COEUR D’ALENE - November is synonymous with deer hunting for many people in northern Idaho. Although a large number of people participate, there fortunately are very few accidents. In fact, statistics show that a hunter is far more likely to be involved in an accident while traveling in a vehicle to a hunting location than while actively hunting.
As for accidents and injuries when actually deer hunting, firearms are not the leading cause of injury. According to 2015 hunting accident data, there were around 4,000 hunters in the US who were injured when they fell from tree stands.
Hunting deer from a tree stand is not as common in Idaho as it is in the Midwest, but the use of tree stands is growing here along with the increase in whitetail deer numbers. While few mule deer are taken from tree stands, getting above the line of sight of a whitetail that generally follows a daily routine is a big advantage for whitetail hunters.
The latest issue of ‘Journal’, the quarterly publication of The International Hunter Education Association (Fall, 2017) includes an article on tree stand safety by Dr. Glen Mayhew, President of the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation. Mayhew is a Dean of Health Sciences and also a paramedic. He refers to the ‘ABCs’ of tree stand safety as simple yet effective ways to remember key actions for those who use tree stands to stay safe.
The letter ‘A’ can help hunters to remember to Always remove and inspect a tree stand before using it. Of the 700 tree stand accidents that Dr. Mayhew reviewed, approximately 1/3 could have been prevented if the hunter had inspected their equipment according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Many of these falls resulted from worn straps breaking after the stands had been left in place and strapped to a tree following the previous hunting season. UV rays, tree growth, rodent chewing and other factors weaken even nylon straps over time.
‘B’ refers to Buckle. Tree stands come with harnesses to prevent falls. A harness must be worn and buckled every time a hunter’s feet leave the ground. Dr. Mayhew said that 86% of tree stand fall victims did not have a harness on.
‘C’ stands for Connect and is referring to connecting the harness to the tree at all times. 99% of the people injured in tree stand falls were not connected to the tree by a harness.
Tree stand hunters usually use commercially produced equipment. Most public agencies allow removable, store-bought stands but do not allow permanent stands to be built on public lands. However, there are many ‘permanent’ hand-made tree stands in the woods on both public and private land.
If a hunter made the stand, they know how old it is and how sturdily it was built. However, a constructed stand that you find may not be well built or it may be old and the wood may have rotted.
A few years ago, a local hunter tore his bicep when he was climbing into a stand that collapsed. He grabbed a branch as he was going down and completely detached the bicep muscle. He was fortunate that is the only injury he had. But, he didn’t feel very fortunate when his shoulder sling ended his hunting season on opening day…and he didn’t have any meat in the freezer!
If you do build a hand-made tree stand on private land, harnesses can be purchased at nearly all sporting goods stores and they are certainly every bit as important in a constructed stand as they are in a commercially made stand. But hunters should keep in mind the fact that nails, screws and wood will deteriorate over time making these stands very dangerous. Climbing high into a tree and relying on the strength of the materials used is not recommended.