TYLER, TX (KLTV) - They are locked, loaded, and ready. For rifle hunters across Texas this weekend marks open season for Whitetail Deer, but before you leave civilization behind, a warning for all hunters. The most common hunting injury doesn't even involve a gun and happens to even the most seasoned outdoorsmen.
"I would hunt in the morning," said Gary Fannon,"I would hunt in the evening." For thirty years Fannon tried to hunt all times between until a bow hunt three years ago. "I had just gotten into my tree stand and did not have a chance to attach my safety harness when it broke."
Gary fell nearly 20 feet to the ground. He waited 23 and a half hours to be rescued, but already knew his diagnosis. 'I realized as I touched my legs that I was paralyzed. I realized at that moment my life had changed forever."
Wheelchair bound, Gary now lives with the injury hurting more hunters than guns.
"The majority of the accidents we see are people falling from tree stands or deer stands," said Trauma Surgeon Dr. Kenneth Helmer.
A ten year survey at two trauma centers shows the danger. Falls accounted for 50% of all hunting injuries. Firearms were more deadly but only accounted 29%.
"The reality of it is probably the most dangerous part of it is when you're getting in your tree stand and getting out of your tree stand," said Dr. Helmer.
The short window of time leaves hunters most vulnerable, but is easily preventable with proper use of a harness.
"Sometimes in haste we make mistakes, but wow falling out of a tree stand you're going to get injured," said game warden Chris Green. "When they fall it's because they missed a step, it's dark they have some other piece of equipment." Green stresses to hoist equipment after you're secure, taking your time.
For Gary Fannon, it only took seconds to give him a lifetime of looking back. "Would I go back and change it? Probably, probably...I would be safe in my tree stand I know that."
Good safety harnesses aren't cheap. They'll run you about a hundred bucks, but could save you much more. All stands made since 2004 are required to come equipped with harnesses.