Falling Hunters: 4 Hunt Accidents Chronicled
Each Georgia deer season 15 to 20 deer hunters are injured in falls from deer stands. Here are the stories of four hunters who survived the ordeal of a fall.
Falling out of a tree stand is the most common way for a deer hunter to be seriously injured. Last season 15 hunters pitched out of trees to the ground and were injured. The number represents nearly 33 percent of all hunting incidents. The 15 tree-stand falls included one fatality in which a 61-year-old man fell to his death.
Most falls could be avoided. The primary mistake some hunters make is hunting from high places without wearing a safety harness from the time they leave the ground until they return to earth. Just as the most critical time for an airplane flight is takeoff and landing, the opportunity for a hunter to fall is greatest during ascent or descent.
What follows here are the accounts of four Georgia hunters who are likely much like you: experienced and confident, they figured they were safe hunters and never thought they would be hurt while hunting from a stand. But each of them fell, and each of them was seriously injured. Don’t think it can’t happen to you, too.
Falling From A Collapsing Ladder
Last December 27, Tony Green, 47, and his 25-year-old son, Levi, set out from their home in Fairmount for an afternoon deer hunt in Cherokee County. They drove to their hunt property located off Hwy 108 near Hwy 20. Levi dropped his dad off for the evening hunt at a ladder stand and drove away in their Kawasaki Mule.
“The stand I was hunting belonged to a friend, and it wasn’t that old,” said Tony. “It was a three-section ladder stand with a platform with a bass-boat seat and a curtain all around.”
The legs of the ladder were made of metal tubing, with the sections sliding into each other to create the ladder. The friend who owned the stand had hunted it the day before without incident, but this day Tony wasn’t destined to reach the platform.
“When I started up and was about halfway up the ladder the sections just came apart,” said Tony. “I reckon what happened is that the wind rocking the tree and the rain saturating the ground had the ground soft. I honestly don’t know what happened, it happened so quick. When it was over all the sections were laying on the ground, but the top was still strapped to the tree.
“I thought I was on my knees. When I went to stand up, nothing would happen. I looked down and saw my foot twisted and pointing straight behind me, and that’s when it all set in about what happened. I said, I’ve got a problem here.’”
Tony had fallen eight or 10 feet and apparently got his legs tangled up in the ladder. The fall broke both the tibia and the fibula in his left calf just above his boot top, and the broken fibula exited his leg through the shin. The larger bone, the fibula, in the same leg also snapped just below the knee.
“I got my weight off my leg and sat down on the ground,” said Tony. “Then I got a hold of my boot with both hands and pulled it back around straight. If I hadn’t done it then, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. The pain hadn’t set in yet.
“I had so many clothes on I didn’t know that the bone had come out until I got to the hospital. When the doctors slid my boot off, it was full of blood, and I knew the bone had come through then. I suspected it had because my skin was burning.”
Levi’s stand was about a quarter mile away, and Tony thought Levi would be able to hear him yell. He hollered, “Levi, I need some help!” several times.
“I had my phone with me,” said Tony. “But Levi had left his in the truck, so I knew that wasn’t an option. And I didn’t know if we had service. Sometimes we did, and sometimes we didn’t. And if I called an ambulance, we were behind two locked gates and they would have a time getting to us. So I needed to get Levi’s attention.”
Tony hollered some more, and fired a shot with his rifle. Levi had already heard his dad yell and was on his way. When he arrived, Levi found a stick about the length of Tony’s leg, and he tied it to Tony’s leg as a splint. He then helped Tony into the back of the Mule, and they drove out.
At the road, Levi was unable to lift Tony into the back of their truck. Luckily a car came by. Levi flagged down the vehicle, and the driver helped him load Tony into the truck. Levi then drove his dad to the hospital in Canton.
A metal rod and three bolts were permanently inserted into Tony’s leg to reinforce the shattered bone. Six months later he is still recovering.
