Two years ago to the month I wrote a column about bowhunters not wearing safety harnesses or climbing into and out of, or hanging, tree stands without safety devices. Then last week I read that two hunters in Pennsylvania died after falling from tree stands. In 2010 two other Pennsylvania hunters fell from stands and died.
In one of those cases, the rachet strap broke and the elderly man fell 22 feet and died. In the other, the 40-year-old bowhunter was found dead from head injuries at the foot of his stand. Then I read that so far this year there have been two hunters in North Carolina that died from falling from stands. And the previous year two more North Carolina hunters died from falls. What is going on?
I got on the Internet today and read some statistics from a 2007 study that showed that 55 percent of tree stand users are “not regular users of harnesses”. Can this be correct? Apparently it is. More interesting is that 80 percent of those hunters say they are “concerned with safety”. I don’t think so.
My column in 2010 talked about the fact that bowhunters just aren’t wearing harnesses. Young guys and bowhunters in their forties seem to be the most prone to falling, but after reading some recent newspaper articles on hunters falling, it appears that hunters of all ages have just not gotten the message. I know that younger hunters tend to feel that they can do anything and have no need for tree stand safety devices, but it appears that many older hunters also just shrug it off and go climb . . . and leave their widows to raise the kids.
Two years ago I posted the following data. I think it bears repeating. A new study (new in 2010) showed that 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 are 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 were not inclusive and didn’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.
Another study showed that 74 percent of all such accidents occurred while the hunter was 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.
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.
My health situation means that I no longer hunt from trees. Even if I had no health issues, at age 72, my reflexes aren’t what they used to be. I would be crazy to try to climb a stand without a safety device. I’d be even more crazy to get into a stand without a harness attached to the tree. I can climb a ladder stand, and I do, and I always am attached to something when I climb or sit in a ladder stand. I almost died twice from a bad surgery, and frankly I do not want to die just yet. I’ve got bowhunting to do. I’ve got grandfathering to do. I’ve got living to do.
But apparently lots of you don’t. I meet you at the local archery shop. Young guns who shoot bows like crazy. Young guns who are darned good bowhunters. Young guns who get good deer all the time, and are married and taking their kids hunting. Yet they do not wear safety devices when climbing into stands, or when setting stands. They act like they love their kids and wife, but one has to question their outlook on life when they shrug off comments related to them not wearing safety harnesses. I just don’t get it. I’m having too much fun hunting, and grandfathering, and just being here. Fred Bear once said if you haven’t fallen from a tree stand, you just haven’t bowhunted long enough. That may not be 100 percent correct, but it’s close. Go ahead, just keep gambling with your life. Based on the above Maryland and New York studies, 10 of 51 who fell ended up partially or totally paralyzed. Based on recent newspaper accounts, bowhunters are still falling and dying. Why?
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