NORTON SHORES, MICH. - Two men died after falling from tree stands during the weekend.
The first accident happened Saturday, Oct. 29, about 20 miles north of Ludington in Mason County when a 56-year-old man felling from a stand. Then Sunday, a 39-year-old man fell while building a tree stand in Newaygo County's Ensley Township.
These are two fatal accidents in one weekend, as more hunters are preparing to enter the woods in search of deer.
Archery season is currently underway across Michigan, making it a busy time for Department of Natural Resources' Conservation Officer Greg Patten. Most of the calls Patten takes at this time of year deal with trespassing, unlawful baiting of deer and tree stand violations.
Once firearm deer season opens on Nov. 15, Patten says he will be even busier. No matter the weapon, Patten wants hunters using tree stands to be careful.
"When you are climbing and are in the stand we recommend a safety strap," Patten said.
The state doesn't track the number of falls from tree stands each year. Those injuries don't have to be reported to the state, but Patten can say there's far too many each season.
Retired Norton Shores Police Chief Roger Doctor fell backwards from a tree stand 14 years ago, 20-feet to the ground.
"I spent the next 13 days in intensive care," Doctor said.
He's now one of two instructors with first-hand experience tree fall teaching the hunter safety course at the Norton Shores Police Department. The other instructor is Geoff Newmyer, who also fell, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
"Life is priceless," Newmyer said. Newmyer and Doctor teach more than 100 hunters each year as part of the hunter education program.
They tell seasoned and first-time hunters never to climb into or out of a tree stand without first securing themselves to a lifeline.That rope connects to a tree above a tree stand. The other end of the rope is attached to the base of the tree stand's ladder. It includes a prusik knot, which connects to a harness that loops around a hunters thighs and chest.
The knot moves with a hunter as they climb.
"If you were to fall that locks," said Doctor, preventing a hunter from falling to the ground.
"Upwards of 90 percent of accidents are on your way up the tree or down," Newmyer said.
Both men still love to hunt, but they do it safer, now, and use the lessons they learned to help others.
"We hope that we reach somebody that puts that vest on that otherwise would have been a fall victim," Doctor said.
"Hey this stuff does happen, and it can happen really fast," Newmyer added.
The Norton Shores Police Department is spreading the safety message by sharing on Facebook one of several videos that demonstrate how to set up and properly use a tree stand.
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