“I am not going to complain,” said Tony. “I can walk without a walking stick now, and the bones are finally starting to heal. I still walk with a limp, but the doctors say that will go away.”
Recovering from broken bones is only part of the problem resulting from a fall from a tree stand. Tony estimates his medical expenses at around $40,000.
“I got a bill from everybody,” he said.
Tony says he will now inspect his stands carefully before he climbs. The friend who owns the stand took measures to see that the legs didn’t come apart again. He took the collapsed stand down, drilled holes through the connecting sections of tubing and installed bolts to prevent the sections from slipping apart again.
Tony recommends hunting with a partner and carrying a cell phone.
“I used to hunt alone all the time,” he said. “I would stay until dark and come home, and I never thought much about it. I always thought I was safe. But this is something you just don’t expect.”
When Wasps Attack
Richard Taylor, 41, of Warner Robins found out the hard way that sharing a Wilkinson County stand with a swarm of irate wasps can be a dangerous proposition. Here is his story:
“On Tuesday October 12, my friend, Brett Puckett, and I had been out camping and deer hunting for two days. After the morning hunt, I went to one of my 15-foot tower stands to do some repair work where squirrels had eaten the foam away from around my shooting rail. Upon climbing into tower stand, I saw a wasp nest the size of a tennis ball in the ceiling. As far as I could tell, I could not see any wasps. I poked at the wasp nest with a stick of foam, but didn’t see any wasps.
“Unknown to me, all the wasps were hanging on the back side of the nest. Then when I went to brush the wasp nest off the ceiling they began to attack. In my haste to escape the wasps, my rubber boot slipped from the top step. My legs slipped between the rungs of the ladder turning me upside down and causing me to fall 15 feet head first.
“When I hit the ground, I heard my neck make a cracking sound. I looked at my left wrist and noticed that it was crooked, and immediately knew that I had broken it.
“I had a great deal of pain in my neck, the middle of my back, and in my right arm.
“Not knowing how badly I was hurt, I knew I had to get up and get out quick. I was on the back side of our property as far away from camp as you could possibly get. In a daze, I managed to get up and stagger over to my friend’s ATV. I could not use my left arm at all and could barely use my right. I managed to make my way back to camp and found Brett. I told him what had happened, and that he needed to take me to the hospital. By this time, I had lost the use of my right arm as well. Immediately we jumped in the truck and made our way to the medical center in Macon, 25 or 30 miles away.
“The whole time I was praying that I had not injured my spine. It turns out the only thing broken was my left wrist. Two days later, they performed surgery to repair the wrist. They used a titanium plate and screws to repair the broken bone. Today, my neck and back are free of pain but the right arm is still giving me problems.
“After the fall, my doctor informed me that there would be no hunting until the end of November. Needless to say, two weeks after the accident, I was back hunting even if it was hunting from the ground.
“I would like to stress to all you readers please be careful this season. Your whole life could change in an instant.”
Two weeks after his fall, Richard was back in the woods and killed a nice 8-point buck. And the story doesn’t end there. When he went in to have the cast removed from his left arm, he told the doctor that he was still having problems with his right arm. The doctor ordered more X-rays taken and discovered that a bone in Richard’s right forearm had been broken in the fall, too.
Richard now has non-skid tape on the ladder rungs to his stands, and you can bet he is a lot more cautious about wasp nests, too.
Walton County Bowhunter Paralyzed By A Fall
Bowhunter Dan Haines, 37, of Loganville, fell on November 16, 2002. Like most falls from tree stands, the plunge took place while Dan was climbing. Here is his story:
“My name is Dan Haines and I am an archery hunter. I share my story with the hope that it prevents a fellow hunter from sustaining a permanent severe injury like mine.
“I haven’t always been an archery hunter. Before picking up a bow, several deer fell to my shotgun in the special-regulations areas surrounding my home in western Montgomery County, Pennsylvania where I was raised. I was introduced to archery in 1990 by a good friend, David Albright.
