With the statewide archery deer hunting season in full swing, it brings up the possibility of bowhunters falling from their tree stands. In fact, September is Tree Stand Safety month as designated by the Treestand Manufacturer’s Association who say most archery deer hunting is done from a tree stand.
Interestingly, a study of Vermont and North Carolina bowhunters revealed the following:
*74 percent of tree stand accidents occurred while climbing up or down or when installing/removing a stand.
*7 percent of tree stand hunters surveyed had an accident in the last 10 years.
*73 percent said poor judgment caused their fall.
*80 percent said safety was a concern, but actually believed that a fall wouldn’t happen to them.
*Types of stands used were, self climbing (43 percent); fixed-position (34 percent); ladder (18 percent).
*58 percent of hunters who fell were not wearing a fall-arrest system (FAS).
*34 percent of hunters surveyed now wear a FAS because of an accident.
*39 percent of accidents occurred at less than 10 feet.
*21 percent of the accidents were related to structural failure.
While I’m fortunate I haven’t as yet fallen, I did slip down a tree some years ago. I slid down about six feet after my Loggy Bayou climbing stand didn’t grip, and slipped. Lucky for me, I was only four feet from the ground when this happened. Eventually, the Loggy climbing stands were deemed unsafe and were taken off the market.
Other interesting facts, collected by Travis Lau, Pennsylvania Game Commission public information officer, list that hunters fell from a mean height of 17 feet. Additionally, older hunters were more likely to fall than younger hunters with the average age of fall victims being 47.5, and this at nearly six falls per 100,000 hunters ages 50-59 who endured the highest fall rate.
In October 2016, Dana Grove, of Waynesboro, was the third hunter admitted to York Hospital in one day after falling from a tree stand. Grove, Lau describes, was wearing a harness but had not yet secured it to the tree. He crashed 20 feet to the ground when he stepped onto the platform of a hang-on stand as the strap holding it to the tree broke. He suffered a broken back that left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down that took him a year to recover.
It was also learned that in Pennsylvania, 37 falls were due to the hunter slipping, misstepping or losing balance. Sixteen falls occurred when the hunter fell asleep, and 10 falls after the hunter fainted (these numbers don’t differentiate between firearms versus archery deer hunting seasons).
Bowhunters-Ed Association believes there is no valid reason to hunt from a tree stand that is 20 feet or more in height. They contend that as the height of a tree stand increases, the size of the kill zone decreases because of the steeper shot angle. And they can’t emphasize enough the importance of wearing a FAS. In fact, the state of Mississippi has made wearing a FAS mandatory for hunters who hunt from a tree stand in their state, a subject debated by the PGC but instead, launched an educational campaign.
Lau pointed out that you don’t need to fall far to hurt yourself, as Roger Long of New Columbia, Pa., found out.
While climbing down from a ladder stand on SGL #252 in Lycoming County in Oct. 2016, Long slipped just four feet off the ground and landed awkwardly on a log, shattering his ankle. He had to crawl out of the woods and it took him six months to recover. Subsequently, Long said he’s been more careful to pay attention to what’s on the ground beneath his stands and move objects like rocks and logs.
It was also noted that alcohol and drugs may have played a role in some falls.
To prevent these falls and fatalities, hunters merely need to adhere to common sense rules when hunting from a tree stand, and wear a FAS.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.