Every year millions of hunters flock to the woods across this country in pursuit of white tailed deer. Deer are the most popular big game animal in the country to hunt. This is largely due to the fact that deer are densely populated in nearly every state and geographical region of the country. In Alabama, opening day of deer season might as well be a state holiday. The most popular method for hunting deer is to sit in an elevated tree stand and wait for the deer. The average person would likely consider guns and other weapons used to harvest deer as the most dangerous aspect of the hunt.
However, that simply is not the case. More hunters are injured and killed every year as a result of falls from tree stands than as a result of gunshot wounds. In the past decade, more awareness has been established regarding tree stand safety. Unfortunately, according to many sources, tree stand accidents may be on the rise. Additionally, the injuries sustained in these accidents are often times catastrophic.
Falls from tree stands are the most common type of hunting related accidents. One study found that nearly 10 percent of hunters who use tree stands are injured annually. Of those accidents, it was found that more than 75 percent occur while using fixed position or climbing tree stands. As most stands are placed at a height greater than 15 feet, falls from this distance can result in high impact injuries. Falls can result in hunters landing at nearly 30 mph. As one would imagine, falls from that height and reaching that speed can result in severe injuries. One study revealed that 80 percent of tree stand fall victims required operative interventions and nearly 10 percent of falls resulted in permanent neurological deficits or death.
A team of neurosurgeons in Rochester, N.Y. recently studied and published an article titled, “Tree stand falls: A persistent cause of neurological injury in hunting.” The doctors noted that they wrote the article after seeing patient after patient injured due to tree stand falls each deer season. The doctors examined every tree-stand related injury that came through their regional trauma center from September 2003 through November 2011.
Although their research was limited to a very finite amount of all tree stand accidents nationwide, their findings are interesting nonetheless. According to the researchers, 54 percent of the tree stand falls resulted in spinal injuries and 22 percent resulted in severe head injuries. Additionally, 24 percent of the falls from tree stands resulted in lower extremity fractures and 19 percent resulted in upper extremity fractures.
Based on the research the Rochester surgeons conducted, a fall from a tree stand is likely to cause permanent injuries to the victims’ spine, head, or extremities.
The Rochester research team also tracked the cause of all tree stand accident patients they treated. According to their findings, 23 percent of falls were caused by faulty tree stand construction, 23 percent were caused by loss of balance, another 23 percent were caused by the victim falling asleep, 15 percent were caused by structural failure, and the final 16 percent were attributed to other causes. In the past decade, hunters, tree stand manufacturers and others in the hunting industry have made a strong push to advance tree stand safety.
Unfortunately, according to many studies, tree stand accidents are not decreasing. One of the most widely accepted methods for preventing tree stand injuries and death are the use of safety harnesses. Most every commercially made tree stand comes with a safety harness these days. Unfortunately, these harnesses that come with the tree stands are often cheap, bulky, uncomfortable and, subsequently, rarely used. It seems as though they are merely provided so that after an accident occurs, the manufacturer can pat themselves on the back for providing a safety harness.
Additionally, more and more tree stands suffer from defects, rendering them unsafe. As with so many industries, there seems to be a race to make the lightest, cheapest product in the category. This has resulted in dangerous and inadequate materials and products. Many tree stand accidents are a result of structural failures to the stand, or to the locking mechanism to the tree. Recalls in the industry are almost as commonplace as those in the auto industry.
Despite the push toward tree stand safety and awareness, there does not seem to be a measurable decrease in tree stand accidents. According to the Rochester research team, there is “no progress in preventing these neurological injuries, despite an increase in safety advances” compared to a decade ago.
Safety harnesses are essential to tree stand safety. Like seatbelts in a car, they are only effective if they are used, and used appropriately. It is imperative for anyone that intends to use tree stands to buy an adequate full-body safety harness. The harness should be worn not only when the hunter is in the tree stand hunting, but also when the tree stand is being put up and taken down. All too often tree stand accidents occur while the user is moving or altering the position of the stand and not safely harnessed to the tree.
It is also important to buy quality tree stands. Like most products, however, you get what you pay for. A cheaper tree stand will likely be made of cheaper materials and by companies that cut corners when it comes to safety. Finally, it is important to properly inspect and service tree stands. Too often hunters will put a stand in a tree and hunt from it for years to come without taking it down, inspecting it, and replacing any worn or weathered parts.
Tree stand accidents occur too often and can cause devastating injuries. It is imperative to use a quality full body harness at all times, buy quality tree stands, and continuously inspect and repair worn parts. If you need more information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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