American hunter | Treestand Falls: The most common deer hunting accident

Treestands became synonymous with white-tailed deer hunting after the 1970s; Today more than 80 percent of firearm hunters and 90 percent of archery hunters blow up. Unfortunately, researchers predict that 5,000 to 6,400 deer hunters across the country will need medical attention this year after falling from trees and populations, far exceeding gunshot wounds, the greatest threat in the white-tailed forest.

Recent studies have shown that every year around five out of 10,000 deer hunters (0.05 percent) need medical attention after falling trees. The likelihood of getting a gunshot wound while hunting is at least 90 percent less.

In part, this is because the risks to booth users are cumulative. Two recent Wisconsin studies found that the more you blow up, the more likely you are to fall and need medical attention. If you are a serious hunter who stands in trees from late summer to early winter each year, your life expectancy (over 50 years) of needing medical attention after your fall is 1 in 20 (5 percent). If you are just bowhunting your chances improve to 1 in 36 (2.7 percent). and if you only go gun hunting, your odds are 1 in 91 (1.1 percent).

Conservative estimates
These results come from two scientific studies by the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that analyzed five years (2009-2013) of hospital data from north-central Wisconsin. Researchers rated their estimates as “conservative,” including an estimate that put the lifetime risk of “potentially debilitating tree fall injury” for year-round hunters at 3 percent. When researchers included injuries that did not require medical care, the lifetime chance of a fall rose to at least 30 percent. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it resembles the oft-quoted 37 percent risk calculated 25 years ago in a non-scientific study by Deer & Deer Hunting magazine.

Of the 39 documented tree falls that Wisconsin researchers analyzed from 2009 to 2013, two caused death and one caused paralysis. 35 fall victims (90 percent) were overweight or obese, a rate 30 percent higher than the general population of the area. Bowhunters made up 30 of the falls (77 percent), though Wisconsin’s gun hunters were 6-4 more than them. Bow hunters suffer at least twice as many falls and near-falls (28 percent) as weapon hunters (13 percent). That’s likely because the state’s archery season lasts nearly four months, and archers hunt, on average, 4.5 times more than gun hunters.

Consistent problem
The Wisconsin results are consistent with research across Whitetail Land. A 2002 study of Vermont and North Carolina found that 7 percent of deer hunters fell from trees. 22 percent of the victims needed medical care. A 2010 Ohio study of 10 years of data found that half of all deer hunting injuries were falls that require medical attention, and 92 percent of those affected are standing. In contrast, gunshot wounds made up 29 percent of the injuries treated.

Tree stand-related injuries are usually serious, as victims can fall at 30 mph on impact. The Ohio study found that 81 percent of victims needed surgery. 59 percent of their injuries involved spinal fractures, 47 percent “lower extremities”, 18 percent to the head, and 8.2 percent to permanent neurological problems.

In New York, officials reported six deaths related to tree falls in the fall of 2017. A Pennsylvania study from 1987 to 2006 of hunting accidents documented 499 tree fall victims. Although the injury rate – 2.73 per 100,000 licensed hunters – seems relatively low compared to other studies, it still included seven deaths. However, it is difficult to determine annual tree stand deaths across the country. A nationwide review found 62 tree stand-related deaths from 1980 to 2001.

Theories exposed
Most studies, however, debunk common theories and stereotypes that suggest that drugs and alcohol cause accidents. The Wisconsin researchers found little evidence of alcohol consumption. Of the nine incidents that included blood alcohol tests for victims, only one assessed alcohol consumption. Of the 325 blood alcohol tests available in the Pennsylvania study, only 24 showed legal poisoning and only seven detected illegal drugs.

How do tree stand accidents happen? Deer & Deer Hunting polls in 1993 and 1999 showed that roughly half of this occurs when hunters climb, step onto, step out of, or step down from trees. The Wisconsin studies also found that 36 percent of falls occur when hunters dismount after dark, and 18 percent are due to structural defects such as broken harnesses and steps.

Unfortunately, most deer hunters ignore the advice to use a fall arrest device the entire time they are on the ground. The Wisconsin studies found that only 33 percent of bow hunters and 23 percent of gun hunters said they always wear a “seat belt or fall arrest device”. In fact, 14 percent of bow hunters and 20 percent of gun hunters did not have a seat belt.

Persistent problem
This could explain why no study confirms progress in reducing tree stand accidents despite more than 20 years of increased safety training, near universal availability of full-body harnesses, and nearly 20 years of industry standards for equipment testing on tree stands and harnesses.

This is in stark contrast to improvements in firearm safety and requirements for Hunter Orange. As the Wisconsin researchers note, one in 3,100 deer hunters was accidentally shot during the 1914 deer season, resulting in 24 deaths. Almost a century later, only one in 95,143 hunters was accidentally shot in 2012, and only one accidental shot was fatal.

If someone knows how to make deer hunters 31 times safer using tree stands today, they’re keeping it to themselves.

HSS hybrid
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