Tree stand falls most common hunting accident

FILE — An Arkansas Game and Fish Commission sign in downtown Little Rock is shown in this 2019 file photo.

According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s recently released “2023 Hunting Incident Report,” hunters in the state last year reported the fewest hunting accidents requiring medical attention since 2010. Sixteen incidents were recorded, including two fatalities.

“With nearly 307,000 licensed hunters last year, that’s one serious injury out of every 20,000 hunters and one fatality out of every 150,000 hunters. That’s lower than most outdoor sports, but one injury or death is still too many,” said Joe Huggins, hunter education coordinator for Game and Fish.

Far and away, falls from tree stands remain the leading cause of hunting injuries and fatalities.

“Ten of last year’s 16 injuries were falls from tree stands, and one of the two fatalities was from a fall,” Huggins said. “It doesn’t take a huge height to make a fall fatal; we’ve had fatalities and major injuries occur from as little as 8 feet. If you land on your head or neck or fall on your hunting equipment, bad things can happen.”

Huggins points out that the number of injuries might be more if you count preseason preparation. The report only counts injuries when a person is hunting. Many people preparing stand locations face the same danger of a fall when clearing shooting lanes and setting stands before the season begins.

“A lot of people will leave hang-on stands up all year, and the strap that holds the stand to the tree gets weathered, gnawed on by rodents and otherwise compromised,” Huggins said. “It may look fine until you put your full weight on it, then it snaps. We also have stands where metal components rust and weaken, causing catastrophic failure at some point during the season.”

Huggins stresses that the best way to avoid injury from tree stand falls is to always use a full-body safety harness. In every tree stand injury reported last year, the victim was not wearing a safety harness at the time of the fall.

“You need to be connected to the tree from the time you leave the ground until you are back down,” Huggins said. “Probably two-thirds of falls occur when people are climbing into the stand or getting back down. We’ve had many people who were wearing their harness but only had it connected to the tree when they were sitting in the stand.”

Huggins says a lifeline running up to the stand enables hunters to have that constant contact with the tree to be secure throughout the climb.

“It’s also important to have at least two people present while placing a stand to help secure it. Use all the braces that come with the stand, according to the instructions,” Huggins said. “Take some extra time to practice using your stand at home and get familiar with it before heading to the woods.

“The more time you prepare for the hunt, the safer and more comfortable you will be when it’s finally time to get in the tree.”