Pennsylvania hunters are now more likely to be injured in a fall from a tree stand, than from a gunshot.
The average age of hunters who fall from tree stands is 45.
Hunters who fall 17 feet from a stand tend to survive. Hunters who fall 24 feet often die.
A Pennsylvania hunter who spends 50 years in the woods chasing deer with both bow and gun has a 1 in 20 chance of being injured in a fall from a tree stand at some time during his or her hunting career.
“That’s a staggering number that is really concerning to us,” said Andrew Hueser, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s administrator of the hunter-trapper education program.
August is Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month. Last week, the Game Commission hosted a webinar to discuss the increasing trends in tree stand accidents, and the challenges the nation faces in trying to turn those statistics around.
At the start of the webinar, Hueser noted that all data regarding tree stand accidents likely is understated, because there really is no one tracking such accidents.
In most states – including Pennsylvania – tree stand accidents do not have to be reported to the governing wildlife agency.
“The only requirement is for accidents involving gunshots to be reported to us,” Hueser said.
But trauma centers across the nation keep diligent records of the patients that come through their doors, and so several states have done studies searching for victims who have “hunting,” “hunter” and/or “tree stand” listed on their patient report forms.
The information Hueser presented last week regarding tree stand accident statistics came from three such studies – one each from Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania study tracked 499 tree stand accidents that required trauma center visits from 1987-2006.
Hueser said there likely were many more accidents than that, because there certainly were accidents that weren’t reported at all or they weren’t labeled at trauma centers with terms that were caught by the researchers’ net.
Seven of the reported accidents were fatal. (Hueser explained the fatal accidents recorded were ones where victims died at or after visiting a trauma center. Anyone found dead in the field would not have been included in the study figures.)
Among the fatalities, the average tree stand height was 24 feet. By comparison, the average height of tree stands among those who fell and survived was 17 feet.
“That should give hunters something to think about when they hang their stands,” Hueser said. “How high do you really need to climb?”
On average, it took 4.2 hours for victims to get from the field to a trauma center.
Although hunter numbers in Pennsylvania have been on the decline, tree stand accidents have been on the rise.
“There’s no question, the popularity of tree stands is increasing, and so that’s why we’re seeing more accidents,” Hueser said.
A follow-up study in Pennsylvania is underway now to look at trauma center data here from 2007-2016.
The Ohio study focused on 130 hunting-related accidents of all types in the Columbus area from 1998-2007.
Of that total, 46 percent were tree stand related, while 29 percent involved firearms. And of the tree stand accident victims, 59 percent suffered spinal fractures, 81 percent required some type of surgery and 8 percent were left with permanent neurological problems.
The Wisconsin study, which researched trauma center records from 2009-2013, found that hang-on tree stands were the most common stands used in accident situations. Ladder stands ranked second and climbing stands third.
Nearly 60 percent of all accidents in Wisconsin occurred when hunters were either climbing into or out of their tree stands.
So what can states do to keep hunters from falling out of their stands?
That’s a tricky question, Hueser said.
In Pennsylvania, tree stand safety instruction was added to the hunter-trapper education course required of all first-time hunters. But the average age of the hunters falling is 45.
“They’re not the ones taking hunter ed,” Hueser said. “We need to educate adult hunters who are already out there.”
Social media campaigns are underway to help spread awareness of the following safety tips:
- Always wear a full-body restraint harness. (The majority of fall victims in all the studies were not wearing harnesses.)
- Stay connected to the tree from the moment your foot leaves the ground, until it returns.
- Don’t leave stands out in the elements all year long.
- Inspect your stands and ladders before using them.
- Let someone know where you’re hunting, and when you expect to return.