Safety Comes First Out in the Woods

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BOONE COUNTY - In the last 15 to 20 years, the tree stand industry in the hunting world has seen a lot of growth. Today, they are a more affordable, mobile and have more designs and features. However, with more hunters in the woods elevated higher than in years past, there are more injuries from hunters falling out of trees.

Older stands were built out of wood and lifted less than 10 feet off the ground. Many of these tree stands were larger compared with the ones that are sold today. For portability and price, many manufactured tree stands are small and it doesn't take much to fall out of one.

Statewide deer biologist Jason Sumners said the 2013-2014 hunting season will bring half a million hunters out to the woods in pursuit of white tail deer in Missouri.

"We are fortunate in Missouri. There has been a continual increase in hunter numbers adding about one percent per year, so we expect about 5-10,000 new hunters," Sumners said.

Sumners also said the overall deer population is in good shape.

"We estimate a population of 1.4 million deer. In north Missouri, numbers are slowly declining and in south Missouri, numbers are slowly increasing," Sumners said.

A large population of deer paired with a big group of hunters means there will be more people in the woods and a higher risk for tree stand falls.

"A number of hunters are injured because they fail to use safety restraint and fall out of tree stands, so we want everybody to have fun but be safe," Sumners said.

Tree stand harnesses lower the number of hunters injured each year. Missouri Department of Conservation agent Adam Doerhoff said tree stand harnesses are key to hunting safety.

"It secures you to the tree so that if you fall you don't fall to the ground and some hunters wear those, some don't," Doerhoff said. "You're taking a big risk if you're choosing not to wear one."

Another way hunters can ensure their own safety is by wearing blaze orange.

"There is absolutely no doubt that blaze orange has saved many lives because as you look out across the landscape, everything else is various hues of brown and gray and there is nothing in the natural world, particularly at this time that is blaze orange," Doerhoff said. "So when you see that you know that it's something unnatural and you know that it's another hunter."

Missouri hunter Laken Frese takes both steps to be sure she's safe while hunting.

"Just being aware and knowing that you have that safety harness on gives you a sense of protection and makes you feel safe," Frese said. "Wearing orange is crucial because no one wants to get hurt. Everyone wants to put out all of the precautions they can so that hunters know where hunters are and know the direction that they're shooting at to make sure they're not shooting at any humans."

Bass Pro Shops is one of the outlets in Columbia that sells harnesses as well as blaze orange attire. Special events coordinator Jon Curtis said hunters don't have to worry about the blaze orange ruining their camouflage.

"The deer don't pick up that blaze orange based upon the spectrum of light that is visible to them," Curtis said. "We truly hope that people do take that precaution and learn from others' mistakes."

The Missouri Department of Conservation will make the full move to E-permits next year. Hunters can purchase tags online, print them out and use them the same way as deer tags bought in the store.