Tree stand falls: A persistent cause of sports injury

Matthew Metz, Marc Kross, Peter Abt, Paul Bankey, Leonidas G. Koniaris

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

19 Scopus citations


Objective: Tree stand falls are a well-known cause of hunting-related injury. Spine and brain injuries associated with these falls result in a significant incidence of permanent disability. Prior studies indicate that hunting tree stand injuries are largely preventable with the proper use of safety belts; however, compliance with safety belt use is variable. The purposes of this study were to determine 1) current compliance with safety belt use, 2) alterations in the spectrum of injury, and 3) causes of the falls. Methods: From January 1996 to October 2001, 51 tree stand-related injuries referred to either of two regional trauma centers or their region's medical examiner's office were reviewed. Data had been recorded in each hospital's trauma registry, and the registries were searched for falls. Medical records were reviewed for additional data retrospectively, with an emphasis on determining the use of safety belts, and mechanisms contributing to the fall. Results: Fifty-one cases of tree stand-associated injuries were identified. These injuries all occurred in men, with a mean age of 42.6 years (range, 22-69 years). Alcohol use was present in 10% of patients and in two of the three deaths. The mean Injury Severity Score was 18.1 (range, 2-75). The most common injuries were spinal fractures (51% of series) and extremity fractures (41% of series). Closed head injuries were identified in 24% and lung injuries were identified in 22% of patients. Abdominal visceral injuries were present in 8% and genitourinary injuries were present in 4%. Three patients died. In addition to injury from the fall, a significant number (six patients [12%]) had additional morbidity from exposure. Only two patients reported the use of a safety belt (4% of series). There were no cases of gunshot wounds in this review, either self-inflicted or hunter-related. The chief reasons reported for these falls were errors in placement that resulted in structural failure of the stand, or errors made while climbing into or out of the stand (50% of falls). Conclusion: Devastating spine and brain injuries continue to occur after falls from tree stands during recreational hunting when safety belts are not used. Our results suggest a continuing need for the education of hunters concerning safe tree stand hunting practices, including proper methods of stand placement, assessment of tree branch strength, avoidance of fatigue and alcohol, anticipation of firearm recoil, and proper methods of stand entrance and exit. Trauma prevention programs directed toward heightened public awareness of these injuries during hunting season are still needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-719
Number of pages5
JournalSouthern Medical Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Deer tree stands
  • Injury
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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