Despite efforts to emphasize safety, Alabama and Tennessee authorities report deer hunters are still falling out of treestands in disturbing numbers. There have also been hunting-related firearms fatalities in Alabama and Tennessee.
Randy Huskey, Hunter Education administrator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said, “The fatal firearm incident occurred during turkey season. Both hunters were in camouflage. The cause of the incident was ‘victim mistaken for game.”
Huskey said there have been three tree stand accidents reported – one of them fatal.
“None of the victims involved in the [Tennessee] treestand incidents were wearing a full body harness,” said Huskey. “All of the treestand incidents could have been avoided if the victim had been wearing a full body harness/fall arrest system.”
Of course the same is true in Alabama. Seven Alabama hunters had suffered treestand accidents during the current season 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 in Alabama, only one was wearing a safety harness.
Marisa Futral, Alabama Hunter Education Coordinator said the hunter who was wearing a harness, “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.”
In another Alabama tree stand incident, in Baldwin County, Daniel 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.”
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.”
The accident figures for the current season in Georgia were not immediately available. During the 2016-2017 hunting season there were 31 falls from treestands. Three of those were fatal. There were two firearms accidents, one fatal.
Deer hunting season in Tennessee remains open until Jan. 7, 2018 (Young Sportsman Hunt is Jan. 13-14). In Alabama deer season remains open in much of the state until February 10, 2018. Georgia’s statewide deer season is open until Jan. 14, 2018. An extended season in a few select counties lasts until Jan. 31, 2018.
Officials remind hunters of the 10 commandments of firearms safety:
1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Never shoot at water or a hard, flat surface. A ricocheting bullet cannot be controlled.
5. Don’t use a scope for target identification; use binoculars.
6. Never climb a tree, cross a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.
7. Store guns and ammunition separately. Store firearms under lock and key, and use a gun case to transport firearms.
8. Make sure your barrel and action are clear of all obstructions.
9. Unload firearms when not in use. Never take someone else’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check yourself.
10. Avoid drugs and alcohol when hunting or shooting. Even some over-the-counter medicines can cause impairment.
(Portions of this article provided by David Ranier, Alabama Dept. of Conservation)