As hunting season ramps up here in Georgia, Channel 2 investigates a danger to hunters.
Channel 2's Sophia Choi dug into the numbers and learned falls from tree stands cause more injuries and deaths than firearms.
Many hunters prefer the vantage point tree stands give that puts them high off the ground.
It also helps to remove any scent from the hunter that could scare off the game.
But Choi found many hunters neglect to use a key safety feature of a tree stand -- a harness.
Climbing up to a tree stand is second nature to Chase Woodall of Douglasville, an avid bow and long-gun hunter.
But the familiar turned frightening four years ago when he fell 20-feet.
"My boots were wet from the morning dew and I slipped and fell all the way from the top," Woodall said.
It happened on private property on a homemade tree stand in Douglasville that Woodall still uses to hunt.
Woodall was lucky, he survived despite not wearing safety gear, like a lifeline attached to a tree.
"I was a little out of it for a couple minutes, laying on the ground, trying to catch my breath for sure. But luckily five minutes later, I was walking around," Woodall said.
Records Choi obtained from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources show 34 reported hunting incidents in the 2016-2017 season.
More than half, 19 of them, involved tree stands falls that resulted in broken bones, fractured spines and collapsed lungs.
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Since 2010, nine people have died in Georgia tree stand accidents.
Hunter Bobby Noland of Harris County was nearly one of them.
"As soon as my second foot hit the stand, I fell," Noland told Choi.
Noland estimates he fell about 30 feet while hunting in Helen.
"I had the pile-on fracture. I just crushed everything as I hit the ground," Noland said.
Noland ended up with two badly crushed ankles.
He was hunting alone and had to crawl a quarter-mile off the mountain to get help.
"I actually had to get on my knees and my legs were up in the air dangling. So that was pretty tough. I cried," Noland said.
Six surgeries later, he's out of the wheelchair and back working at his pub in Ellerslie, Georgia.
He still hunts, only now, he's safer and follows two simple rules.
"One, get you a safety harness and a lifeline which hooks up at the bottom and you keep that lifeline all the way up. And two, don’t go hunting by yourself," Noland said.
Choi asked Noland why he thought more hunters don't wear a safety harness.
"Probably like me, they thought they was bulletproof," Noland said.
Caleb Griner is a tree stand specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.
Choi asked Griner to show her how to properly use a tree stand.
He says tree stands are safe, as long as you follow the installation instructions, including using the harness which comes with most kits.
"It’s important to remember before you ever get off the ground, you must have your harness on correctly and then be firmly attached to the tree," Griner told Choi.
"Every tree stand accident that I’ve ever worked … none of the incidents occurred while they were wearing a harness," DNR game warden Niki Spencer told Choi.
Choi tested out the dangers herself, using a self-climbing stand.
She says the equipment was heavy, hard to move and easy to slip on.
Spencer says most tree stand accidents occur as hunters climb up and down.
That's exactly what happened to Woodall -- but he's still chancing it, without a lifeline.
He says he does wear a harness when he gets up to the top.
"I'm definitely more aware of what I'm doing, especially going in and coming out," Woodall said.
Noland says he's learned his lesson and uses a lifeline and a harness every time he uses a tree stand.
It's a lesson he's passed on to his son.
Choi asked what other advice he gives his 17-year-old about hunting.
"Hunt from the ground," Noland said with a laugh.
If you plan to use a tree stand this hunting season, we want you to be safe, so here’s a link from the DNR demonstrating the proper way to use one.
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