Tree Stands a Major Hunting Risk

Deer season is underway in Michigan and successful hunters transporting their prizes are a common sight. Unfortunately, hunters injured in falls from tree stands and blinds are now a common sight in emergency departments.

Every year hunters across the country are injured and killed in falls from tree stands and homemade tree blinds. In 1997, hunting rules were changed in Michigan that allowed firearm hunters to hunt deer from raised platforms. At the trauma center at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, veteran emergency physicians say they’ve seen an increase in the number of hunting-related falls since that change.

 “The majority of deer hunters in Michigan are firearm hunters so an increase in injuries was expected,” says Emergency Medicine Specialist Bruce Murray, M.D., an avid hunter himself. “What’s unfortunate is that these are injuries that in most cases could be prevented.”  In the past five years, an average of nearly 17 hunters each year has required hospitalization at Butterworth Hospital.

Fall victims with multiple internal injuries are the largest group of hunters treated at the Butterworth Hospital trauma center, which is the largest in West Michigan. Hunters with spine fractures and those with arm and leg fractures also account for a large number of injuries.
The severity of these injuries is shocking, said Murray. “Broken limbs and internal injuries are common from these falls. Even worse are the tragic brain injuries, spinal fractures and paralysis we treat. We see life-altering injuries every year and sometimes fatalities.”

Murray says that hunters need to put as much emphasis on tree stand safety as they do on gun safety.  “Trained and responsible hunters are aware of the dangers of carrying a loaded gun and take proper precautions. We need to follow that same approach to reduce injuries from falls. I also want to stress not using drugs, alcohol or sedative type medications while hunting”

Falling while getting in or out of a tree stand, not wearing a safety harness at all, or falling asleep unharnessed are common ways hunters are injured, Murray says. The following safety tips come from the Tree Stand Manufacturer’s Association.

  • Check permanent tree stands every year before hunting from them, replacing any worn or weak lumber before it breaks. When checking these stands, always wear a fall restraint device like a safety harness.
  • Read, understand and follow factory-recommended practices and procedures when installing commercial stands.
  • Inspect portable stands for loose nuts and bolts each time the stand is used.
  • Use either a safety belt or harness anytime you leave the ground to hunt from a tree stand. Know what you should do if you slip while using a safety device.
  • Use a haul line to raise or lower equipment, and keep firearms unloaded and arrows in a covered quiver.
  • Select a tree large enough to support your weight before the season.
  • Some mishaps occur as hunters are hurrying to set up their stands on opening day.
  • Make sure someone else knows the location of your tree stand and knows when you will be hunting there.
  • Stay awake, and make sure you use a short tether between you and the tree when attaching your fall restraint device. The object is to keep you in the stand should you slip or fall, not catch you after you have fallen several feet.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and 565,000-member health plan, Priority Health. Spectrum Health’s 13,000 employees, 1,400 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.  The organization provided more than $100 million in community benefit during its 2006 fiscal year. Spectrum Health has earned more than 50 national awards during the past 10 years.