A repost from an article I posted in General Hunting.
<a href="http://www.goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101107/NWPAOUT01/311059862/-1/BASKETBALL03" target="_blank">Safety comes first in hunting. That's why, statistically speaking, hunting is among the safest of activities in the United States.
Dave Zelina found himself on the wrong side of the statistics early in Pennsylvania archery deer season.
On Oct. 7, the 49-year-old Edinboro resident was 18 feet up in his tree stand, cutting away two tree limbs to clear a shooting lane. The next moment -- the next one he remembers -- he was on the ground in excruciating pain, struggling to breathe and wondering whether he would survive.
"I went to cut the second one and, all of a sudden, snap.' They (the cables that connect the bottom of the stand to the seat) both broke," Zelina said. "I had my work shoes on -- they're ankle high and they're steel toes -- and I landed right on my feet, straight. And when I landed I was kind of facing the tree, so apparently somehow I kind of pushed back then and landed on my back, and I got knocked out."
Instead, the business owner, husband and father of three broke his back and neck and shredded his neck and shoulder muscles. He nearly joined the other statistics column. There were 41 tree-stand fatalities reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission during the same three-year span.
Now Zelina hopes his harrowing experience can help some of the thousands of hunters in northwestern Pennsylvania become that much more observant and safety-conscious.
'I might have died'
Zelina's world went dark when his body smacked the ground under his stand in Elk Creek Township in southwestern Erie County.
To his great fortune, he was not alone in the woods that afternoon.
"My friend, Mark (Walmer), my neighbor, he's right there and he comes over to me. He's only a couple of feet away, and he's trying to revive me," Zelina said. "He could hear me struggling to breathe. He found my inhaler; I have asthma. So there was blood coming out of my mouth -- I've got to give this guy credit because a lot of people would panic -- he opened my mouth, got my tongue straight and got the inhaler in, and I come to, started breathing. Then I didn't know what was happening, and so I asked him the same question 10, 12 times: 'Where am I? What are we doing?' And then I started coming to, and the pain."
Two weeks later, talking in his home about a mile from the accident site, immobilized by neck and back braces he'll wear into the new year, the look on his face left no doubt about his agony.
Neurosurgeon Michael P. Verdon, D.O., is new to Erie and is just being introduced to tree-stand accidents. In fact, Zelina was his first such patient. He operated for nearly seven hours, placing four screws in Zelina's neck and repairing his three broken vertebrae. Zelina, who started physical therapy Oct. 27, hopes to walk without use of a cane or walker by Thanksgiving.
Verdon said height is the simple reason tree-stand accidents tend to be so serious.
"You're falling two stories," he said. "It's almost like falling off the roof of a house. And they're sitting down. They're sitting in a tree stand, and the bottom of the tree stand falls out and they land on their butt. It's not designed to take that kind of a force."
Zelina fell 18 feet. Some hunters perch nearly twice that high. Some don't understand the risk or elect to ignore it.
"I don't think they understand while doing that they're putting their families in jeopardy, because if you're a quadriplegic or paraplegic, if you were a construction worker before that, guess what? You can't go back to work. It's a little bit more than just going out and having a good time," Verdon said.
Zelina knows all about it. He's the owner of Ten Point Tool & Finishing in Edinboro. He and his wife, Cindy, have a daughter, Rachael, who lives in Connecticut; a son, Eric, in Pittsburgh; and a son, Gary, who lives on campus at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He had a lot to lose.
"I think that once people get educated, they'll tell their children," Verdon said. "That's my sense of how people started to hunt around here -- their dad took them, or they went out fishing with their grandpa, and that's how they learned how to do it, so it's like folklore passed on. But no one understands the safety issues. To me, it's the equivalent of a safety belt 30 years ago in a car."
'It was all my fault'
Zelina wishes he'd worn a safety harness, a tree-stand equivalent of the safety belt that has been standard issue with new stand sales since 2004.
"My problem was I didn't maintain my tree stand," he said. "I didn't have the harness on. It was all my fault. Nothing's wrong with the tree stands."
Tree stands are popular devices for deer hunting, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission recommends that hunters follow a series of guidelines when using them:
- Always use a fall-restraint device
-- preferably a full-body harness -- when hunting from a tree stand. Wear the device from the moment you leave the ground until you return. Don't climb dead, wet or icy trees. Stay on the ground on blustery days.
- Use a hoist rope to lift your bow and backpack to your tree stand. Trying to climb with either places you at unnecessary risk.
- Don't sleep in a tree stand. If you can't stay awake, return to the ground.
- Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for all equipment and check your equipment before each use.
- Practice climbing your tree stand. Consider placing nonslip material on the deck of your tree stand if it's not already there.
- Select only suitable trees. Avoid dead trees or those with loose bark.
- Make sure there is no slack in the fall-restraint tether when you are in a sitting position.
- Maintain three points of contact -- at least two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot -- with the climbing system, ladder or tree at all times while climbing.
- Use three people to set up any ladder-type tree stand.
- In the event of a fall, be prepared to help yourself. Have someone contact authorities if you don't return at an established time.
- Take a free, voluntary online tree-stand safety course at http://www.hunterexam.com/treestandsafety