The Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced that hunting “incidents” have fallen more than 75 percent since the 1960s and there wasn’t a single incident reported in the 2014 spring turkey season. Who can’t be happy with that report?
It appears the hard work of New York’s dedicated legion of hunter safety Instructors is paying off and that New York hunters have paid attention. The one thing that bothers me, though, is that the number of hunters hurt in falls from treestands is not considered a “hunting incident” and that no statistics are kept on that figure. I feel that is a mistake.
According to the DEC, only injuries involving firearms, bows, and crossbows are included in the annual report. Incidents involving treestand use or other hunter health-related mishaps are not. I can understand why if a guy has a heart attack while walking to his treestand this could be considered as non hunting related, but I can’t understand why a person falling out of a tree while hunting isn’t considered a hunting-related injury.
Every year I attend the Archery Trade Show, which attracts thousands of archery dealers from around the country. For the past several years I’ve noticed an alarming number of young men in wheelchairs on the show floor. I realize there could be a variety of reasons why they are confined to those chairs, but I just can’t help wondering how many of them are there because of a fall from a tree.
Other states such as Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, and Indiana keep such figures, and the statistics are alarming if not staggering. For example, in Indiana in 2012, there were 29 incidents reported of hunters being injured in non firearms-related accidents and 27 of those accidents involved hunters falling from trees! In Pennsylvania the same year, two hunters were found dead within 24 hours of each other and both fell from a tree. Need more? A team of medical researchers in Pennsylvania carried out a study on treestand falls. Their study of the database of emergency rooms and trauma centers covered the period 1987-2001. During that time 280 hunters received treatment for treestand falls. Of the 280 hunters, six died after falling from their stands.
In the Georgia hunting season of 2005-06, 54 percent of all hunting accidents were treestand accidents, with two fatalities. One hunter fell asleep in his stand and fell 17 feet, breaking his neck. The other fatality involved a hunter who was descending his stand, lost his grip, fell and died of internal injuries.
I could go on but my point is made. Hunters should become acutely aware that accidents involving treestands are many and they should be reported and treated as a hunting statistic because hunters are more likely to be hurt in an accident of this type than they are in a firearms-related incident. Most hunters think of themselves as bulletproof and take a this-won’t-happen-to-me approach to their safety, but information is a powerful tool and if they see how many others have been hurt in falls from trees or treestands perhaps we can reduce this grim statistic just as we’ve reduced the number of firearms-related accidents.
In speaking to several hunter safety Instructors or, as the DEC refers to them sportsman education instructors, treestand safety has been incorporated into the hunter safety curriculum and is emphasized to young and new hunters. For years treestand manufacturers have included a safety harness with every stand they sell and more hunters are using them, but from the number of injuries reported in other states in treestand related accidents, this is still not enough.
Hunters, especially seasoned woods veterans, should be made more aware as to how many of us are actually hurt every season while hunting from elevated platforms and this awareness can only come if they actually see the statistics of the number of hunters who are injured. It’s good to see the number of firearms-related injuries diminish, but to not keep statistics on the number of hunters who are killed or seriously injured every season in falls from trees and then report how much safer hunting was this year as compared to last year is simply not telling the whole story.