said Mayhew.
TSSA recommends that you stay connected to the tree from the time you leave the ground until you return to the ground using a rope safety line, or Lifeline.
"It only takes one time climbing without a harness and not being attached to have a life-altering event happen.”
--Glen Mayhew, D.H.Sc., president of the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation
The data makes it clear that tree-stand injuries are preventable.
TSSA recommends an easy-to-remember ABC approach to tree-stand safety:
A: Always remove and inspect all your equipment before using
B: Buckle your harness securely
C: Connect before your feet leave the ground
Slips happen—and sleep happens! Remain secured to the tree the entire time you are off the ground.
Aside from human error, falls can result from equipment failures, too. Tree stands often remain exposed to the elements for years, so hunters should check straps, cables, hinges and ladders regularly for safety.
"Hunters need to remove their stands, inspect them and do preventive maintenance on a regular basis," said Mayhew, adding that "wearing a harness and staying attached also applies to installing and removing stands, not just when hunting."
DGIF offers the following recommendations to ensure that your tree stand is ready for hunting season:
- Use a stand that meets the standards recognized by the Treestand Manufacturers Association
- Carefully inspect your tree stand for wear, rust, metal fatigue and cracks, loose or missing nuts or bolts, and rot and deterioration
- Check straps, chains and other attachment devices for wear
- Check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if your stand has been recalled due to safety defects
"Tree stands are a great tool to use while deer hunting and are a safe way to hunt as long as we follow basic safety principles and the manufacturer’s guidelines," said Mayhew. “Hunters need to make tree-stand safety as high a priority as firearms safety. You owe it to yourself and your family."
TSSA has a goal of reducing tree stand falls by 50 percent by 2023 through education and awareness. Contact Dr. Mayhew to schedule safety talks for groups, and visit TSSA's YouTube and Facebook pages for informational videos about tree stands, harnesses and other equipment.
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Cover photo copyright Hunter Safety System.