Take Care When Hunting from Tree Stands
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Falls from tree stands, platforms, frames and slings are the cause of a variety of injuries including fractures, soft tissue, chest, abdominal, head, penetrating trauma1 and spinal cord injuries. Paralysis and even death have occurred.2, 3
One out of three hunters are at risk for falls from tree stands, according to Tim Lawhern, head of enforcement for the Department of Natural Resources. 4
Freestanding deer stands, frames, platforms and slings mounted 10 to 30-plus feet in trees provide a better view of the surroundings and game in the area. Hunters are at risk for injury if the devices are not installed properly and safety harnesses are not worn. Inattentiveness due to boredom, fatigue, alcohol use or falling asleep while in or on a stand, platform or sling can result in a fall.
Many hunters fall getting in and out of the stand. Safety harnesses for freestanding or tree stands prevent fall-related injuries. These devices clamp to an adjustable tether that attaches to a tree limb or freestanding stand. The tether length is set to keep the hunter within easy reach of the platform, stand or sling. 5 These devices are inexpensive and prevent injuries.
Hunters who have fallen from stands have been injured to the point of incapacity. Some have not been rescued for hours, putting them at risk for hypothermia from exposure.
Follow these injury prevention tips to be safe while hunting from a tree or in a stand:
Before Hunting Season Begins
- Take the time buy a safe and comfortable stand, platform, frame or sling. Make sure it comes with or purchase a harness to reduce your chance of injury.
- Choose a safety harness that will hold you right-side-up if you fall to prevent breathing restriction and has a quick release.
- Install the stand, platform, frame, sling and tether for the harness correctly, according to the instructions.
- Practice setting up the stand, platform, frame or sling.
- Practice using the safety harness and equipment at ground-level before climbing. Use all recommended safety straps and pins/clamps to secure the stand or limb.
- Wear your safety harness at all times when climbing, hunting and descending.
- Clean and monitor equipment for wear, stress points and loose fasteners. Fix or replace any worn equipment immediately. 5
- Update equipment.
- Clear the brush, rocks, saplings and limbs from the area under the stand.
- Know where the cell phone has reception.
Choosing a Tree
- Choose a healthy, living, straight tree with rough bark (prevents slipping), such as an oak.
- Do not use a tree with dead wood, rotten wood or overhanging limbs that may fall.
- Avoid using elevated stands when it's icy.
Hauling Your Equipment
- Never carry equipment while climbing. Bring gear up and down from the stand with a haul rope.
- Unload guns and cover arrow broadheads while hauling, raising or lowering gear.
- The Michigan DNR suggests, "If hauling a bow, tie your line to the top limb of the bow when climbing and the bottom when descending to avoid snagging arrows in tree branches." 6
- Always wear a safety harness when climbing. Never use a rope or belt.
- Be careful when climbing or descending from the stand, platform or sling. This is when most tree or freestanding deer stand accidents occur.
- Wear boots or shoes with non-skid soles to prevent slipping.
- Take off rings and jewelry when climbing.
- Climb higher than the stand, sling or platform, and then step down onto it. This prevents dislodgement. Avoid elevated stand hunting while overly tired or on medication.
While in the Stand
- Hunt with a buddy or a group.
- Never hunt while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Be sure someone knows where you are and when you're returning.
- Set check-in times with others in the hunting party using cell phones, radios or in person.
- Halanski, M. & Corden, T. (2008) Wisconsin Firearm Deer Hunting Season: Injuries at a Level I Trauma Center, 1999-2004. Wisconsin Medical Journal. 107:(1):20-24.
- Brown J. Sikes RK. (1989) Tree stand-related injuries among deer hunters-Georgia, 1979-1989. MMWR. 38:697-700.
- Urquhart C. K, Hawkins ML, Howdieshell T. R, et al. (1991) Deer stands: a significant cause of injury and mortality. South Medical Journal. 84:686-688.
- Spinal Cord Injuries from Hunting Stand Accidents Common. (2011) UW Health News and Events.
- Lawrence, D. W, Gibbs, L.I; Kohn, M. A. (1996) Spinal Cord Injuries in Louisiana Due to Falls from Deer Stands: 1985-1994. Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society. 148(2):77-9.
- Tree Stand Safety. Michigan DNR.