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UAB Study Looks At Tree Stand Accidents
By Mike Bolton
Posted Wednesday September 27 2017, 10:27 AM
Millions of deer hunters across the U.S. will climb into trees in the upcoming months as deer hunting seasons begin in each state. Tens of thousands of those tree climbers will be in Alabama.

With numbers like that, the law of averages tells you that a number of people are going to fall. Just how many people fall, and how serious are their injuries?

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences set out to answer what on the surface appears to be unanswerable questions by doing an exhausting seven-year study of tree-stand accidents across the U.S.

Hopefully, every Alabama deer hunter who has a family and others who love them will take a moment to look at the results of that study and think about the findings each time they get ready to scale a tree or come down from one.

The seven-year study documented 46,860 tree-stand accidents across the U.S. and gave some keen insight to not only the seriousness of accidents, but who is most likely to fall and who is most likely to take the risks that lead to falls.

The study seems to bear out the old cliché that the older you get, the smarter you get.

Not surprisingly, hunters between the ages of 15 and 34 are the most likely to suffer serious injuries in tree-stand accidents, according to Gerald McGwin Jr., the senior UAB investigator in the study. Hunters ages 15 to 24 had injury rates of 55.7 per 100,000. Those who were ages 25 to 34 averaged 61 injuries per 100,000.

The study shows that hunters older than 65 had injury rates of only 22.4 per 100,000.

McGwin says the fact that most tree-stand accidents involve younger hunters is significant because debilitating injuries in younger people are far more devastating than for older individuals. He said the reason is that tree-stand accidents often lead to long-term consequences that create both physical and financial hardships for those injured and their families.

McGwin suspects younger hunters may have higher injury rates for a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is that younger people continually show a willingness to take risks in all aspects of life. An older hunter, for instance, might look at a weathered old homemade tree stand and say there is no way he is going to climb into that. A younger hunter might not hesitate because it looks like a pretty good hunting spot.

A second reason that more younger hunters are injured in tree-stand falls is the simple fact that they spend more time hunting than older adults, McGwin said. Younger hunters may also be exposed to less safety information, thus they have higher accident rates, he explained.

Deaths from tree-stand falls are rare, the study showed. The study found that the most common injuries were gruesome fractures, most often to the hip or lower extremities, followed by injuries to the trunk, shoulder and upper extremities. That’s the kind of injuries that commonly occur when someone falls 15 or 20 feet and tries to land on their feet. Head and spinal cord injuries were less common but still significant, the study showed.

It would have been interesting to know a breakdown of what kind of stands were being used in each accident, but McGwin said the study was not able to determine what types of tree stands were in use when the injuries occurred. He said the group was also unable to determine if the stands were incorrectly erected or if the stand had a structural failure.

The study concluded by saying that, “First and foremost, hunters should be properly educated on the safe and proper use of stands, particularly those which offer little protection from falls (i.e., climbing and ladder stands). This includes the use of safety harnesses and regular maintenance of the stands, and for those hunters who prefer to build their own stands, proper instruction on construction of stands.”
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