I’m one of the old line, and just assumed that everyone wore a safety harness when in a tree stand. But after watching a ton of bowhunting shows on television, I realize that there still are huge numbers of bowhunters that just don’t get it. We’ve all heard about the falls, and almost all of you have either fallen from a tree or know someone that has.
Take a hunter education course or a bowhunter education course (and either or both of those courses are mandatory for every hunter in every state) and you hear a lot about the need to wear a safety harness. Again, after such courses you’d think that all tree stand hunters would wear harnesses.
The reasons for wearing safety harnesses so obvious, yet a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences shows that younger hunters are less likely to wear safety harnesses than older hunters. And, since younger hunters make up the large majority of hunters, it seems that lots of hunters just don’t get it.
What is it that you guys do not understand? Do you really think that after you’ve fallen 15-20 feet to the ground that you always just get up and walk away? Do you not want to bowhunt any more? Do you not want to watch your kids grow up, or do you want to watch your kids grow up from a wheel chair? Do you not love your families, because the simple fact is that if you don’t wear a safety harness your chance of a spinal cord injury or death increases substantially. This study points out that such injuries to younger hunters are far worse than when they happen to older hunters simply because of the long-term physical and financial hardships they place upon the family.
I just read an Internet first-hand account of a young hunter whose job involved climbing poles and he had to wear a safety harness all the time. Yet, he went bowhunting, did not wear a harness, fell from a stand that was only eight feet from the ground, broke his neck and died instantly, leaving a wife and two young children. What the heck are we missing here?
The overall hunting accident numbers are relatively low compared to other outdoor activities. Most hunters do not fall from stands. Indeed, hunting is extremely safe, but why would any hunter want to chance being paralyzed from a fall? I don’t have the answer. All I know is that lots of younger guys are not getting it. I guess they feel they are impervious to the danger, are risk takers. They played football in school and got thru that OK, so wearing a harness just isn’t necessary. “I’m a real man.” Is that it?
Of course, younger guys also hunt more than older hunters, and that may be one reason that younger guys fall more. But the fact that you hunt more makes wearing a safety harness all the more important. Consider the data from this new study. Hunters between 15-24 have injury rates of 55.7 per 100,000, hunters between 25-34 years of age have injury rates of 61 per 100,000 hunters, and older hunters (over 65) have tree stand injuries of 22.4 per 100,000 hunters.
Hip and lower leg fractures were the number one injury, followed by upper body injuries. Next come spinal cord and head injuries. No wonder the injuries can be severe. When you hit the ground from an 18 foot high tree stand, you are traveling 30 miles per hour. The sad part is that I don’t think you are listening.
There is some older West Virginia data from a study published in the Journal of Trauma for tree stand accidents in my state from 1994-1999. The numbers are not inclusive and don’t cover all hospital reports. Still, over the six years, 90 hunters were hurt falling from trees, with 42 (47%) suffering extreme fractures, 30 (33%) had thoracic/lumbar spine fractures, 3 (3%) had broken necks, 18 (20%) had head injuries, 10 (11%) had broken ribs, 9 (10%) fractured their pelvis, 11 (12%) had contusions, 3 (3%) had collapsed lungs, 5 (5%) had injuries to internal organs, 8 had dislocations or sprains, and 11 had contusions. (Those totals add up to more than 90 simply because some patients had more than one type of injury). Oh yes, lest we forget, 7 (8%) hunters died from their falls. If you do not wear a harness, do not play the lottery. You will lose. Just a matter of time.
Based on these data, if you fall from a tree stand and are injured, there is an 8 percent chance that you will die. Then throw in those that are paralyzed. I don’t like those odds, and that is why, before the doctors screwed me up making it impossible to use tree stands, I always wore a harness. Once in awhile I still get in ladder stands, and guess what? . . . I wear a harness.
Another study showed that 74 percent of all such accidents occur while the hunter is entering or exiting the tree stand. Aha. You not only need to wear a harness in the stand, you need to wear a harness or one of those new safety lines you hook up to while climbing into and out of the stand.
Other data from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine collected from 1987 to 2006 in Pennsylvania showed that seven tree stand hunters died during that period. These Pennsylvania data were similar to the data from West Virginia; lots of spinal cord injuries, and most resulted from not wearing a safety harness. But the scary thing seen in these Pennsylvania data is the fact that accident rates jumped by a huge amount from 1987 to 2006. That particular study showed that the highest accident rates were hunters aged 40-49. Those hunters should have at least 20-30 years of experience and know all about the benefits of wearing harnesses.
Two trauma centers in New York and Maryland looked at 51 tree stand accidents from 1996-2001. Spinal injuries and fractures were the most common and three died. Only two of those 51 used safety belts. Another study of 22 patients from 1995-2005 showed a median age of 46 years, an average fall of 18 feet, alcohol use in 2, 13 of the 22 had injuries to the spine, 3 of those ended up totally paralyzed and 7 were partially paralyzed. Thirteen of the 22 needed surgery. So, fall from a stand and get injured and over half will need surgery and almost half will be totally or partially paralyzed. Are you starting to see a trend here? Being a risk taker is one thing. Ending up partially or totally paralyzed is another. Suffering from an injury that results in a situation where you can never get better is a challenge every day. I know from personal experience. It wasn’t from a tree stand fall, but a bad surgery, a really bad surgery, has made it impossible for me to ever get better. It’s been 2 ½ years and I’m still so angry I could spit broadheads.
The bottom line relative to hunting in a tree is simple. If you do not wear a safety harness, then you are an accident waiting to happen. And lots of you do not wear them. Why on Earth would you not do that?