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Safety precautions can help prevent ‘life-altering’ injuries from tree stand falls

Hunting is a tradition for many Michigan families and can be rewarding and fun when the proper safety precautions are taken. Each fall, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital provides rehabilitation to hunters injured while hunting, mostly in falls from elevated tree stands.

treestand-safety1Such falls are often very serious and can result in multiple trauma, complete or partial paralysis, traumatic brain injury and even death. In 2015, five men received rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed after falling 15 to 25 feet from tree stands. All five sustained multiple fractures, including spinal fractures that resulted in varying degrees of muscle weakness and paralysis, said Jackie Wondolowski, Network Director of Mary Free Bed’s Spinal Cord Injury Program.

“The people we see at Mary Free Bed are just a few of those injured in tree stand falls that occur throughout the state,” Wondolowski said, noting there is no comprehensive information on hunting accidents in Michigan.

Such falls are “truly just accidents,” she said, and can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Structural failure of tree stands or their components exposed to the elements
  • Loss of balance
  • Use of tree stands when tired
  • Use of tree stands in icy or rainy weather
  • Not using or improper fastening of safety harness
  • Use of tree stand after consumption of alcohol or medications that affect agility or alertness

The average inpatient rehabilitation stay can range from days to months, depending on the severity of the injury, and includes hours of specialized physical and occupational therapy. Speech therapy may be needed if a hunter also incurred a brain injury.

Recreational therapy can help people with disabilities get back to hunting safely.

“Injuries from tree stand falls can be life-altering,” Wondolowski said. “Taking proper safety precautions is key.”

To avoid a tree stand accident this hunting season, follow these safety tips:

Tree Stand Safety Tips

  • Always try to hunt with a buddy. If you go out alone, tell someone where you’re hunting and when you’ll return. Always carry a cell phone, but remember: a cell phone is useless if you’re unconscious or too injured to reach and use it.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs before or while hunting. Avoid taking medications that cause drowsiness prior to hunting.
  • Always wear a full-body safety harness when hunting from a tree stand. Never use a waist belt or rope as a substitute.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of your tree stand.
  • Keep hands free of equipment when ascending or descending a tree. Instead, use a haul line to get equipment into and out of your stand.
  • Choose your tree carefully. Opt for one that’s as straight as possible and note that smooth-barked trees — like aspen, beech, hickory and maple — can get slippery in rainy or snowy conditions.
  • Only climb healthy trees and don’t rely on tree limbs to hold your weight when you’re climbing into or out of a tree stand.
  • Wear boots with non-skid soles. Steps or platforms may be slippery in rain, sleet or snow.
  • Keep your weapon locked and unloaded until you are up/down safely from your tree stand.
  • Inspect hunting equipment before and after each outing and maintain it properly.
  • Climb higher than your stand and step down onto it. Climbing up into the stand can dislodge it and cause a fall.
  • If you’re tired, hunt from the ground instead of a stand.

Visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for additional hunting education information.

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