Each year, hunters suffer severe – and sometimes fatal – injuries after falling from tree stands. Kelly Merz, a spinal cord injury recreational therapist at Mary Free Bed, said that spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries are two of the most serious injuries that can occur – but they can be avoided if hunters take the appropriate precautions.
“Accidents happen because hunters are not following the proper guidelines or using the right safety equipment,” Merz explained. “Some fail to use safety harnesses or to tether them properly when they are climbing into or out of a tree stand. Others are climbing with a bow or gun or cup of coffee in their hand or reaching out to a previously reliable tree branch that has weakened over time.
“Falls can happen to novice hunters in their 20s or experienced hunters in their 60s. But there are precautions you can take to lessen the likelihood of an accident – and to increase the likelihood that medical help will reach you if you need it.”
• Always use a safety harness if you plan to use a tree stand. “Some hunters feel harnesses are too expensive or an unnecessary bother,” she noted. “After all, if you’ve been hunting without one for 30 years, why change? But the DNR agrees with us on this – if you are in a tree stand, you need to be in a safety harness. Each season, make sure it is in good working order.”
• Check the stand before the first hunt. “Many times, hunters are using a tree stand that their grandfather built or that they built 10 years ago,” Merz said. “Rungs can weaken over time, platforms can be compromised. It’s important to check the stand before you start the season.”
• Move equipment safely. “Most accidents happen when you are climbing into or out of a stand,” she cautioned. “It’s a good idea to haul your gear, rather than carry it. Remember to unload your gun or secure your bow before hauling.”
• Stay tethered in the stand. “It’
• Have a communication plan in place. “It’
Merz said that Mary Free Bed treats an average of three victims of hunting accidents annually for the past three years. The average length of stay fluctuates with the severity of the injury, but can range from 4-12 weeks. Most want to get back to the sport of hunting as soon as they are safely able to do so.
“There are a lot of different options available to hunters with paraplegia or tetraplegia due to a spinal cord injury,” Merz said. “There is an amazing amount of adaptive equipment available. Additionally, hunters can use special permits and vehicles that will allow them to return safely to the activity that they love.
“No two spinal cord injuries are the same, and no two people will recover in the same way. At Mary Free Bed, we focus our therapy on the individual and their needs to identify the best equipment and protocols.”
Merz noted that:
• Hunters who are unable to walk more than 200 feet can qualify for permits to hunt from a standing vehicle or an off-road vehicle. Mary Free Bed regularly helps patients with the permitting process.
• Adaptive hunting equipment is now widely available. Merz noted that gun and crossbow supports and tripods are fairly common for disabled hunters. New devices are also available for hunters with tetraplegia who are unable to support a gun.
• Adaptive tree stands using lifts or ratchet systems are also available.
• Mary Free Bed also works with families to show them how to safely lift or assist their disabled hunter safely.
For more information on Mary Free Bed’s adaptive hunting resources, please contact Merz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has additional recommendations for tree stand safety at 1.usa.gov/qteH9I.
About Mary Free Bed
Founded more than 100 years ago, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is an 80-bed, not-for-profit, acute rehabilitation center. Its mission is to restore hope and freedom through rehabilitation to people with disabilities. Mary Free Bed offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for children and adults using an interdisciplinary approach. Also available are numerous specialty programs designed to increase the quality of life and independence of people with disabilities. For more information about Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, please visit www.maryfreebed.com, or call 800.528.8989.
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