Gravity vs. Bullets: Which Is The Hunter’s Worse Enemy?

During my years working as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) on an Advanced Life Support ambulance service I responded to over 6,000 documented emergency runs.   As you can imagine…I certainly witnessed my fair share of bad accidents, heart attacks, suicide attempts and the like.   But occasionally the one type of 911 call I would go on that bothered me the most was out in the woods…responding to a call for an injured hunter.

Fortunately, I can count on one hand how many hunter-related emergency calls I actually responded to over the years, but they each had their effect on me.   More often than not the injury was not as a result of the hunter getting shot.   Nope, it was usually the hunter sustaining a fall from a tree.   Sometimes it was slipping and falling while climbing the tree.   Other times it was slipping on the tree stand itself or falling off when the hunter momentarily dozed off.   Yet, other times it was the hunter who climbed a permanent stand and didn’t realize that repairs were really needed before the season to make it safer.

In each case…the hunters learned the hard (and might I also say the painful) way.   Some of the hunters were downright embarrassed to have caused all the commotion.   Other hunters were touched by the thought of dying…and the relief of seeing our faces finally brought back a slight bit of hope for survival.   Truth is, whenever I had to cut open the hunter’s clothing to expose the injury I could often imagine myself laying there in the same situation.

Not sure why…but I could go on car accident after car accident and I would not usually relate to the victim (even though I drive a car) quite like I could relate to hunters who prematurely ended the day’s hunt with a body-injuring fall.

Accidents happen…and sometimes no matter how cautious you are in the woods it doesn’t seem to matter.   If you subscribe to the theory that accidents always happen to the other guy then I could almost assure you that you stand a better than average chance at being the next victim.   Seasoned hunters, as well as novice hunters, are just as likely to get injured while out in the woods, especially when using an elevated stand.Treestand

There are many problems associated with deer stands.   First, just a few decades ago it was common to be a mere 10’ or so off the ground.   These days some hunters will climb much higher seemingly to gain an advantage.   And that’s fine, but with each increment higher a person travels the more damaging or deadly the potential fall becomes.   As hunters we need to ask ourselves…is the risk of going higher in the tree really worth the slight advantage it might give you in bagging a deer?   Or the other question could be…is a deer really worth taking any health risks at all by even climbing, especially as we grow older and hopefully more wiser.

Yesterday the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released its annual tree stand safety reminder that you can read here.   It’s chocked full of helpful advice on what precautions to take and how to stay safe in the woods.   I’m not going to get preachy here and dwell on those tips…because quite frankly, most of us know them anyway.   At least, those of us who function in our lives using common sense have a pretty good idea what strategy to follow to be safe.

Still, that doesn’t mean that every now and then we shouldn’t review the guidelines and determine if our behavior is leaving us susceptible to injury.   If I didn’t learn anything else while working in the ambulance business I learned one thing — LEARN FROM OTHER PEOPLES’ MISTAKES.   That’s right.   When you see a hunter laying there beneath his deer stand you can’t help but feel a bit of empathy for the poor fella.   You count your blessing that this time it was not you…but you still realize that what just occurred can honestly happen to anybody…anywhere…at almost any time.

This fall as we enter the upcoming hunting seasons I hope each of you are inspired to play it safe while in the woods.   Believe me…I would much rather carry a dead deer out of the woods than a 220 pound guy laying on a backboard with another 30 pounds of gear being used to stabilize their injuries.   It’s just not a whole lot of fun for either the victim or for the rescuers.   As a matter of fact, it’s damn hard work!

Indeed, the big perception by the non-hunting public is hunting is such a dangerous sport.   And I won’t initially discount the validity of that statement.   Problem is, most people perceive that getting shot is the big safety fear for most hunters while enjoying their time in the woods.   The simple truth is you are more likely to suffer from injuries caused by a fall (gravity) than you will from a gun (bullet).

Stop for a moment to consider all the close calls you’ve had either climbing or sitting in a tree stand.   I once fell while climbing down from a stand when my pant cuff caught the tree step and I lost my balance.   What was most painful wasn’t the fact I didn’t clear all the thorn bushes away from the base of the tree where I landed.   Nope, instead what caused lingering pain was the pulled groin I suffered when my legs suddenly got stretched in some wild, unsuspecting manner.

Let’s face it accidents happen quickly…and they happen to everyone…I can assure you that nobody is immune unless they stay out of the woods and choose not to hunt.   But you can reduce some of the problem by preparing for the unthinkable and learning what steps need to be taken to play it safe.   I can assure you the wrong time to be thinking about all of this is when you are laying in a heap of excruciating pain beneath your tree stand.   By then, my friend, it is far too late to do much about your situation.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.