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Deer hunter in tree stand (copy)
Jane Fyksen photo

More than half of hunters treated for falls from tree stands at UW Hospital suffered one or more spinal fractures, including at least five who had paralyzing injuries, a new study says.

Properly using safety harnesses and limiting the height of tree stands to 10 feet can curb such injuries, the UW researchers said.

The study, in the Wisconsin Medical Journal, looked at the 117 patients brought to UW Hospital’s Level 1 trauma center for tree stand falls from 1999 to 2013.

Sixty-five had spinal fractures, including 21 who required spinal surgery, 19 who had loss of neurological function, five with complete spinal cord injuries and five with incomplete spinal cord injuries. Two died.

Only four of the patients said they used a safety harness, and they said the harnesses malfunctioned, according to the study.

Falls ranged in height from six feet to more than 30 feet, with falls from less than 10 feet associated with less severe injuries.

The study was conducted by Dr. Kimberly Hamilton and Dr. Nathaniel Brooks of UW’s neurosurgery department, and Dr. Brandon Rocque of the University of Alabama, who trained at UW.

Wisconsin’s bow and arrow deer hunting season continues through Sunday statewide and until the end of the month in certain areas. The annual gun deer hunting season is in late November.


David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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