As Saturday, Oct. 5, is the start of the antlered archery deer hunting season in Pennsylvania, bowhunters have two major concerns during the opener.
The first concern is tree stand safety. Every year a few bowhunters fall from their tree stands and incur serious bodily injury either because they didn't wear a safety harness or their tree stand became defective. And despite popular belief, it's not older hunters who fall.
A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences says that bowhunters between 15 and 34 years of age are more likely to suffer serious injuries in tree stand-related accidents, than older hunters.
The study also says men are twice as likely as women to be injured and younger hunters more likely than older ones despite being more nimble. Hunters, the study indicates, aged between 15-24 had injury rates of 55.7 per 100,000 and those aged 25-34 averaged 61 injuries per 100,000 hunters. Hunters over 65 had injury rates of only 22.4 per 100,000.
"The elevated injury rate among young hunters is significant because debilitating injuries in younger folks are far more devastating than for older individuals because of the potential long-term effects that create both physical and financial hardships for patients and their families," said Gerald McGwin, Jr., MS, PH.D, senior investigator on the study.
The study further indicated that there were an estimated 46,860 injuries related to tree stand use between 2000 and 2007.
From the study is was found that the most common injuries were fractures, mostly occurring in the hip or lower extremities followed by injuries to the trunk, shoulder and upper extremities. Surprisingly, head and spinal cord injuries were less common but still significant.
McGwin said such injuries are consistent with other studies that demonstrate a similar injury pattern, explained, by hunters trying to land on their feet, leading to injury to the lower extremities.
McGwin goes on to say that younger hunters may have higher injury rates due to their willingness to take risks, plus less exposure to safety information and more time spent hunting compared to older hunters. The study reveals that hunters could use more safety education and they recommend safety harnesses and regular maintenance of stands.
"Tree stand manufactures can aid in prevention by providing more support for the hunters, particularly for the minimalistic stands such as climbing or ladder stands," McGwin opines.
The study, however, did not determine the types of tree stands in use when an injury occurred, nor the exact mechanism of injury be it a hunter falling from a stand, a stand improperly erected or a structural failure of a stand, which is relatively rare.
Since it's impossible for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to keep figures on the number of tree stand falls, they do maintain incidents involving firearm accidents, with the majority being tree stand incidents and some bow injuries. For example, in 2011 a cocked crossbow fell from a tree stand and struck a hunter at the bottom of the ladder with the broadhead cutting through his shoulder. In 2010, a bow fell from a tree stand and the broadhead sliced the victim.
The other area of concern among bowhunters at this time of year are ticks. As we all know, there's the possibility of contracting Lyme disease if infected by a deer tick. Last year there were 4,146 cases of Lyme reported in Pennsylvania. Alarmingly, Pennsylvania is one of the top states for folks getting Lyme disease in the nation.
And if that's not scary enough, there's a new strain labeled "Babesiosis" (or babesia microti), which is an infection that is picked up from black-legged ticks. The symptoms include fever, chills, sweating, muscle aches and fatigue and is transmitted by white-footed mice (common in Penn's Woods), which in turn infect deer ticks.
Spray, spray and more spray is recommended with a product containing Permethrin or Deep Woods Off that contains 25 percent DEET. That, and wear clothing that seals off passages for ticks like the gaiters produced by Whitehall-based SEALURPANTS.com.
And when arriving home, take a shower then do a body check. Remember, deer ticks are the size of a period at the end of this sentence, whereas wood ticks are a bit larger and more easily seen.