By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Despite a concerted effort by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Hunter Safety Program, Alabama deer hunters are still falling out of treestands in disturbing numbers.
Plus, there has been one firearms fatality where the cardinal rule of unloading your firearm before exiting your deer stand was not followed.
Seven Alabama hunters had suffered treestand accidents as of December 1. Fortunately, there have been no fatalities in the falls, but several serious injuries were reported.
Out of the seven reported treestand accidents, only one was wearing a safety harness.
“The safety harness prevented serious injury,” said Marisa Futral, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator. “He was coming down the tree and his treestand went out from under him. He hit his face on the tree pretty hard and broke his nose. The harness kept him from getting hurt any worse.”
WFF Conservation Enforcement Officer Vance Wood shared an account that occurred at the Perdido Wildlife Management Area in Baldwin County.
Daniel Jares and Wood, who once served in a Coast Guard unit together, shared on Facebook about the incident, where the victim came perilously close to losing his life
Jares said he got a phone call at about 2 p.m. from a good friend. The phone service was sketchy at best but he determined his friend had fallen from a treestand, couldn’t move his body from the chest down and could barely breathe.
“There was little to no service, but I caught a few words as to where he was. I made out, ‘Close to river on an oak flat; you’re going to need a four-wheel drive,’” Jares said. “I searched the woods for hours and hours in my truck just to find his truck so I could find a starting point.”
Jares had earlier notified the WFF enforcement crew in Baldwin County and Baldwin County Search and Rescue. After two hours of searching, Jares found his friend’s truck parked under a big tree that caused it to be hidden from the search helicopter.
With more than 20 people searching, several searchers tore through thick underbrush along the river as the sun started to fade. After a parallel grid search, Jares came up on a little ridge. Jares was yelling his friend’s name and finally picked up a weak response. He ran to find his friend under the tree. The friend suffered a broken back. He subsequently had two surgeries and is facing a long road to recovery.
“It's a miracle we found him before dark,” Jares said. “So, please wear your safety systems. You don't want to have a broken neck or back or even run the risk of losing your life. The officer said if I hadn’t answered that call, he probably wouldn't have made it.
“I wanted to thank the hunting community for all of the love and support and sharing this to bring awareness. I'm blown away. The post received over 1 million views in less than 36 hours and close to 3 million now. I know without a doubt in my mind this post saved lives. I had messages from all over the country of young and old saying thanks for the eye opener; we are praying. If I could help save one life, it's worth it. Trust me, you don't want to stumble up on your buddy miles deep in the woods in this condition.”
Futral said this many treestand accidents this early in the season is a concern.
“This is a lot of accidents for it only being through November,” she said. “Last year, we had 13 treestand accidents (two fatalities), and I think it was 12 the year before. With seven this early in the season, I hope hunters will hear about these incidents and take treestand safety more seriously. It takes only one misstep to cause serious injury or even death if you’re not wearing your safety harness and using the safety equipment.
“And we are stressing that hunters should make sure they are connected to the tree in some way when they are climbing and descending the tree. We have had several accidents where hunters have been wearing their safety harness but they fell going up or coming down the tree. There are products available now that keep hunters attached to the tree at all times. We want it to hit home that people need to be connected when their feet leave the ground until their feet hit the ground at the end of the hunt.”
Two Alabama-based companies make products that keep hunters attached while they are using ladder stands or hang-on treestands. Hunter Safety System makes the Lifeline, while Summit Treestands makes a 30-foot safety line.
Futral said she didn’t have the final report on the firearms fatality at this time.
“From what I’ve gathered from news reports, the mentor was handing the rifle down to the 15-year-old when it discharged, striking the youth in the chest,” she said. “That breaks the rules of unloading your firearm before you climb into or out of your stand, and never point your firearm at anything you don’t want to shoot.”
Two other firearms-related incidents occurred on a dove field where two hunters were peppered by shot from other hunters. No serious injuries were reported.
Futral reminds hunters of the 10 commandments of firearms safety:
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
- Control the muzzle of your firearm. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction; never point a firearm at anything that you do not wish to shoot, and insist that your shooting and hunting companions do the same.
- Be sure of your target and beyond. Positively identify your target before you fire, and make sure there are no people, livestock, roads or buildings beyond the target.
- Never shoot at water or a hard, flat surface. A ricocheting bullet cannot be controlled.
- Don’t use a scope for target identification; use binoculars.
- Never climb a tree, cross a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.
- Store guns and ammunition separately. Store firearms under lock and key, and use a gun case to transport firearms.
- Make sure your barrel and action are clear of all obstructions.
- Unload firearms when not in use. Never take someone else’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check yourself.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol when hunting or shooting. Even some over-the-counter medicines can cause impairment.
PHOTOS: Most treestand accidents can be prevented if hunters use a full-body safety harness and have it attached to the tree at all times after leaving the ground. New products allow hunters to remain attached to the tree while climbing into and descending from ladder or hang-on treestands.