Tree stands account for majority of hunting accidents

Meg Jones
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

If it can happen to former Brewers manager Ned Yost, it can happen to any hunter heading into the Wisconsin woods this weekend.

A deer hunter secures a tree stand in Trempealeau County. Tree stands are used by 84% of firearms hunters and 97% of archery hunters, according to the Wisconsin DNR.

Of the 600,000 deer hunters expected to participate in the nine-day gun-deer season starting at first light Saturday, four out of five will use a tree stand. Statistics are even higher for bow hunters.

The Kansas City Royals skipper was checking a tree stand on his property in Missouri earlier this month when the bottom fell through as he attempted to clip on his safety harness. He fell 20 feet, crushing his pelvis and coming very close to bleeding to death. Had it not been for his cellphone, and cell reception, he admits he would have died.

Every year in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, hunters are hurt and killed in tree stand accidents. In fact, accidents involving tree stands have replaced firearms accidents as the leading cause of hunting-related injuries and deaths in the U.S., according to a 2015 Marshfield Clinic and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources study. 

"Hunting from height definitely provides benefits and enhances a hunter's chance of seeing and bagging a deer," said Brenda Von Rueden, DNR Hunter Education Program specialist.

 "With that benefit obviously comes risk if they're not careful," Von Rueden said.

Though tree stand safety has always been a part of the state's hunter safety courses, it became mandatory in 2015. Tree stands are used by 84% of firearms hunters and 97% of bow hunters, according to the DNR.

The Treestand Manufacturers Association offers a free online tree stand safety course.

The state tracks all firearms-related incidents but not tree stand accidents that don't involve firearms since those are not required to be reported. In 2015, a hunter was shot and killed when he handed a loaded rifle to a companion sitting in the same tree stand and the other hunter, who was wearing mittens, accidentally grabbed the trigger.

Firearms-related hunting accidents and fatalities have dropped in recent years with more people taking hunter safety courses, which are required for hunters born Jan. 1, 1973, or later. The wide use of cellphones has sharply lowered emergency response times and allowed injured hunters to call for help.

And the requirement that hunters must wear blaze orange clothing — mandatory since 1980 — has improved visibility.

There were no firearms-related fatalities during the gun-deer season in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 or last year.

This year for the first time children 9 and younger can hunt with an adult who is within arm's length in Wisconsin.