Younger hunters must take extra care to avoid costly, even catastrophic miscues

He’s a 22-year-old stud muffin, invincible, with testosterone raging and a nothing-bad-can-happen-to-me attitude. He has the world by the tail with only good stuff lying ahead.

One year later, he’s a 23-year-old paraplegic, destined to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. 

What happened to cause such a life-altering change? He made a critical error in judgment while climbing into his deer stand. He hadn’t bothered to check the condition of the wooden steps he’d nailed to the tree a couple of years ago. He’d scooted up these steps to reach his deer stand dozens of times without mishap. Did he use a safety harness? Nah … he didn’t need that.       

This time, though, was different. He reached for a step not taking the time to see that it had rotted during the off-season. It pulled free and he hit the ground a dozen feet below with a thud, his lower back landing on a root that protruded from the ground. A vertebrae was shattered and long story short, he’d never walk again.

Dr. Bobby Dale, a lifelong hunter, is also an emergency room physician who practices medicine in his hometown of Tupelo, Miss. Visiting with Dr. Dale at a writer’s conference, we had occasion to talk about what is more likely to injure hunters while hunting. Dale noted that contrary to what many believe, it’s not the older and more fragile hunter who is more apt to be injured; it’s the strong, virile, younger guy.

“From what I’ve observed from patients I have seen in the ER where I practice, it’s the younger one more prone to suffer serious injuries while hunting. This is particularly true concerning falls from elevated deer stands. In fact,” Dale said, “I recently read a report that revealed the majority of bow hunters who fall from tree stands are in their 20s and 30s. Also, about 10 percent of these injuries are alcohol-related.

“While it is true that guys in their 50s and 60s and older have bones that are more easily broken, I don’t see nearly as many injuries from falling from a stand from this older group. It’s just a fact that the older guy is more cautious,” he added.

Dr. Dale noted that a fall, even one from just a few feet, can result in serious injury. Obviously, the further you fall, the more serious injuries become, he said.

“I’ve seen victims who fell from stands come to the ER with everything from closed head injuries, bleeding on the brain, spinal fractures with paralysis, broken arms, legs and ribs, collapsed lungs, ruptured spleens in addition to profuse external bleeding,” Dale said. 

While mishaps using homemade deer stands are more likely to result in serious injuries, manufactured stands can also cause falls if not used properly.

“Manufactured stands have to meet a safety code and the vast majority of these stands are safe when properly used. However, they still have to be secured to the tree in the proper manner to be completely safe. Climbing stands are quite safe but when care is not taken in using them, they can result in twisting or slipping when not correctly secured to the tree. The result can be disastrous,” he added.

I’ve deer hunted from elevated stands for years fortunately without incident and I want to keep it that way. Therefore, I have developed a personal rule-of-thumb in my deer hunting.

The older I git, the closer to the ground I sit.

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