“As I would guess was the case with most of you, the first time I fired a bow, I was hooked. That first year, I learned all I could, spent more than I should on gear, and lived in the woods. You know how it goes. First there were the hours spent in the backyard. Then there were countless archery shoots, trips to the pro-shops and, of course, hours in the woods scouting and hunting during the generous Pennsylvania archery season.
“Being one who had some good connections, I enjoyed hunting some superb tracts of land. With that resource and my improving skills, I was able to connect on some nice deer; my best was taken in October of 1993. The buck scored 154 3/8 Pope & Young points and weighed 230 pounds, field-dressed. I am blessed to have a faithful wife who shared my excitement, in light of the sacrifices she made for it, and for that I am grateful.
“Work carried my family and I to Georgia several years ago, and I picked up right where I left off. I built a house in Loganville in an area surrounded by good deer habitat and, in no time, I had my sights on a couple of good bucks. I took a few does and had several close encounters with some good bucks, but still hadn’t connected.
“It was November 16, 2002. I spent the morning and early part of the afternoon doing chores around the house. I was assembling a couple of bar stools that we had purchased to go around the island in our kitchen. I enjoy doing things with my hands, whether indoors or out.
“Our 3-year-old daughter was getting into everything in the basement, and I was efficiently deferring to my wife to keep an eye on her while I worked. I remember each event like it was yesterday.
“The rain tapered off, and since I had completed my chores, I asked my wife Jill if she would mind if I went hunting. She graciously agreed, and I ran upstairs to start getting ready.
“As is always the case when I am heading out the door to go hunting, my wife asked, “When will you be back?” And, I responded, as always, “A little after dark.” It is our routine and always brings smiles to our faces. I quickly pulled on my camos and boots and gathered my gear.
“It was going on 4 p.m., and I knew the deer would start moving soon, so I decided to go to one of my closer hunting spots. I walked about 300 yards out my back door, over a small crest and down a hill, through a thicket of pines and an open stand of oaks. I arrived at a thick stand of pines and other assorted trees and vines that made up a natural funnel for deer passing between two tracts of woods. I had hunted this funnel on many occasions. A year earlier had almost connected on a nice 8-point, but he never slowed down enough to get a shot.
I quickly selected a likely tree and attached my tree stand, tied my rope to my bow, and started to shinny up the tree. The climber I was using is an older model with the type of seat that required me to carry it up and then attach it to the stand. I have always been too cheap to invest in the upper climbing portion and had always used the “hug the tree” method to climb up. When I get to the height I want, I attach my seat, turn around and put my safety strap on.
On this day, I found myself getting wet as my clothes absorbed the water from the rain-soaked bark. As I approached the top of the tree, I reached for a limb to carry me up so that I could avoid continuing to hug the wet tree. I pulled myself up and began to pull my feet up when the limb broke.
“The next thing I remember is somersaulting backwards for only a moment. It was then that I heard and felt my back break when I hit the ground.
“I knew instantly that I was paralyzed. The pain was only overshadowed by the reality of my predicament. I prayed, I cursed, I thought of suicide, I thought of my family. The next several hours, I called out, as loudly as I could in all directions, but I was too far from any homes for anybody to hear me. Despair was gripping me as I laid there shaking from the cold. I could move my arms, and raise my head, but I could not feel my legs or move them. Every breath and even the shivering hurt my broken back.
“As time slipped by, I just wanted to go to sleep and die, but it hurt too much to sleep. After about six hours, I was found by a friend searching for me who used a walkie-talkie to contact my wife who called 911.
“By the time the paramedics reached me, I was going into shock. As I cried out in pain, they strapped me to a spine board and carried me to an ambulance where they cut off my clothes and boots. I was then loaded onto a helicopter and life-flighted to Atlanta Medical Center.
“It wasn’t until I got to the hospital that I saw my wife and daughter. It broke my heart to see my daughter looking at me with that “What happened to my daddy?” look in her eyes as I was taken to the ER.
