GORHAM (WGME) -- Safety experts say falls from tree stands are hurting and killing more hunters than firearms, in some cases, even when the equipment is used correctly.
Kevin Stone has been hunting for 15 years and guiding others for six.
He uses a tree stand to get a better view of the deer below, but knows that vantage point comes with some risk.
"I've slid down one, yep, and I didn't have a harness on," he said.
Stone was lucky.
Safety experts say tree stands are a growing danger that can result in broken bones, paralysis and even death.
"Tree stands are in fact causing more injuries to hunters than guns. And that's a problem," said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a Massachusetts-based firm that specializes in consumer product safety.
A spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said tree stand incidents aren't tracked in the state.
Data from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation shows 12 incidents reported in 2017, at least four of them deadly.
"The most common fall is when you're climbing up or climbing down," said Stone.
Stone said some falls can be attributed to user error, such as hunters who don't know enough before heading up the ladder. Others leave their equipment out year-round, which can cause it to deteriorate.
"Rust and then the straps," said Stone. "One big thing, squirrels. Squirrels chew everything and they could easily get a hold of one of these and chew it if they wanted to."
Kane said about a third of all tree stand incidents are because of the products themselves, due to faults in the design, materials or manufacturing.
"Literally broken metal," he said. "We're seeing cables that are breaking."
The Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation looked at 724 falls between 2010 and 2016, finding 16 percent were caused by strap breaks, eight percent by broken stands, and seven percent step/ladder failure.
"Keep in mind, there's very few that are manufactured here. They're coming in from overseas," said Kane. "They are supposed to be these voluntary standards, and those standards are in place, but the quality control on a lot of these may not be up to snuff."
Kane said there have been at least 14 product recalls since 2000. His advice: pay attention to details.
"If something doesn't look right, looks like more strain, stress in certain areas, seeing cracking, bending anything like that, they just need to be taken out of service," said Kane.
Stone said he now wears a safety harness, so he can worry less and enjoy the sport.
"Right after Thanksgiving I'll come in and take it down," he said. "Put it away for the year."