Falls from tree stands injure more hunters than firearm accidents, Illinois data shows

Between 2015 and 2019, 90% of the hunting accidents were from falls, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said. Many of the falls involve homemade tree stands.

Updated: November 25, 2021 - 10:11pm

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The dangers of hunting are not what many may think, said Curt Sinclair, hunting safety instructor for Illinois 4-H.

“It’s not the discharge of a firearm in a dangerous way,” Sinclair said. “The No. 1 accident that happens in hunting in Illinois is falls. Falls are the primary way that people get hurt and seriously hurt.”

Fourteen hunters died during hunting season in Illinois last year. Between 2015 and 2019, 90% of the hunting accidents were from falls, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said. Many of the falls involve homemade tree stands.

“The homemade deer stands are one of the primary problems,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair recommends buying a manufactured tree stand, rather than building one.

“It’s not going to be safe to build it in the first place: Hanging on with one hand and trying to build something with your free hand is very risky. And then to leave something like that up there, even if it’s safe when you build it, it deteriorates pretty quickly. Next year it won’t be safe,” he said.

In association with The University of Illinois Extension, Sinclair has produced three short YouTube videos – one video for each of the three different types of tree stands – that show how to install deer stands safely.

Once hunters have a tree stand, they need a good harness, Sinclair said. Every tree stand comes with a free harness, but some of them can be clumsy to use, he warned.

“I highly recommend buying a higher quality harness that is easy to get in and out of,” he said.

To work safely, a tree stand needs the right tree. Sinclair advises hunters to take the time to scout their location in daylight so that they can find a good sturdy tree.

“Particularly, when you're going to a new area, how are you going to find yourself a good tree in the dark?” Sinclair said.

Other safety tips include carrying a cellphone at all times.

*Carry a cellphone in your breast pocket,” Sinclair said. “If you get in trouble, dial 9-1-1. Even if you are way out in the woods, even if you can’t talk, rescuers will be able to find you. They can pinpoint where you are with your cell phone.”

He also advises hunters to plan ahead on how they can bring their deer back home.

*Think about how to get your fresh-killed deer out of the woods without giving yourself a heart attack. That deer doesn’t just walk back to the truck,” Sinclair said.

Dragging a deer is hard work. A field-dressed deer will weigh 200 to 225 pounds, he said.

“It’s very stressful on your heart to drag a big deer out of the woods,” Sinclair said.

Get some help or get a cart with wheels on it or a sled.

“It’s pretty easy to get real excited about big antlers and all that but none of it is worth your life,” Sinclair said.

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