Have a hunter in the family? Then it’s go time.
Deer hunters aren’t the only ones geared up for action, however.
Michigan hospital emergency staff sees hundreds of hunting-related injuries every year.
While some injuries are minor, Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital averages about 14 hunting-related hospitalizations a year.
The 2018-19 season landed 20 patients in the hospital due to injuries sustained from falling out of tree stands. One of those had a spinal cord injury, 11 had vertebral fractures, and one suffered a pelvic fracture.
2009-18 hunting accident statistics
- Total of 128 admissions due to fall from a tree stand
- No deaths
- 11 spinal cord injuries
- Multiple vertebral, pelvic, arm and leg fractures
These stats don’t include all the people who go to the emergency room for injuries that aren’t serious enough for overnight—or much longer—stays in the hospital or in rehabilitation units.
Alistair Chapman, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group critical care surgeon, helped lead a study into falls from tree stands and their impact on trauma centers. He knows first-hand how dangerous the season can be for hunters, especially for those who are overweight or fall from a height of 20 feet or more.
“Tree stand falls cause significant injury,” he said.
Emergency department doctors and trauma surgeons are particularly concerned about the increase in life-changing traumas such as spine fractures, brain injuries and paralysis from these falls.
“The infrequent use of safety harnesses is alarming,” Dr. Chapman said, sharing that less than 3% of the injured hunters in their study used a harness. In a couple of cases, the harnesses broke.
What gives? In 1997, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources changed hunting rules to allow firearm hunters to hunt from raised platforms. Since that time, the accident rate has climbed.
“The majority of deer hunters in Michigan are firearm hunters, so an increase in injuries was expected,” said Bruce Murray, MD, a Spectrum Health emergency medicine specialist.
An avid hunter himself, Dr. Murray added: “What’s unfortunate is that these are injuries that, in most cases, could be prevented.”
Records show that fall victims with arm and leg fractures account for the most injuries. Spine injuries comes in at a close second. Chest wall trauma is the third-leading cause of injury.
A broken limb may not sound like a big deal—unless you experience one. And Dr. Murray also quickly pointed out that the severity of these injuries is sometimes shocking.
“We see life-altering injuries every year,” he said.
So what can hunters do to avoid injury? Drs. Murray, Chapman and other safety experts have many suggestions.
Hunting safety tips you need to know:
- Tree stand safety is as important as gun safety. Follow that same approach to the tree stand as you do your gun.
- Never use drugs, alcohol or sedatives while hunting.
- Check permanent tree stands each time before use. Replace any worn or weak lumber before it breaks.
- Always wear a safety harness or belt while checking or using a stand.
- Read, understand and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing a ready-made tree stand.
- Inspect portable stands for loose nuts and bolts before every single use.
- Know what you should do if you slip while using a safety device. Make a plan.
- Use a haul line to raise or lower equipment.
- Keep firearms unloaded and arrows in a covered quiver when going up or down.
- Choose a tree large enough to support your weight.
- Never hurry to set up your stand. Take your time to check it over.
- Make sure someone knows the location of your tree stand and when you will be there, every time.
- Stay awake and alert. Always be aware of your position on the tree stand platform.
- Use a short tether between you and the tree when attaching your fall restraint device. This is to keep you in the stand if you slip or fall, not to catch you after you have fallen.
- Always carry a cell phone or other device to call for help if you need it. Keep it easily accessible.