As you join the nearly 600,000 hunters who head to Wisconsin’s woods, fields and marshes for the state’s annual nine-day gun deer season every year, remember that safety is your top priority during the hunt.

Hunting incidents resulting in serious injury can happen whether you’re on the ground or in a tree stand. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), tree stand falls are outpacing gun-related injuries and deaths for hunters.

Part of the problem is that less than half of Wisconsin deer hunters who use tree stands wear a fall-restraint harness. Used properly, these manufacturer-certified safety restraints can save you from a long drop and injuries like head trauma, broken bones and spinal cord injuries.

Use these deer hunter safety tips to enjoy your time outdoors and return safely to family and friends.

Tree Stand Safety

More than half of hunter injuries from tree stand falls are injuries to the spine. If you fall and are left hanging in a harness with no way to descend or climb, suspension trauma is also a risk. Being suspended and vertically immobilized for a long time can lead to serious injury or even death. Following these tips can keep you out of an emergency room or trauma center.

Climb and hunt sober. Drinking alcohol before or during a hunt increases your risk of injury because it impairs coordination, hearing, vision, communication and judgment. Drugs can affect you in a similar way. If you take prescription medications, check with your doctor to see if they’re safe to take while you’re hunting.

Check the condition of your tree before you climb. This is especially important if you’re using a homemade or permanent tree stand. Make sure the tree you select is alive and healthy and can bear your weight, as well as the weight of your equipment, supplies, weapons and your tree stand. Look for rotten wood in the tree, railings, steps and the tree stand itself if it’s made of wood. Even stable stands or platforms are dangerous if the tree they’re secured to is rotting.

Test the hardware that attaches your tree stand to the tree to make sure it’s still tight and secure. Check straps for decay or animal damage.

Get a full-body fall restraint harness that meets national standards — and wear it. If you’re not wearing it, it can’t help you.

Attach an extra foot strap to your fall-restraint harness. If you fall and are suspended, the extra strap will help relieve pressure on your upper legs.

Be cautious when climbing or descending. This is prime time for a fall, even if you’ve done it many times.

When climbing in and out of your tree stand or platform, always use three points of contact: two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot. Use a lifeline, too.

Use a short tether (no more than 12 inches) to keep you secured in your tree when seated in your stand. Without this extra tether, you could fall too far and be left hanging with no way to get up or down.

Use a haul line to raise and lower your unloaded weapons or supplies.

Have a recovery and escape plan. Let friends and family know where you’ll be hunting, including the exact location of your tree stand and where you’ll park. Let them know when you plan to return.

Make sure you can communicate. Carry a cell phone where you can easily reach it. Make sure it’s fully charged. Consider bringing a satellite phone with GPS or GPS tools in case your cell phone may not work from your location. GPS equipment will also help rescuers find you if help is needed. If you fall, are suspended and can’t climb or descend, exercise your legs and arms until help arrives.

Firearm Safety Rules

In 2018, the number of hunting incidents related to guns as recorded by the Wisconsin DNR was below the 10-year average. However, they do happen. The largest contributing factors to gun incidents are loading a firearm and the shooter stumbling or falling. Take time to review gun safety guidelines before every hunt.

Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. Never assume a firearm is unloaded and never treat it that way, even if you have watched as it is unloaded.

Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. About one third of all hunting incidents involve self-inflicted injuries. That means the muzzle was pointed at some part of the hunter’s body. A safe direction is a direction where the bullet will travel and harm no one in the event of an unintended discharge.

Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it. Positive target identification is a must. To shoot at something you only think is a legal target is gambling — in this case, with a human life. You must be absolutely certain and correct in judgment before deciding to shoot. Behaving otherwise is reckless. Additionally, make sure there is a safe backstop for your bullet, like a wide tree trunk, in every situation. We don’t always hit our target, and in some cases, the bullet passes through the target. A safe backstop guarantees no one will get hurt.

Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. If you stumble with a firearm in one hand and nothing in the other, whatever you’re doing with your free hand will automatically happen with the hand holding the gun. If your finger is inside the trigger guard, that hand is likely going to close around the pistol grip of the gun and on the trigger, causing an unwanted discharge.

Keep your gear in good working order. Clean your firearm and inspect it carefully for signs of mechanical wear that could cause a problem in the field.

Inspect your clothing and other equipment for signs of wear and tear. Anything that might compromise your safety should be repaired, discarded or replaced. Blaze orange clothing that has faded over time, a jacket that doesn’t fit well or a scope that isn’t adjusted correctly can compromise your safety and the safety of others.

Transport guns safely. Before starting your trip home, make sure all guns you’re transporting are safely unloaded and properly secured in your vehicle.

Deer Hunter Safety Resources

To hunt legally in Wisconsin, you must complete a course approved by the DNR and the International Hunter Education Association-USA before you’ll be granted a hunting license. This requirement is mandatory for anyone born on or after January 1, 1973. Learn more about hunter education.

Visit the Wisconsin DNR website for additional resources on tree stand safety and the basic rules of firearm safety.