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Current Trends Tree Stand-Related Injuries among Deer Hunters -- Georgia, 1979-1989

Tree stands are elevated platforms used for hunting large game; they provide an expanded field of vision while minimizing ground scent. To characterize unintentional hunting injuries associated with the use of tree stands, the Georgia Department of Human Resources and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) studied all tree stand-related deer hunting injuries (reported on Georgia's mandatory Uniform Hunter Casualty Report form) for the 10 hunting seasons (mid-September through mid-January) during 1979-1989. A tree stand-related injury was defined as any injury associated with any device used to hunt deer from a tree. The number of big game (deer, bear, and turkey) hunting licenses issued in Georgia from the 1979-80 through the 1988-89 seasons was obtained from the Fishing and Game Licensing Bureau, GDNR.

During the 1979-1989 hunting seasons, 594 deer hunting-related injuries (including 85 fatal injuries) were reported in Georgia--a mean rate of 24.9 deer hunter injuries per 100,000 hunting licenses sold per year (range: 11.2-32.4) (Figure 1). Of these, 214 (36%) were tree stand-related (8.9 tree stand-related injuries per 100,000 hunting licenses sold per year (range: 2.4-13.7)) (Figure 1); 17 (8%) of these were fatal.

All the tree stand-related injuries occurred during hunting season. Tree stand-related injuries occurred in 89 (56%) of the 159 counties in Georgia; however, 24 (11%) injured hunters were residents of one of the five bordering states. The median age of injured hunters was 38 years (range: 8-72 years). Of nine who were less than 16 years of age, four were hunting without the supervision of an adult greater than or equal to 21 years of age.

The type of hunting weapon was known for 178 tree stand-related injured hunters: 139 (78%) were hunting with a rifle; 23 (13%), with a bow and arrow; and 16 (9%), with a shotgun. Fractures and strains or sprains were the most commonly reported injuries (Table 1). Cervical spine fractures accounted for 16 (10%) of the fractures. Injuries to the trunk and extremities included fractures of the lumbar vertebrae, ribs, wrists, and ankles.

Unintentional discharges of firearms caused 27 tree stand-related injuries and eight (47%) of the 17 fatalities. The firearm discharges occurred while the hunters were carrying their firearms up to or down from a tree stand or on impact after a fall.

One hundred eleven (52%) hunters were injured by falling from a tree stand, 49 (23%) fell while descending from a tree stand, and 40 (19%) fell while climbing to a tree stand; for 14 (7%), this information was unknown. Mechanical failure (i.e., collapse of the tree stand or its steps) occurred in 68 (32%) of the incidents. Eleven (5%) hunters reported they had fallen asleep in their tree stand immediately before falling, and eight (4%) either admitted to or were suspected of being intoxicated at the time of their incident.

For 65 injured hunters, information regarding participation in a hunter-safety course was indicated on the report form: 43 (66%) had not completed such a course. None of the 214 injured hunters were wearing a safety harness or seat-belt device at the time of injury. Reported by: J Brown, Georgia Dept of Natural Resources; RK Sikes, DVM, State Epidemiologist, Georgia Dept of Human Resources. Div of Field Svcs, Epidemiology Program Office; Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury Epidemiology and Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In previous reports on injuries among the approximately 20 million recreational hunters in North America, the role of tree stand-related injuries has not been emphasized (1-5). This investigation found that, in Georgia, tree stand-related injuries accounted for 36% of all reported hunting injuries and for 20% of hunting-related fatalities and that morbidity was substantial--73% of those injured sustained fractures (including fractures of the cervical or lumbar vertebrae).

In 1987, the North American Association of Hunter Safety Coordinators received reports of unintentional firearm injuries in 1792 hunters in 47 states and nine Canadian provinces--a rate of 9.2 firearm injuries per 100,000 licenses sold (1). Twenty-seven percent of injured hunters were less than 21 years of age, and 66% had not completed a hunter safety course. Younger hunters may be at higher risk for firearm injuries (2-5), suggesting that inexperience and poor judgment contribute to injuries. In most states, a hunter-safety course is required before a hunting license is issued. In Georgia, a mandatory hunting training law (enacted in 1977) requires only persons who were born after 1960 and are greater than or equal to 16 years old to successfully complete the approved hunter-education course to obtain a hunting license; persons who were born before 1961 or who are less than 16 years old are exempted from the course (6).

Although safety devices (e.g., belts and harnesses) could prevent injuries from falls in Georgia, none of the tree stand-related injured hunters were wearing safety devices. In addition, some injuries resulting from mechanical failure of tree stands might have been prevented if hunters had inspected construction (including nails and bolts) and pretested the tree stands before use. The injuries and fatalities resulting from the unintentional discharge of weapons might have been prevented if the hunters had unloaded the guns or bows during placement and had used pull-up cords to raise or lower the weapons.

Hunter-safety courses in Georgia now require instruction on tree stand safety, with an emphasis on use of safety devices and pull-up cords to move unloaded weapons. Pamphlets (7) and a videocassette (8) that promote tree stand safety are commercially available.*

References

  1. North American Association of Hunter Safety Coordinators. Hunting accident report, with graphics of 1983-1987 data. Seattle: Outdoor Empire Publishing, 1987.

  2. Carter GL. Accidental firearm fatalities and injuries among recreational hunters. Ann Emerg Med 1989;18:406-9.

  3. Cole TB, Patetta MJ. Hunting firearm injuries, North Carolina. Am J Public Health 1988;78:1585-6.

  4. Morgan PL, Hudson P. Accidental firearm injuries in North Carolina, 1976-80. Am J Public Health 1986;76:1120-3.

  5. Ornechult L, Eriksson A. Accidental firearm fatalities during hunting. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 1987;8:112-9.

  6. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Game and Fish Division, Law Enforcement Section. Georgia hunter evaluation handbook. Seattle: Outdoor Empire Publishing, 1987:2.

  7. Richter F. Tree stand guide. Murray, Kentucky: National Bowhunter Education Foundation, 1988.

  8. Poland TM. Tree stands: above all safety first (Videocassette). Columbia, South Carolina: Pebblecreek Production, 1987. *Mention of these products is for reader information only and does not imply endorsement by the Public Health Service or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.



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