During the deer hunting seasons last year in Illinois, there were 10 reported injuries of people falling out of tree stands. Overall, there were just 28 hunting accidents in Illinois, two of which were fatal.
So tree-stand accidents accounted for more than one third of the hunting accidents reported in the state last year. Both the 10 tree-stand mishaps and the 28 total accidents are fairly typical.
Tree-stand hunting is popular in Illinois, more popular than in Missouri. The biggest reason is that firearms hunters can't use rifles in Illinois. They must use shotguns, muzzleloaders or handguns, all of which are restricted in effective range compared to high-powered rifles. A tree stand, as any bowhunter will testify, is the best way to get deer up close.
National statistics show that a hunter is twice as likely to get hurt in a fall than get shot while deer hunting.
In a survey a few years ago by Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, nearly one third of all hunters had fallen out of deer stands. That's an amazing figure. It indicates, among other things, that only a small fraction of tree stand accidents are reported.
The study also found that 40 percent of these accidents occur while the person is climbing up or down from the stand. Some 27 percent occurred while the person was installing the stand, and only 15 percent occurred while the person was in the stand.
Not surprisingly, structural failure was involved in 30-40 percent of the accidents. Most of the failures were of tree branches, not stands themselves. But homemade stands failed a lot more often than commercial stands.
Those conducting the study concluded that the No. 1 cause of tree-stand accidents was the hunters' casual attitude about tree stands. Many hunters think they will never fall, or if they do fall, they won't be hurt. But most falls from more than just a few feet result in injuries. A fall from as little as six feet can result in broken bones. Spinal injuries are fairly common among fall victims. And every year people are permanently crippled or killed in tree-stand falls.
Here are the safety tips derived from the Deer & Deer Hunting 1993 and 1999 surveys:
* Throw away every homemade hang-on or self-climbing tree stand.
* Secure your safety belt immediately upon leaving the ground and keep it secured until you return to the ground. Securing the belt only after you are settled in the stand leaves you vulnerable during the most dangerous periods.
* Wear the safety belt around your chest, not your waist. Better, buy a full-body harness.
* Never use a branch as a temporary or permanent support. Most homemade stands do use branches for support.
* Never use a homemade stand older than a few weeks or a stand you just happen upon in the field. It might be poorly made or rotten.
* If your commercial stand is more than 10 years old, consider junking it and getting a new one. Safety strides in design have been made in recent years.