Early accidents good reminder for safety, DNR official says

MARSHALL — Of the thousands of Minnesota deer hunters who took to the great outdoors for the opening firearms season this past weekend, very few were injured. However, two of those who suffered injuries occurred in southwest Minnesota.

This past Saturday, the North Memorial Ambulance in Marshall responded to a call from the Minneota area regarding a male individual who had fallen out of a tree stand, while the Tracy Ambulance Service responded to a call about a hunter accidentally being shot in Redwood County.

“We had a hunting party shooting and then we also had an accident where somebody fell out of a tree stand,” area conservation officer Matt Loftness said. “That’s two accidents within a couple of hours on opening Saturday morning. It’s a really important reminder for people to be safe.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that tree-stand accidents are the leading cause of injury to hunters, with as many as 1 in 3 people who hunt from an elevated stand suffering a serious injury as a result of a fall at some point in their lifetime.

“Safety is so important,” said Eric Buffington, who works as a sales representative for Borch’s Sporting Goods in Marshall. “People should wear a harness when they’re in a tree stand. There’s times when you doze off and catch yourself, so anytime I step foot into a tree stand, I wear a harness.”

Two weeks ago, avid Minnesota hunter Philip Martinson broke his back after falling out of his deer stand while getting ready for the season opener. According to media reports, Martinson fractured the L1 vertebra in his lower back when he fell, though he still somehow managed to crawl 20 feet to his truck and drive himself home despite the agonizing pain.

Martinson wasn’t paralyzed, but another hunter — 32-year-old Timothy Bowers — wasn’t as fortunate. Paralyzed after falling from his tree stand in November 2013, Bowers, a newlywed and father-to-be from Indiana, chose to take himself off of life support rather than spend the rest of his life connected to a breathing machine, unable to hunt or even walk ever again, according to several media reports. Bowers died later the same evening.

“All the tree stands sold now come with a harness,” Buffington said. “I think it’s the law — or it should be — for hunters to wear a harness when they’re in a tree stand. I wear a harness every time I’m in the tree stand. I also let someone know when I plan to be back.”

For decades, the Treestand Manufacturers Association (TMA) — a nonprofit trade association — has worked to promote better hunter safety through improved tree stand designs and by including a full-body harness with every TMA-certified tree stand they sell. As a result, more than 18.5 million hunter have been provided with a fall restraint system along with their tree stand purchase. The organization also prides itself on educating hunters about the dangers and how to properly use the harness.

The state DNR website offers information regarding safety guidelines, recovery from a fall, the 3 point rule and different types of tree stands in addition to instructions about safety harnesses. There are also links to a hunter safety course and more about TMA stands.

Experts do recommend wearing a harness every single time a person climbs a tree because a lot of things can go wrong from 12-20 feet up — even for the most experienced hunters.

The Minneota man who fell from a tree stand on the opening day of deer season on Saturday received significant injuries.

Manager Dan DeSmet said North Memorial Ambulance was dispatched to the Minneota location early Saturday morning. The individual was transported to Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center, but DeSmet was unable to comment further because of privacy laws.

The accidental shooting took place partway between Milroy and Tracy. Investigators say a hunter shooting at a deer hit another hunter beyond the deer. The wounded individual was struck in the leg and was taken to the Sanford Tracy Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.

Loftness shared that safety needs to be the No. 1 priority when it comes to hunting.

“That’s one of the biggest things we teach in our safety classes,” he said. “You have to know what your target is and beyond. When you’re shooting, you have to make sure you’re clear, whether it’s another deer or a human.”

The injured deer hunter is said to be recovering. Authorities say everyone in the party wore the appropriate blaze orange clothing as required by law. No one was arrested and no charges are pending, they said.

“The accidental shooting this weekend was just into Redwood County,” Loftness said. “Tracy responded to that. Sometimes people don’t realize how crucial the first responders, ambulance crews and law enforcement are. But whether it’s a shot in the side or in the leg, it could be close to arteries so you’re talking about a dangerous situation.”

Loftness, who said he was dealing with phone calls at the time of the shooting, added that Tracy Ambulance was well prepared for the possibility of a hunting accident, though everyone hopes it never really happens.

“They actually trained on that,” he said. “They did training for a mock hunter injury.”

With firearm season continuing into the weekend and beyond, area officials are hoping for safe and successful hunts.

“Hopefully we don’t have any more accidents this weekend,” Loftness said.