Hunter safety highlighted by Alpena County tree stand fall

News Photo by Julie Riddle Hunter Marty Gougeon, of Alpena, displays a tree stand harness at Dunham’s Sporting Goods in Alpena on Friday. “The guy who fell out of the blind,” Gougeon said, “this is what he wasn’t wearing.”

ALPENA — On Wednesday, a 30-year-old hunter fell 25 feet out of a tree stand on Stinson Road in Wilson Township.

The fall, which caused serious injuries, serves as a reminder, days before the opening of regular firearm deer season on Monday, that hunters eager to show off their prize need to take precautions to make it home safely, officials say.

Every year, Michigan hunters report injury from falls or stray gunfire or need help during health emergencies.

Officials urge hunters to consider their safety before heading into the woods.

“Success is not always about filling your tag,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, who heads the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recreational safety, education and enforcement programs. “It’s about safely enjoying the experience and sharing with friends and family back at camp after the hunt.”

After falling from the tree stand on Wednesday, the injured hunter crawled to his truck and drove home, where he collapsed on the floor until responders arrived and transported him to the hospital, according to Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush.

The man had not secured himself with a harness or any safety equipment, he told responders.

Apparently without or unable to use a cell phone, the man was fortunate to make it back to his vehicle, Forbush said.

Alpena Fire Department paramedics respond to about six hunting-related injury incidents per year, Forbush said. This year, before the opening of the regular rifle season, paramedics have already responded to two people injured while hunting.

While falls or shooting mishaps send some local hunters to the hospital every year, more require help because of heart attacks or other medical emergencies experienced while hunting, Forbush said.

Falls from tree stands far surpass gunshot wounds as a hunter’s most likely cause of injury, with five of every 10,000 deer hunters each year requiring medical attention from falls from tree stands, according to the National Rifle Association.

Still, firearm mishaps injure Michigan hunters every year.

In 2020, three people died from gunshots while hunting, including an 11-year-old killed by a family member trying to shoot a deer with a handgun.

The same year, a 65-year-old hunter fatally shot his friend with a crossbow when he saw a flash of white and mistook his friend for the chest of a deer, according to DNR annual reports of incidents of hunters injured or killed in the field.

In recent years, Michigan hunters reported injuries caused by accidental trigger pulls, an exploding gun, falling on an arrow, or being mistaken for a deer, coyote, squirrel, or raccoon.

The DNR reported Northeast Michigan hunting-related injuries in 2017 ― when an Alcona County hunter received a bullet in the arm from a rifle a fellow hunter was setting on the ground ― and in 2016, when stray and accidentally discharged bullets injured two Alcona County hunters.

Despite annual injuries to hunters, the sport remains statistically safer than swimming, volleyball, or lacrosse and only slightly more dangerous than billiards, according to the National Rifle Association.

The DNR urges hunters to take safety precautions to avoid injury:

* Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

* Know the target and what is beyond it.

* Unload firearms when crossing obstacles or getting in or out of a tree stand.

* Obey “No trespassing” signs.

* Wear as much hunter orange as possible.

Firearm-related hunter injuries

2021 Michigan hunting-related firearm injuries, as reported by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

March: A rabbit hunter in Isabella County shot his father in his legs and hand with BBs when aiming for a rabbit which had run into a thicket.

May: A turkey hunter spotted the head and neck of a turkey hanging out of a game bag carried by another hunter in Livingston County. Thinking the turkey was alive and loose, the hunter fired, hitting and injuring the man carrying the bag.

September: A hunter’s gun discharged unexpectedly in Roscommon County, striking the shooter in her own foot.

September: A squirrel hunter not wearing orange was injured in Oscoda County when his fellow hunter mistook him for a squirrel and shot him.

October: A Dickenson County hunter shot another hunter’s eye and shoulder with BBs when aiming for a grouse.

Source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources


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