Hunters beware: Officials, fellow hunters warn of tree stand dangers

Numbers obtained by WSB-TV show falls from tree stands cause more injuries and deaths to hunters in Georgia than firearms.

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Many hunters prefer the vantage point given by tree stands, which also help to remove scents from the hunter that could scare off game.

But WSB-TV's Sophia Choi found many hunters neglect to use a key safety feature of tree stands -- harnesses.

Climbing up to a tree stand is second nature to Chase Woodall, of Douglasville, an avid bow and long-gun hunter, but the familiar turned frightening four years ago when he fell 20 feet.

"My boots were wet from the morning dew and I slipped and fell all the way from the top," Woodall said.

It happened on private property on a homemade tree stand in Douglasville that Woodall still uses to hunt.

He survived despite not wearing safety gear, like a lifeline attached to a tree.

"I was a little out of it for a couple minutes, laying on the ground, trying to catch my breath for sure,” Woodall said. “Luckily, five minutes later, I was walking around."

Records Choi obtained from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources show 34 reported hunting incidents in the state during the 2016-17 season. Nineteen of them involved tree stand falls that resulted in injuries including broken bones, fractured spines and collapsed lungs.

Since 2010, nine people have died in Georgia tree stand accidents.

Hunter Bobby Noland, of Harris County, was nearly one of them.

"As soon as my second foot hit the stand, I fell," Noland told Choi.

Noland estimates he fell about 30 feet while hunting in Helen.

"I had the pile-on fracture,” Noland said. “I just crushed everything as I hit the ground.”

Noland ended up with two badly crushed ankles. He was hunting alone and had to crawl a quarter-mile off the mountain to get help.

"I actually had to get on my knees and my legs were up in the air dangling,” Noland said. “That was pretty tough. I cried.”

Six surgeries later, he's out of a wheelchair and back working at his pub in Ellerslie. He still hunts, only now, he's safer and follows two simple rules.

"One, get you a safety harness and a lifeline which hooks up at the bottom and you keep that lifeline, all the way up,” Noland said. “And two, don’t go hunting by yourself."

Noland said he thinks hunters don't wear a safety harness because, “Probably like me, they (think they are) bulletproof.”

Caleb Griner is a tree stand specialist with Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. He said tree stands are safe, so long as you follow the installation instructions, including using the harness that comes with most kits.

"It's important to remember before you ever get off the ground, you must have your harness on correctly and then be firmly attached to the tree," Griner told Choi.

"Every tree stand accident that I've ever worked … none of the incidents occurred while they were wearing a harness," DNR game warden Niki Spencer told Choi.

Choi tested out a self-climbing stand. She said the equipment was heavy, hard to move and easy to slip on.

Spencer said most tree stand accidents occur as hunters climb up and down.

That's exactly what happened to Woodall -- but he's still chancing it without a lifeline.

He said he does wear a harness when he gets up to the top of his tree stand.

"I'm definitely more aware of what I'm doing, especially going in and coming out," Woodall said.

Noland said he's learned his lesson and that he uses a lifeline and a harness every time he uses a tree stand.

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