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Fall from tree most common hunting injury

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    Fall from tree most common hunting injury

    Fall from tree most common hunting injury

    By Allen Hicks
    Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers

    Gunshot wounds and hypothermia are dangers that go along with the hunting season, but it's falls from tree stands that lead to the most emergency room visits by hunters.

    More spinal cord injuries occur during the area's deer hunting season than at any other time of year, said Michelle Cartwright, Saint Joseph's Hospital trauma program manager.
    Forest Co. hunter dies from fall
    TOWN OF CASWELL - A 50-year-old man is dead after falling out of a tree stand while hunting Tuesday evening in Forest County.
    Authorities responded to the scene on Stillhouse Lane in the town of Caswell. The man was pronounced dead at the scene. The Forest County Sheriff's Department is withholding his name until all relatives are notified.
    No other information was available Thursday.

    "To fall out of a tree stand is potentially life threatening," said Dr. Anselmo Nunez, vascular surgeon for the Marshfield Clinic's Department of Surgery.

    At least eight people sought emergency medical treatment at Saint Joseph's Hospital the first two days of this year's hunting season, said Diane Nelson, registered nurse at St. Joseph's emergency department. Seven were injured in falls, and another was hospitalized with a gunshot wound.
    Between July and January in the years 1988 through 1999, there were about 160 patients who sought emergency care at Marshfield Clinic or Saint Joseph's Hospital following a fall from a tree stand. Of those, four people became paraplegic and three quadriplegic, according to a recent study conducted by doctors James Garlitz, H.I. Grant III and Nunez, all physicians at the Marshfield Clinic Department of General Surgery.

    About 13 percent of the reported injuries were hunting-related during that time period, but those in the medical field think many more go unreported.

    "Many people actually fall from trees, and we have no way of knowing," Cartwright said.

    Often times, it's only the very serious injuries that end up in the hospital. More than 70 percent of the people who sought treatment after falling from tree stands had muscle or bone injuries such as broken legs or twisted ankles, and 35 percent received spine or nerve damage, according to the study, which has been submitted to medical journals for publication.

    The number, severity and type of injuries are similar to those one might expect from vehicle crashes, Cartwright said. The average fall from a tree stand was about 15 feet, according to the study.

    Most of the injuries could have been prevented had hunters paid more attention to their surroundings, doctors said. About 40 percent of the falls were attributed to human error, while stand structure or tree failure accounted for 53 percent of the falls. The majority of the falls occurred when the hunters were getting in or out of their stands.
    "So that's a particularly vulnerable time, and time you have to take particular care," Nunez said.
    Despite the number of injuries that occur every year, hunting is still considered a safe sport. Fishing and playing golf both have higher rates of injury than deer hunting, Cartwright said.
    To minimize injuries, health professionals offer these tips:
    • Over the years, some people also have reported that they fell after being startled by animals in the tree, so hunters should pay attention to their surroundings at all times.

    • Check equipment and stands and use safety belts to keep from falling, Cartwright said. Permanent tree stands are more likely to have some deterioration and should be avoided.

    • Let family members know where you'll be hunting and take two-way radios or loud whistles along in case assistance is needed.

    • Avoid alcohol because hunters are more susceptible to injuries including frost bite and hypothermia if they've been drinking.

    • Watch for warning signs. Many who participate in the annual hunt might not be accustomed to the strenuous hikes involved in hunts, so heart attacks could be a concern.

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