“Two days later, in a seven-hour surgery, doctors put two titanium rods, two brackets and eight screws in my back to support my broken T-12 vertebrae. They told me what I already knew: I was paralyzed with a permanent injury.
“I was transferred to the Shepherd Center which specializes in treating people with spinal-cord injuries and provides rehab and therapy. I had bouts of depression those first several days and cried as I thought of my life in a wheelchair. I’d never be able to walk my daughter down the aisle. Only God and the support of my family and friends sustained me during that time.
“I went through six months of therapy. I had to heal and learn how to do things differently. I learned how to dress myself, bathe, go to the bathroom, operate and clean my wheelchair, transfer to the bed, car, furniture, and floor, and work. The challenges have been endless, but like all humans, who are designed to be able to adjust to difficulties, I am no different.
“Please consider my story when you go into the woods this year. Wear your safety harnesses and invest in high-quality equipment. Archery hunters are a great group of guys. I don’t want to read about any more situations like mine.”
In mid June, Dan had returned from Portugal where he underwent experimental surgery on his back. He reports that he has been back in the deer woods bowhunting from a camouflaged golf cart. The medical expenses, surgeries and the cost of retrofitting his house to life in a wheelchair have been well over $100,000.
One Slip, 20-feet Up A Tree
Keith Mosley of Stapleton had almost reached his deer stand when he slipped. Like Dan Haines, Keith was high off the ground, and was not wearing a safety strap while he climbed.
On Saturday, December 18, 2004, Keith, 47 at the time, left home with his 27-year-old son Brian for an afternoon hunt on family land in northern Jefferson County. It was a pretty day; the wind was right, the moon was right, the day was perfect for hunting. Or so it seemed.
Keith films hunting trips for The World of Hunting on the Men’s Channel. He also films the Muzzy Series videos. Keith has been a deer hunter for 36 years and had never been injured in any hunting-related incident — until last December.
That afternoon, Keith and Brian split up, but were bowhunting within 80 yards of each other. Keith went to a pin-oak tree in a thicket. The tree had screw-in steps leading to two stands that were sometimes used for filming. He tied his bow to his pull cord and then started climbing steps. When he was about 20-feet high, he attempted to step with his right leg onto his stand, but as he did, his left foot slipped on the metal peg. As he lost his balance, he grabbed for a tree limb that would have steadied him — but under his weight the limb snapped.
Keith said the fall only took a split-second. He hit the ground at a 45-degree angle, slamming onto his back. The impact threw him forward down a hill onto his face. The force of his face hitting the ground broke all the bones above and below his right eye, crushed his sinuses, and broke his nose.
“I thought, was pouring blood, bleeding out of my nose, and that really scared me.”
Keith began to scream for Brian, who rushed to his father’s aid. They used Keith’s cell phone to call 911. Help arrived within 20 minutes and within an hour of the fall, Keith was in the Medical College of Georgia’s Trauma Center.
Keith’s right femur had been shattered. A steel rod was inserted into his leg that extended from his hip to his knee. Steel plates and pins went into his wrist. Six months after the fall, his right leg has not healed completely. According to Keith, his medical bills have exceeded $75,000. A safety belt would have saved Keith a lot of pain and expense.
“I was wearing a safety belt but I wasn’t using it while I was climbing because there were so many limbs in the way,” he said. “Everybody is thinking about seeing deer, and thinking of the big buck, and safety is the last thing on their mind — when it should be the first thing.
“They make a rope that attaches to the top of the tree that you can clip onto, and you slide your safety harness clip along as you go up. If I slip again, they won’t find me at the bottom of the tree — I may be hanging from the tree, but I won’t be on the ground.”
Deer season starts in September. Wear a safety harness when your feet aren’t on the ground. The cost of a quality safety harness pales in comparison to the thousands of dollars in medical expenses you risk. A fall can happen to you. Just ask these guys.
Editor’s Note: For information on rope fall arrestors, which can be used with ladder stands or when climbing screw-in steps, Google search for rope grab systems or fall arrestors.
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