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The Medical Minute: Keep safety top of mind this hunting season

It’s the time Pennsylvania outdoor sports enthusiasts have been pining for.

An estimated 663,000 people are licensed to hunt in the Keystone State, and families and friends are flocking to the woods for the annual tradition of deer hunting season, which lasts through Dec. 9.

The season also marks another more somber tradition – a spike in injuries.

“Every year, within the first 72 hours of hunting season, we see hunting-related injuries,” said Amy Bollinger, trauma education, outreach and injury prevention coordinator at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent that from happening.”

Tree stand safety

Hunters falling out of tree stands are the most common injuries, Bollinger said. With the height of most stands ranging from 10 to 20 feet, a fall can be devastating.

“Falls from those heights can cause broken bones, spinal cord injuries, head injuries and even death,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission suggests hunters follow a list of safety guidelines they refer to by the acronym STEPS:

  • Safety harness or belt. Always wear a full-body safety harness whenever your feet leave the ground.
  • Tree stand maintenance. Check your stand for missing or broken parts before each use.
  • Elevate your stand site. Select trees that are alive and will support your weight.
  • Partners and plans. Hunt with a partner and have a plan in case of an emergency.
  • S Carry a whistle or other signaling device to use if you need assistance.

Hunters should make sure harnesses fit well and that each harness is rated for each individual hunter’s weight and meets industry safety standards, Bollinger said. They should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembling and attaching a stand to a tree, she said.

Hauling gear

Climbing onto a tree stand while carrying gear can affect balance and cause a fall. Hunters can avoid it by climbing the tree empty handed and using haul lines to raise and lower gear, Bollinger said.

They should also make sure their firearms are always unloaded when they’re bringing them into the tree stand, she said.

“You just need to use extreme caution when getting into and out of a tree,” she said.

Firearm safety

Firearm mishaps happen, although the rate in Pennsylvania has fallen over the past decade, Bollinger said.

Hunters should always positively identify their target before shooting ― never shoot at sounds or movement.

The Game Commission requires hunters to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange during firearms seasons. The color must be visible from 360 degrees and worn on the head, chest and back. A hat and vest are recommended to meet that requirement.

Dress for the weather

Weather-related injuries such as slipping on ice or snow are common, and hunters may be at risk for hypothermia. Bollinger recommends water resistant clothing and heavy boots and socks.

While it’s a good idea to hunt in pairs, she acknowledged that many hunters prefer to be on their own. If that’s the case, be sure to let someone know where you’ll be hunting and what time you plan to return.

And take a fully charged cell phone with you, she said. Even if you’re hunting in an area without cell service, emergency services may be able to ping your phone to determine your location. You should also carry a first aid kit.

Pennsylvania requires all first-time hunters to complete a hunter education course that can be taken in person or online. The course, called Basic Hunter-Trapper Education, covers hunting safety, handling of firearms, hunting ethics and conservation principles, and must be completed before a hunting or trapping license can be purchased.

More information about the course and registration information can be found on the Game Commission’s website.

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The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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