Alabama hunters fell out of tree stands at an alarming rate during the recent deer-hunting season. Fourteen fell and four died - the highest number of fatalities from tree-stand falls ever seen in a single year in the state, says the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The national numbers are grim, too. According to a 2008 Consumer Product Safety Commission report, 41 hunters were killed and about 19,000 were injured in tree-stand-related accidents between 2005 and 2007.
The irony? Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham published a study calling attention to this preventable risk in the December 2009 Journal of Trauma® Injury, Infection and Critical Care. It revealed certain target areas for preventing tree-stand-related injuries, including safety-education campaigns that recommend the use of safety harnesses and regular maintenance. Watch video
The researchers, led by Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., associate director for research at the UAB Center for Injury Science, also discovered that hunters ages 15-34 are most likely to suffer serious injuries in tree-stand-related incidents. These higher injury rates may reflect a willingness to take risks, less exposure to safety information and more time spent hunting than older hunters, all which underscore the need for improved hunter-safety education, he said.
"The vulnerable, young hunter population should be specifically targeted to decrease the number of preventable injuries," McGwin said. Hunters ages 15-24 had injury rates of 55.7 per 100,000; those ages 25-34 averaged 61 injuries per 100,000. Hunters age 65 and older had injury rates of only 22.4 per 100,000.
"The elevated injury rate among younger hunters is significant, because debilitating injuries in younger people are far more devastating than for older individuals because of the potential long-term effects that create physical and financial hardships for patients and their families," said McGwin.
The most common injuries from tree-stand falls are fractures, mostly likely in the hip or lower extremities, followed by injuries to the hunter's trunk, shoulder and upper extremities. Head and spinal-cord injuries were less common, but still significant, he said.
"Hunting can be safe - provided hunters have the appropriate training and safety equipment," said McGwin. "Improvements in the safety design and proper use can help to minimize the burden of injury in the hunter population related to tree stands."
Six of the 14 falls in Alabama this year were caused when the nylon strap securing the tree stand to the tree broke, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; the nylon straps were weakened by dry rot after being left in the woods for long periods.
ADCNR suggests a few simple, life-saving hunting-safety tips:
- Inspect your safety harness, stand and tree before each use.
- Always wear and use a full body harness anytime you are climbing, sitting or descending from an elevated position.
- Always pull your gun or bow up with a pull-up rope. Firearms should be unloaded, action open and safety on.
- Inspect all safety devices when you take down your tree stand at the end of the hunting season, including the full body harness and devices securing the tree stand to the tree.
- Re-inspect everything again before the next hunting season.
More information about hunting safety and an in-depth video on tree-stand safety in online at www.outdooralabama.com.