More NYS hunters died from tree-stand falls last year than from shooting incidents

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

This tree stand is in woods on the outskirts of Altamont. Four hunters in New York State died after falling from tree stands. The Department of Environmental Conservation says it is not always notified when falls occur.

The 2022 hunting seasons tied with 2021 for the safest year, with the lowest number of hunting-related shooting incidents since record-keeping began, according to a Monday release from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC’s environmental conservation police officers investigated nine hunting-related shooting incidents in 2022, including one fatality.

However, four hunters died in 2022 after falling from tree stands.

For the past several years, the DEC has tracked and investigated elevated hunting incidents, formerly called tree-stand incidents. These incidents are underreported, the release said, and the DEC is not always notified when falls occur.

In 2022, the DEC received reports of 13 tree-stand incidents, four of which were fatal. Only two of the 13 hunters involved were wearing a safety harness.

Three of the fatalities are attributed to the hunter not wearing a full-body harness, and the fourth had a harness attached to a tree.

These are last year’s fatal incidents from tree stands, listed in a DEC report:

— On Oct. 1, in Tompkins County, an 82-year-old hunter, with 60 years of hunting experience, fell from his hang-on tree stand after having a heart attack; the buckle attached to the tree broke, causing him to fall to the ground;

— On Nov. 19, in Delaware County, a 60-year-old hunter, with more than 40 years of experience, was in a homemade stand with no harness when he fell 15 feet, causing fatal injuries;

— On Nov. 26, in Cayuga County, a 33-year-old hunter with 21 years of experience, was in a hang-on stand with no harness when the hunter fell 18 feet, causing a fatal head injury; and 

— Also on Nov. 26, in Cortland County, a 58-year-old hunter, with 35 years of experience, in a homemade stand with no harness, fell 25 feet, breaking bones in his legs, pelvis, and back and causing internal injuries.

Tree-stand safety is integrated into the DEC’s hunter education course because those incidents have become a major cause of hunting-related injuries, the release said. The proper use of tree-stands and tree-stand safety equipment will help prevent injuries and fatalities.

Used correctly, the release said, a full body harness and a lifeline keep hunters connected from the time they leave the ground to the moment they get back down. 

Most tree-stand incidents are preventable, the DEC says, when hunters follow the “ABCs” of tree stand safety:

— Always inspect the tree stand before every use;

— Buckle full body harness securely every time; and

— Connect to the tree before your feet leave the ground.


Shooting incidents

Four of the nine shootings last year involved two-party firearm incidents, while the other five were self-inflicted.

The one recorded fatality occurred due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound by a turkey hunter.

In 2020, there were 22 shooting incidents and three of them were fatal. The 10-year average for shooting incidents is 16.1.

This past year, five of the shooting incidents involved deer hunting and one each involved turkey, fox, and waterfowl with the ninth incident labeled “other” under “small game.”

The turkey-hunting fatality occurred on May 12 in Schoharie County when the 76-year-old hunter, with 30 years of hunting experience, shooting from a tree stand, unintentionally discharged his firearm, striking himself in the hand and head, a DEC report says.

Five of the incidents last year involved a rifle, three involved a shotgun, and one involved a crossbow.

All identified shooters were experienced hunters with an average of 30 years of hunting experience, the release said, emphasizing the need for all hunters to remain vigilant when heading afield; each incident could have been prevented if those involved followed the proper hunting safety rules. 

All first-time hunters, bowhunters, and trappers must successfully complete a hunter, bowhunter, or trapper education safety course before being eligible to purchase a hunting or trapping license or bowhunting privilege in New York State. Over 550,000 hunting licenses are sold in New York State.

DEC-trained and certified volunteer instructors have taught safety classes for hunters and trappers since 1949. Currently, the DEC uses about 1,800 certified volunteer instructors.

Recently, DEC announced the results of the second year of a pilot program  allowing mentored youth to hunt deer. Last fall, more than 9,400 hunters age12 or 13, representing nearly 9,200 families, were eligible to hunt deer with a firearm or crossbow, and youth hunters submitted more than 1,800 deer harvest reports.

The DEC conducted a post-hunting survey that found 82 percent of youth hunters and 87 percent of their adult mentors were moderately or greatly satisfied with their youth big-game hunting experience. Additionally, no hunting-related shooting incidents, violations, or license revocations involving 12- and 13-year-old hunters occurred during the first two years of the pilot program.


Safety advice

The DEC encourages hunters to remember the primary rules of hunter safety:

— Treat every firearm as if it were loaded;

— Control the muzzle, keep it pointed in a safe direction;

— Identify your target and what lies beyond;

— Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire; and

—Wear hunter orange and pink.

A video showing the proper way to climb into and out of a tree stand can be viewed on DEC's YouTube channel. More information, including the 2022 Hunting Safety Statistics and 2022 Tree Stand Safety Statistics is available on DEC’s website.

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