“It’s a tragic thing.”

We hear the stories so often we’re also desensitized to the headlines. “Hunter dies in fall from treestand” has become too common of a headline. Just this week there have been two more stories of hunters falling: one who survived and another who did not.

One report came from Phelps County, Missouri, where 45-year-old Mary Eaton and her boyfriend were hunting in Mark Twain National Forest, the Springfield News-Leader reports. They separated and she was later found deceased after falling from the treestand she was using.

“There was no safety harness in use,” the Phelps County Sheriff’s detective sergeant told the newspaper. “It’s a tragic thing.”

Treestand falls are absolutely tragic, but they’re also incredibly serious. They’re far too serious for any hunter to not use a safety line at the very least. Even if you survive a treestand fall, there’s a good chance you’ll be paralyzed.

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost is one of the lucky ones. He recently fell 20 feet from a treestand. According to The Kansas City Star, he’ll be in a wheelchair for only a few months, recovering from a shattered pelvis and four broken ribs. And that makes Yosts one of the lucky ones.

“I’ve got two pretty big rods and some plates and some screws holding my pelvis together, so you can imagine there’s no position that’s comfortable to be in right now,” Yost told The Star in a conference call. “I don’t think I’ve left this lounge chair since I’ve been home for more than five minutes in two days.

“Just try to find a spot where I can kind of relax and take a deep breath and try not to move for 10 hours.”

Yost indeed survived and will recover, but the outcome could have been worse. He told the newspaper that had he not had a functioning cell phone on him, “I would have died right there probably in a couple hours.”

Yost’s fall occurred while he was hanging a lifeline on his Georgia property, The Star reported. He said that while securing the lifeline and adjusting the treestand, the stand gave way “like a hangman’s gallow.”

The incident, which happened on November 4, was “eye opening” for the 62-year-old World Series-winning coach. Yost told the newspaper, “I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until I was through it.”

By the numbers

Dr. Dave Samuel researched treestand falls and their effects for his Know Whitetails column in Whitetail Journal. He reported the staggering numbers in the August 2017 issue.

Dr. Samuel detailed numerous studies showing the injuries of falling from a treestand, but none were more daunting than a study completed on 130 hunters admitted to the Ohio State University Medial Center. The mean age was 41, and 50 percent of the 130 admitted came from falls, while 29 percent were from gunshot wounds.

Of the 50 percent admitted for treestand-fall-related injuries …

  • 59 percent of patients had spinal fractures.
  • Surgery was required for 81 percent of those with spinal fractures.
  • 8 percent had permanent neurological deficits.
  • 3 of those who suffered spinal fractures suffered permanent paralysis.

Dr. Samuel’s column, which can be viewed in full here, continues on with numerous studies of how dangerous and life-threatening reality of falling from a treestand. Even in a best-case scenario, survival is still a life-changing experience.

What falling from a treestand is like

We all know someone (or at least of someone) who has suffered a treestand fall. It’s become increasingly common to hear, “I never thought it’d happen to me.”

Several years ago, Dr. Craig Harper, an Extension Wildlife Specialist at the University of Tennessee, told Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) about his 16-foot fall from a stand. Dr. Harper detailed what went through his mind as he fell to the ground:

First thought: “Oh sh–, that strap broke.”

Second thought: “I can’t believe this. I’m falling from a treestand. This doesn’t happen to me. This happens to people who are careless and unprepared.” (Yes, I know. That was me in this story).

Third thought: “This isn’t good. People get hurt very badly when they fall from trees. What will happen to me?!?”

Fourth thought: “When am I going to hit the ground?”

[Note: I know it is difficult to believe all these thoughts went through my mind in the milliseconds it took me to fall, but this is exactly how I remember it.]

Final thought: “Okay, here it comes, I’m about to hit.”

Dr. Harper told the QDMA his left foot hit the ground first. It buckled to the inside and he “crinkled like an accordion.” He said his face was the second thing to hit the ground.

He told the QDMA he remembers thinking, “Wow. I just fell from a stand, and I think I’m OK. My ankle hurts, but I think I’m okay.”

Dr. Harper could’ve been worse off. He snapped three bones in his left ankle, but, all things considered, he’s the luckiest of the lucky for suffering only those injuries.

Tips for treestand safety

We’re fortunate to live in a digital age that allows resources to be as easy as an internet search. I’ll make it even easier for you. Here are several stories we’ve published about treestand safety that could help you avoid a fall and keep you hunting safely.

Featured image: John Hafner