LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For many, hunting is therapeutic — the silence of the woods, the scurrying of Indiana wildlife and the adrenaline of shooting a deer.
Fred Hettinger of Lafayette said he enjoys hunting because it’s a way to put aside the stress of everyday life. He still feels this way despite shattering his leg two years ago after he fell 21 feet from his tree stand while hunting in Carroll County.
This year’s Indiana urban deer hunting season began Sept. 15, with archery shortly following and firearms season starting almost three weeks ago. Since the opening of hunting season, at least six tree stand falls have been reported throughout Indiana, though not all have resulted in injuries as serious as Hettinger’s.
The primary cause is a lack of, or damage to, fall-restraint harnesses, said Matt Tholen, a conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and a hunter of 15 years.
“In my 10 years [as a conservation officer], we haven’t had this many tree stand accidents this early in the season, this quickly here in our district,” Tholen told the Journal & Courier ( http://on.jconline.com/TzX8nZ ). “People aren’t wearing restraints and they aren’t checking their equipment.”
When hunters leave their tree stands up year-round, they are subject to weather and fauna.
“Wood rots, straps break,” said Tholen, assigning squirrels as a culprit for some damaged straps.
In Hettinger’s case, he was wearing a harness, but it wasn’t connected to the tree at the time of the fall. Hettinger, who’s hunted for 41 years, said he’d detached his harness to climb down to retrieve a deer he had shot.
“Unfortunately, in the transfer going from the stand to the climbing stick, a limb broke, which was carrying my weight, and I fell,” Hettinger said. “God was good to me. I didn’t get more seriously injured or killed.”
Still, his injury required two surgeries, rehabilitation and a total of seven weeks away from his job.
As for the deer Hettinger shot, his son, Jason, and a friend retrieved it as paramedics stabilized him.
Now, Hettinger and his son are fastidious about lifeline use.
A lifeline, said Eric Osborn, a hunter and a salesman at Gander Mountain, connects the safety harness to the tree and keeps hunters attached to the tree the entire time they are climbing. Lifelines are not required, but are encouraged.
At Gander Mountain, the average climbing or hang-on tree stand costs $200 to $300, while safety harnesses cost about $100 and a lifeline costs about $40.
“[Tree stands] all come with safety harnesses in them. They are required by law,” Osborn said.
Osborn has met a lot of people who claim harnesses are too expensive. But he said there’s no excuse not to have one when compared with the potential medical cost of falling from a tree stand.
“I don’t allow people to come hunting with me that don’t have [a harness],” Osborn said. “I actually carry an extra one in my truck.”
Tholen also has noticed that people neglect to use fall restraints because they don’t want to carry the extra equipment. But Osborn said manufacturers have recognized this and are making fall restraints lighter.
In hunter safety classes, Tholen said, the importance of being totally connected to the tree is emphasized.
“We always recommend three points of contact,” Tholen said. “Two hands, one foot; two feet, one hand.”
Hettinger couldn’t agree more. Though the fall didn’t deter him from future use of weaponry and camouflage, he now takes every precaution when going out with his son and 8-year-old granddaughter.
“If you’re going to hunt off the ground, use a harness and a lifeline — period,” Hettinger said. “The goal is to come back home as safe as you left.”
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com