Ever spent Christmas in the hospital?
It’s never a good time for a hospital stay, but, during these last days of the year — the holidays and all that goes with it — it’s a heartbreaking experience for all involved, family, friends, doctors and hospital staff.
It’s especially tragic when what caused hospital time could have been avoided, and even more of a tragedy when our state’s vast hunting community knows it’s going to happen.
Some hunter, either by negligence or accident, is going to fall from a tree stand now that deer hunting across the eastern half of our state is in prime time.
And don’t forget duck hunters and Saturday’s second-split opener to fill out the balance of a 60-day season. Combining water, boats, weapons, dogs, heavy clothing restricting movement and cold mornings and cold water, there’s the ever-present problem with hypothermia.
After years of compiling data on hunting (weapons) and ATV accidents, federal folks expanded counting hunting-stand accidents only during the past two seasons.
While there will be weapons fatalities in the woods, fields, swamps and marshes — you’d think it would be more, but on average less than one a year in Louisiana — tree-stand falls create a much more serious risk to hunters with ATV injuries coming in second on the serious-injury list.
During the 2015-2016 hunting season, emergency room reports showed as many as 40 tree-stand accident victims across our state. Only in the most extraordinarily rare instances were there no reported serious injuries ranging from broken backs, necks, arms, legs, ankles, severe lacerations, puncture wounds from falling on arrows, knives, protrusions from stands and whatever was on the ground. Some injuries are fatal.
A couple of years ago, Jay Everett from Hunters Safety Systems guided outdoor writers through a hunting-safety seminar: “We know 86 percent (of tree-stand accidents) are the result of falls while getting into and climbing from stands,” he said. That leaves 14 percent of the accidents coming from falling from a stand.
A number of companies are making hunting harnesses in recent years. You can Google these companies’ names, their products and product reviews.
A hint for families: a well-made and well-functioning harness might make an excellent Christmas gift for the hunter you want to keep safe.
Come home safely
From Everett’s talk, archery hunting groups, state and federal wildlife managers, the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited and the National Shooting Sports Foundation the list of hunting safety tips include:
- Never transport a loaded weapon on an ATV, UTV or other vehicle on the way to a hunting location. Trigger locks can help, aa bumps and hard turns can release a firing pin at any time.
- Check all stands, even now, for safety. For climbing stands, check chains, fasteners, seats and bases. For fixed stands, check for rust, weak or rotten wood, fasteners and chains or ropes. For homemade stands, check for weak or rotten wood. Make sure ladder, deck and sides can support your weight. And, when there are overnight freezes make sure ladder rungs are free of ice to avoid slipping.
- Make sure the tree you’re using is strong and healthy and can support the weight of the stand and your weight.
- Never carry a weapon, including bows and crossbows, on your climb into or leaving any stand. Use a rope to raise and lower unloaded weapons and other gear while climbing up and into the stand and when climbing from the stand.
- Use the three-point system when climbing into fixed stands: Keep two hands and one foot or both feet and one hand on the ladder at all times.
- For open stands, use a safety harness to climb up, sit in and climb down from the stand. This can prevent a sleeping hunter from a fall.
- Stow a whistle in the top pocket of your shirt to alert other hunters if you have a problem. Two-way radios and cell phones help, too. And carry a flashlight or other signaling device.
- Leave a “hunt plan” at home or camp with exact hunting locations, start time and when you plan to return.
- Always wear Hunter Orange when appropriate, especially when traveling to and from hunting locations, and when looking for downed game. State law allows Blase Pink as an alternative.
- Make sure your rifle or shotgun is working properly. Make sure your rifle is sighted-in for the ammunition you’re using.
- One rule becoming a standard at camps around the state is make sure all weapons are unloaded before allowing the weapons to be stored in the camp. Open breaches on rifles, shotguns and pistols should be mandatory.
- If you’re a duck hunter and will be traveling in deep, open water, make sure to wear a properly fitting life jacket to and from the blind. Carry a signaling device and always file a hunt plan.