As the 2010 deer season wraps up in most states, hunters around the country are sharing their success stories and pictures. Many of us may already be preparing stands and scouting the woods for next years perfect hunting spot. We hope, plan, and dream of the trophies, memories, and the friendships involved in the outdoors experience.
I grew up in Tennessee where, like many states, hunting is a way of life. I’ve climbed hundreds of trees, built numerous tree stands, and spent hours upon hours in the great outdoors. Until recently I never really considered hunting a dangerous activity. My dad taught me, as his dad taught him, how to handle a firearm, how to climb trees, how to build stands, and how to respect the great outdoors. However, a few weeks ago I realized I need to be more careful in my hunting activities. I was trying to take down a ladder stand and had the stand collapse right out from under my feet, resulting in a tangle of body parts and metal falling about 17 feet to the rock hard ground below. As the stand fell it caught my leg and flipped me, forcing my head and face to absorb most of the impact (leading to between 40 and 50 stitches- I stopped counting at 40), injuring my wrist and ankle as well. I heard from my wife, partners, friends and multiple patients, “What on earth is a surgeon doing in a tree stand anyway?” The fact is that the tree stand straps broke just as I got to the top. How? Over the last four years the tree grew, the straps got tighter and weathered to the point of breaking when I climbed onto the seat of the stand. My point is: I thought that a ladder stand was the safest most reliable stand out there. I still believe they are, but I neglected to inspect, replace and maintain the stand and more importantly the straps. I read on several Internet sites recently that close to 100 hunters die or are permanently injured annually from tree stand related accidents. Another shocking statistic is that 1 out of every 3 deer hunters have fallen or have had a tree stand related injury during their hunting careers. The average age of an injury is around 40 years old, which means that even experienced hunters who know what they are doing are susceptible to tree stand accidents. So, I’d like to offer some advice to the novice and a reminder to the master hunters out there.
1.) Never climb into any stand without a safety system. A full harness and lineman’s strap is strongly recommended. Notice the hunter to the right is not using a safety system, this is extremely dangerous, and is not worth the risk.
2.) Inspect and maintain your stand. Check your straps, steps, braces, screws, and bolts every time you depend on them. The hunter to the right does do this part right, despite his not using a safety system.
3.) Avoid permanent, “homemade” stands. Remember that nails rust, trees grow and sway in the wind, and wood rots. This makes for a bad combination.
4.) Always create a “step down” entry onto hanging stands. This means to not use the stand as a pull up to enter the stand. This makes the stand rock and twist and could eventually make it unstable.
5.) Either hunt with a buddy or leave specific information with a family member or friend as to your exact hunting location so that if something were to happen, help can get right to you.
I heard a story this week about a man who lay at the base of a tree for over 18 hours before being found. Stories similar to this as well as my accident have persuaded me to be an advocate of tree stand safety. It is far too easy to simply look past tree stand safety, however it only takes one accident to put an end to the season. So, I’m preaching to myself as well as you. Be careful, take the time to do the right thing, be ethical, and always follow the rules. I wish you all safe hunting, and also that trophy of a lifetime.
Dr. Argo is fellowship trained and board certified in orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine. You can visit him online at www.doctorargo.com