What is the most dangerous thing in the woods? Mountain lions? Sasquatch? As more and more hunters go afield for their hunting adventures the chance of injuries or death increases. Statistically, the most dangerous thing in the woods is a tree stands. More hunters are injured in tree stand accidents than in all other hunting related accidents combined.
The number of injuries keeps growing. In many states now the tree stand related injury rate exceeds more than 50 percent of all hunting related accidents. Most tree stand accidents, an estimated 75 to 80 percent, occur during the transition from the climbing activity on to the tree stand or from the tree stand back onto the climbing device.
We really don’t know how many hunters are injured every year from tree stand accidents. Not all accidents are reported. Luckily, not everyone who falls has to seek medical attention, and even in those cases where the injured person does seek medical treatment, tree stand accidents are generally not recorded as a separate category of injury. Recording of this type of injury varies from State to State and there is no national collection of data.
Maybe one of the best estimates comes from Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine. The magazine did a survey and calculated that 37 percent of tree stand hunters will fall from a stand during their hunting career, and that about 3 percent of these hunters will suffer crippling injuries.
There are some hunter safety sources that estimate up to 500 hunters are killed every year across North America due to accidents involving tree stands. Another 5,000 to 7,000 are estimated to be permanently disabled and a further 10,000 to 15,000 hunters suffer less serious injuries.
Personally, I know several people who suffered injuries by falling from a tree stand. One hunting partner went to sleep while sitting in his tree stand and fell out. Luckily, he only suffered a concussion and some big bruises.
Another regular hunting buddy that had a tree stand fail on him. He was using a hang-on type stand. The deck folded out from the main bracket against the tree and was held in pace by two small cables. One of the cables failed and caused the deck to tip unexpectedly. The worst part of the fall was where he landed…..on an old hay rake. His main injures were from puncture wounds. Fortunately he too made a full recovery.
Rule 1: My first rule of being safe is, regardless of what type of elevated platform you use is, make sure your stand and what you mount it to is solid. Sounds simple, but ask around and see how many stories you hear about a tree stand fall that was caused by a rotten limb or tree trunk.
Rule 2: Wear a safety harness and get it tied off as soon as you get in your stand. Keep the free-fall distance short! I set my free-fall distance to be no more than 18 inches. The main reason for this is that I want to be able to get back on my stand by simply stepping back up, not hanging somewhere below until somebody shows up to help me.
Rule 3: Whatever you use to climb up/down to your stand, make sure it is solid and in good repair. A piece of 2x4 that was nailed to the tree five years ago is not a secure step!
Rule 4: Always maintain three points of contact. That means you are moving only one hand or foot at a time. The other hands/feet are in contact with the ladder or climbing rungs.
Rule 5: Use a haul line to get your gear up/down from the stand. There is no way you can maintain the three points of contact rule if you have one hand full of gear. And climbing with a backpack full of gear presents other problems.
I made a conscious decision a few years ago to eliminate using hang-on style tree stands, just because of the safety issue. All of my personal stands are now ladder stands. They are so much easier to climb and far safer.
If you’d like more information on the subject, check out the on-line videos from the Tree Stand Manufacturers Association at http://www.tmastands.com/. Be careful out there in the timber!