Tree Stand Accidents, not Guns, Account for Majority of Hunting Injuries and Deaths
When Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost suffered a near-fatal hunting injury in 2017, it drew national attention to a growing problem. The 62-year-old skipper was hurt while hunting in the woods of his Georgia property, requiring an emergency airlift to a nearby hospital. Yost’s injuries were extensive, including a shattered pelvis, multiple fractured ribs, and puncture wounds that would have caused him to bleed to death had he not been able to use his cell phone to call for help. But Yost’s injuries weren’t gun related; his brush with death was the result of a tree stand accident.
Tree stands have become necessary equipment for most deer hunters. They allow hunters to avoid being spotted or smelled by their prey and give a greater view of the surrounding area. Because of this, tree stand accidents have become the leading cause of hunting fatalities and injuries across the country.
Ned Yost’s injuries weren’t a freak occurrence. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at tree stand injuries from 1999 to 2013, and found that 55 percent resulted in spinal injuries. New York State officials reported only one gun-related hunting fatality in 2017 compared to five deaths involving tree stands. In North Carolina, 3 deaths and 22 hunting injuries were reported. All were from tree stand accidents.
While it may be easy to write these injuries off as user error, there is plenty of evidence to suggest many tree stand accidents are a result of poorly designed and cheaply manufactured products. Outdoor Underwriters, an insurance company that works exclusively with hunters and outdoor organizations, looked at 27 of the most serious tree stand injuries that resulted in medical bills exceeding $50,000. Of these, more than 1/4 of the injuries were attributed to mechanical issues with the tree stand. Similarly, the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation examined tree stand death and injury statistics from 2010 to 2016 and concluded that 31 percent of falls were attributed to mechanical issues like broken straps, stands, or ladders.
Like many specialty products, tree stands are not regulated by the federal government, and are only subject to voluntary regulations. This lack of oversight and quality control may be responsible for several tree stand recalls on models like the API Outdoors “Marksman” in 2015 and the Summit Explorer SD in 2016. Most of these recalled models were manufactured in China for sale in the United States. And because of the way many of these products are licensed, manufacturers may be supplying the same basic tree stand to multiple importers. This can make it difficult to identify widespread design failures, since they can be labeled as different brands and models once reaching store shelves.
Without proper regulation, or even a centralized system to collect data, tree stand accidents will surely continue to cause catastrophic injuries to hunters.