This year, the weather looks like it is going to be great for the annual Mountain State Forest Festival.
I wish we had some weather like this when I was a member of the West Virginia Highlanders Bag Pipe Band. The first few years I was a member of that band, it was either pouring down the rain or cold with gusting wind. All this week when I have been downtown, the smell of steak hoagies, funnel cakes, corn dogs and French fries is everywhere.
n n n
The statewide deer archery season came in last Saturday, and Randolph County started it out with a tree stand fall. I heard the first report of this on a home scanner at about 8:45 a.m. The county emergency squad was bringing in a victim to the hospital complaining of severe pain in his lower back, hips and upper legs.
When I talked to one of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police Officers this week, I found out the extent of the young hunter's injuries. This person received a fractured coccyx (tail bone), cracked pelvis and a punctured lung. The distance of the fall was a measured 17 1/2 feet. Chances are, this individual is out for this year's hunting season.
Residents who choose to hunt from a tree stand need to remember that "safe hunting is no accident." For several reasons it is impossible to know just how many hunters are injured each year from tree stand falls. First, not all falls are reported, and nor everyone who falls seeks medical attention. Second, there is no national data collection agency and recording varies from state to state. Not all tree stand falls or accidents are recorded as a category by themselves in different hospitals.
About 75 to 80 percent of the tree stand accidents occur when the hunter is climbing up or down. The vast majority who are injured are not wearing a safety harness or vest.
Some reports have indicated that as many as 500 hunters are killed each year throughout North America involving tree stand falls. Another 5,000 to 7,000 are permanently disabled in some way and another 10,000 to 12,000 hunters have less serious injuries. The severity of the injuries appears to be directly related to the distance of the fall. However, even short falls (6 feet or less) can cause internal injuries, spinal injuries, and death.
The leading reason for tree stand falls appears to be improper stand installation and especially common those that are home-built and made of wood. I have only built one tree stand for myself, and I did it mainly for the enjoyment of putting it together. I felt that strength was important so I only used treated two-by-four studs for the complete stand (steps, frame, and platform). I did not use any one inch lumber or plywood. This stand was no more than ten feet above the ground.
It was in an outdoors magazine where I read that 10 feet is adequate and 12 feet is ample height. All the height that is really needed is where the deer have to raise their heads to see the hunter.
It was in the middle 1970s when I was hunting on the Laurel Mountain Ridge north of the fire tower when I saw a few tree stands that were well above 30 feet on level ground. Hunting in one of these stands is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Safety harnesses are not an option for the tree stand hunter. There are a necessity. Most of the commercial store-bought tree stands come with a safety harness. Hunters need to read the instructions so they are completely understood and they are familiar with the device.
Hunters should always make sure the steps leading to the stand are free of snow and ice. Ladders and steps can usually be cleaned off with a gloved hand. Step surfaces can be coated with skid resistant tape to allow a better climbing surface.
Picking the right tree is also important. Trees with medium-rough bark like oaks hold stands very well. Avoid trees with smooth bark like beech, and rough- barked trees like shell bark hickory. Always regard your safety harness as your most important piece of equipment. No matter what your physical condition may be, put the idea that you are indestructible out of your head and follow a few simple safety rules when you are hunting from a tree stand.