Statistically, deer hunting is a relatively safe sport. According to data collected by The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms industry, hunting ranks third in safety when compared to 28 other recreational pursuits, ranging from baseball to bike riding.
In looking at the 2011 hunting season, NSSF said the vast majority of hunting accidents, more than 6,600, were tree stand-related. Hunters place tree stands at varying heights to gain an advantage over the deer’s keen sense of sight and smell. Experience is no protection against an accident.
Bill Dreyer of West Tisbury has been hunting most of his life. He estimates he has climbed up and down tree pegs and into and out of tree stands thousands of times over more than 40 years of bowhunting.
He prefers to place stands in trees where the branches provide plenty of cover and break up his silhouette. Last December, he unhooked his safety belt and stepped out of his stand and maneuvered around the trunk of a tree, but when he placed his foot on a tree peg it let go and he fell.
He grabbed for anything to break his fall. His leg caught a branch, slowing his descent. He estimates he fell about another 10 feet. Luckily, he was wearing a backpack filled with his hunting clothes that helped cushion the impact. Lying on the ground, shaken but unhurt, he knew he was very lucky to have escaped without injuries.
A study of tree stand falls by the Department of Surgery at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York said that spine and brain injuries associated with these falls result in a significant incidence of permanent disability and that hunting tree stand injuries are largely preventable with the proper use of safety belts. According to the study, 50 percent of the falls occurred while the hunter was climbing into or out of the stand.
Hunter Safety Systems is an Alabama company founded by avid deer hunters. One product, a 30-foot lifeline with a Prusik knot attached, is specifically designed to protect hunters while entering or exiting a tree stand, as well as while they are in the stand. The knot slides up and down the lifeline. Should a fall occur, the knot jams tight on the main line.
Many hunters also use climbing sticks, sectional ladders, as opposed to the traditional screw-in pegs. The sticks come in a variety of makes and models but generally provide surer footing and safer spacing than pegs.
A study of injuries due to falls from tree stands in Pennsylvania using injury data collected from 1987 to 2006 showed that from 1987 through 2006, 2.73 people per 100,000 licensed deer hunters were
injured from falls from tree stands. Seven people died. The study showed that accident rates were highest among hunters aged 40 to 49.
“It’s not if you’re going to fall, it’s when,” Mr. Dreyer said.