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Beginning in 1999, tree-stand safety has been incorporated into the PA Hunter Education program, however there is an urgent need for veteran hunters to become more aware regarding tree-stand safety.

Photo by Charlie Burchfield

Hunting and safety go hand in hand. For decades firearm related accidents have been declining. And that’s good news. However a disturbing trend has been developing, growing, and affecting hunters.

Statistics compiled by the PA Game Commission revel that in 2016 there were 25 hunting related accidents, none of which involved a fatality. Firearm related accidents involving hunters must be reported. However there is a serious and disturbing trend that is negatively affecting today’s hunter.

A number of states began tracking tree-stand accidents. States that include Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Iowa keep track of tree-stand accidents. In PA when it comes to hunting related accidents, only those involving firearms are mandated to be recorded and investigated. However no longer is this classification relating to hunter safety overlooked.

The medical industry, triggered by emergency room incidents, reviewed data compiled by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. A review of data compiled in 2015 stated there were an estimated 4,000 tree-stand related accidents that occurred nationwide.

A tree-stand related study was initiated in 1998 through 2007 in Ohio. Data from the Ohio study, along with information compiled in Wisconsin and here in PA, provided a sobering picture relating to hunters and tree-stand safety.

In PA, hunting related accidents relating to firearms has been decreasing. However, an overlay of a graph of those same numbers which includes tree-stand related accidents shows that in 2002 tree-stand accidents drastically increased. Fact is, from 2004 to 2006 tree-stand accidents surpassed gunshot wounds.

After further review and looking back over time, it is important to learn that here in PA it was found that between 1987 and 2006 during deer season or the day before opening day, 499 sustained tree-stand injuries occurred. Seven accidents resulted in fatalities. According to the PGC those numbers represent an underestimate.

Further investigation revealed that the age class of hunters involved in tree-stand accidents were older, with an average of age of 45.

In 1999, the Hunter Education Program incorporated tree-stand safety into the mandatory HTE program. Today hunters under the age of 30 would have been exposed to tree-stand safety. The lack of safety education among older hunters may be a contributing factor to their increased risk.

So what can be done to improve tree-stand safety? The recent studies offer some guidelines.

Always use a full body safety harness and remain connected while going up, while in the stand, and descending from the stand.

Many hunters are still using older designed tree stands dating back to the 70’s and 80’s. Stands manufactured within this timeframe, along with homemade models, have proven to be prone to failure in the field.

When it comes to tree stands, don’t sell yourself short. Today’s commercially available stands are for the most part well-constructed and reliable.

When is the hunter most vulnerable to a tree-stand accident? It was found that 40 percent of falls occurred as the hunter entered or left the stand. While in the stand, hunting accounted for 29 percent of falls. Another 23 percent of falls are attributed to equipment failure.

Know your equipment. Read the safety data that accompanies tree-stands. Don’t modify the stand or its safety components. And if repairs are needed, use quality replacement parts. Annually check tree-stands for structural wear and defects.

It was interesting to note that tree-stand height was directly related to an individual’s ability to survive falling from a tree-stand.

Those falling from a tree-stand at 17 feet or lower to the ground are likely to survive. Over 24 feet or higher often result in death.

While serving in Vietnam I was stationed near Pleiku as part of my tour. Nearby at Camp Holloway was a Medevac unit that went by the call sign as Dustoff. When called, they flew often into hostile fire and lifted out those who needed immediate medical attention.

Simply put, Dustoff crews and their quick actions saved lives. From the time a soldier was wounded until he was on the surgical table it was inside of an hour. There was a 97 percent survival rate. Now what does that have to do with tree-stand safety? Plenty.

Studies indicate that those who become seriously injured in a tree-stand fall will require, on average, from fall to the emergency room, 4.2 hours.

Right now tree-stand falls have risen to the top of the list when it comes hunting related accidents. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Sure hunting is exciting, but take the time to be aware of reliability of any type of above ground vantage point. Be equally aware of your surroundings and don’t take anything for granted.

To learn more regarding tree-stand statistics, go to the PA Game Commission’s web site at http://www.pgc.pa.gov Within the RECENT VIDEO panel click on Webinar Play List then scroll down to: Tree Stand Falls: The Underestimated Risk.

Watch and listen, it will time well spent.


Where do you go to sight in your rifle before deer season? PA Wildlife Habitat Unlimited is sponsoring a range event on Saturday, Nov. 25th and the following day as well. The range will be open from noon until 4 p.m. each day

The Bennetts Valley Rod and Gun Club will host the event at their facility located just off RT 153 between Parker Dam and S.B. Elliot State Parks.

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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net

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