Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Treestand accidents avoidable
- Virginia deer hunting numbers tail off
- Electric ski suit fails to create big buzz on the slopes
- Beech: A unique mountain resort (with photo gallery)
- Visit our Outdoors page
The Wild Life blog
Crunching a few numbers turns up an impressive figure regarding Virginia deer hunters.
The state has roughly 300,000 deer hunters who kill more than 220,000 whitetails annually. That means the success rate, even taking into account those who tag multiple deer, is still more than 50 percent.
Many got their start on Saturday with the state's early archery season opener. The biggest crush of hunters hitting the woods, for the popular early archery and general firearms season, is still about a month away.
Avid hunter Glen Mayhew has crunched some other numbers recently, but those results weren't as encouraging.
Mayhew, the associate dean for institutional research at Jefferson College of Health Sciences, recently surveyed more than 400 hunters about using treestands for deer hunting.
One of the shocking figures in the results was this: 38.5 percent.
That was the percentage of respondents who said they had experienced a fall or near fall from a stand.
How scary is that?
Fortunately, most of those incidents were either near falls, or falls in which any injuries were too minor to be reported - in many cases because the hunter was wearing a safety harness.
Still, a number of hunters end up seriously hurt each season after falling from stands.
Last season the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recorded 10 treestand accidents that were serious enough to be reported.
That's actually good news.
Not only was that the lowest total since the 2002-2003 season, but also none of the falls resulted in a fatality.
Since 2004, there have been 115 reported falls, resulting in five deaths and numerous serious injuries, including paralysis.
Based on Mayhew's survey, it's surprising the numbers aren't worse.
Only 55 percent of those surveyed reported that they always wear a fall arrest system. And 15.1 percent reported that they never wear one.
Looking at the types of stands hunters use provides a little insight into those numbers.
Just under 37 percent say they use climber-type stands, and 30.1 percent report using ladder stands.
Unlike hang-on stands, which are usually just a small standing platform and seat, ladder stands are beefier.
Many offer wrap-around shooting rests that provide a feeling of security.
I say this from experience, having used them often - almost never with a fall arrest system.
Many climber-type stands also have a bar in front of the seat, and that can provide a feeling of safety.
Personally, I use a harness with my climber. But one of my best friends hunts from a climber often and never wears a harness.
Many hunters who do wear harnesses hook in as soon as they reach their stand, even though safety advocates urge them to be harnessed from the moment they step off the ground until they get back on terra firma.
Those safety advocates know what they're talking about.
Of those 161 survey respondents who said they had fallen or come close to falling, 33 percent had their near miss while climbing, and 29 percent had their issue while descending.
Those figures point out the importance of using a system such as the Hunter Safety System Treestand Lifeline, which is a rope that runs along the tree from the ground to the stand.
Hunters clip in to a slip knot that moves easily while climbing or descending, but which cinches tight when under the tension of a fall.
You can buy a Lifeline three-pack for $100, or you can make your own using climbing rope for about $25 each.
Mayhew, who passed out his surveys at outdoors shows, found interesting reasons that hunters didn't use harness systems.
A troubling 36.6 percent simply didn't think they would fall. Nearly 20 percent felt that fall arrest systems were too complicated, and 12.7 percent felt that harnesses weren't comfortable.
Nearly 9 percent said they feared "suspension," in other words, hanging from the rope after falling.
Suspension can be a concern, especially when using obsolete safety belt systems as opposed to an upper-body harness.
And, it is a fact that even when wearing a full body harness it can take significant strength and dexterity to get back to the ladder after falling.
Still, that seems a better option than taking your chances with a 15- to 20-foot tumble to the ground.
It's not like the hunters who helped with Mayhew's research don't know any better. More than 86 percent have completed a hunter education course, where treestand safety has become an important topic.
During many of those courses, hunters who have experienced treestand accidents often come in to talk about safety.
They're hard to miss, because they're often in wheelchairs.
Their message is hard to miss, too, and it's one backed up by Mayhew's research.
You may think a safety harness is expensive, uncomfortable or inconvenient.
But those concerns are nothing compared to spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair.