Deer hunting season is in full swing across Georgia, which means hunters will be climbing into tree stands and potentially putting themselves at risk of serious injury.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the state has an average of 43 hunting incidents each year, and the majority of injuries involve tree stands.
But don’t take our word for it. Ray King, deer hunter and director of environmental health for the North Georgia Health District, has a warning for Georgia deer hunters about their tree stands, along with expert advice on how to stay safe.
I can name at least six personal friends who have been seriously injured in deer stand accidents. You probably can, too. By seriously injured, I mean that something got broken other than their pride. One friend broke both ankles and had to lie there all day until his family came looking for him that night. It rained and he was so cold he got hypothermia.
Surveys have shown that more than one-third of all deer stand hunters will fall from a stand some time in their lives. About half of those who fall will break a bone. About 3 percent of those who fall will suffer permanent injuries like paralysis. Doing something different and dangerous is part of the pleasure of hunting, but don’t be foolish. Here’s a typical real story of a hunter who was injured.
“I fell from a stand that I built in a tree four years before,” said the hunter. “I was climbing up into it to hunt, but had not checked to see if the steps were still solid. I was only about five feet off of the ground when one of the steps broke loose from the tree. The nails had rusted through. I ended up breaking my right arm at the elbow and it took eight weeks to heal. I also missed the entire hunting season. That’s the last time I ever used a homemade deer stand in a tree.”
Building your own tree stand from wood is a bad idea. And, okay, I’ve done it, too, but would not again. If you are going to build your own stand from wood, at least make certain that you only use treated wood. Don’t just nail steps up a tree made of pieces of a two-by-four. This is by far the most dangerous way to get into a tree stand. And how will you know if wooden steps are still secure next year until you start climbing up?
Most injuries don’t happen by falling out of the stand itself, but as we climb up or down from it. Here are some safety reminders:
- Look for equipment that is certified by the Treestand Manufacturers Association (http://www.tmastands.com/).
- Take your time getting up or down. Think about what you are doing and not how big that deer might be.
- Inspect your stand before each use. For portable stands, look for loose nuts, slick surfaces, cracked or bent metal and worn chains or straps.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and using your stand. This is, I know, particularly difficult for men.
- Practice setting up your stand until you know what you are doing. Remember, with a portable stand, you will be setting it up before daylight or after dark.
- Avoid trees that are leaning, dead or dying, have excessive leaves or vines or have icy, wet or loose bark.
- Always use a safety harness while getting up or down from your stand. In a 10-year study of deer stand injuries in Georgia, none of the 214 injured hunters were wearing a safety belt or harness.
- Leave your safety belt attached when stepping into your stand.
- Always use a safety chain for portable stands.
- Of course, don’t carry anything (especially your rifle or arrows) up or down as you climb. Bring these up with a rope and lower them with a rope. Never chamber a round in your rifle until you are secure in your stand. And don’t leave your rifle or arrows directly below when climbing. Falling and getting shot will just ruin your hunting day.
- Never hunt without telling someone exactly where and when you will be hunting, and when you will return. Remember my friend with the broken ankles?
- Take account of the weather conditions. Ice, rain, sleet and snow increase your chances of falling.
- Carry some basic survival gear with you including food, water, a whistle or horn, blanket, matches or a lighter and a flashlight. Two-way radios are also a great idea.
- Turn on your flashlight when walking to or from your stand in the dark. Otherwise, another hunter may mistake your moving silhouette for a buck.
- Remember that you really don’t have to be very high up to hunt effectively. It’s not a contest to see who can be the highest hunter in the forest.
- If you shoot a deer, don’t get overly excited and rush down to the ground. Not only could you make a misstep and fall, but the injured deer may just run farther away. Sit where you are after your shot for at least five minutes and take your time getting down.