Hunt Accidents Can Happen To Anyone, Anytime
These harrowing accounts are a reminder to all hunters to think about safety in the deer woods.
Given the number of hunters and the millions of man-hours spent afield, hunting remains a relatively safe sport — but accidents occur.
During the 1997-98 Georgia hunting season, the DNR Law Enforcement Section recorded 65 hunting-related accidents. The total includes 16 self-inflicted injuries, 20 cases where one hunter shot another, and the highest number of injuries, 29, resulted from falls from tree stands. Seven people were killed in hunting-related accidents.
What follows here is the account of four hunting-related accidents that occurred in Georgia last season.
Bobby and Beth Adams and their son Jamie, of Newington, are a deer-hunting family. Bobby met Beth at their hunt club and Jamie, now six, has been going along to the family-oriented Screven County hunt camp since he was two. Over the past two seasons he has spent time in stands with his father or one of his grandfathers watching for deer.
“He’s serious about his deer hunting,” said Bobby. “He has his own camos and boots and his own grunt call.”
Last October 26, the second day of Georgia’s firearms deer season, it was raining early in the day and most members of the hunt club slept in. The rain slacked off later in the morning and by 9 a.m. Bobby and Jamie decided to head for the woods. They went to the club map board and picked Lane’ s Stand, an enclosed stand in an oak tree on a flat ridge.
The father-and-son hunters rode a four-wheeler nearly a mile then parked along the logging road and walked for a distance before turning into the forest. Approximately 100 yards into the woods they came to their stand.
The enclosed stand, about four feet square, was constructed of 2x4s and plywood and had a roof to keep wet weather out. The 4-year-old stand had been built on the ground and then hoisted into the tree where it was nailed into place. A ladder provided access to the 10-foot-tall stand.
Before Bobby and Jamie climbed up, Bobby showed his son a scrape near the stand and they put out doe-in-heat scent. At about 9:15 a.m. they climbed the ladder, entered the stand and closed the door behind them. Inside was a chair. Bobby propped his Winchester lever-action in the corner, sat down in the chair and Jamie climbed into his lap. They whispered about what they might see and began to watch the hardwoods for deer. Jamie gave a few grunts on his grunt call.
According to Bobby, the stand was a good one, but it was not one of the most popular on the club and it had not been hunted on opening day. During the club work day the summer before when the stands were checked, Lane’s Stand had apparently been overlooked. Later inspection would reveal that the growth of the tree had caused the nails holding the blind in place to pull out of the tree. Now, with the added weight of the hunters in the stand, the nails were slowly giving way. Bobby and Jamie didn’t know it, but they were hanging by a thread.
“At about 9:30 the stand shifted,” said Bobby. “First the left side shifted, then the right side, and then the whole thing came completely down with us in it.
“I didn’t know what to do. It all happened like it was in slow motion. I could hear Jamie screaming as the stand collapsed. I don’t know if I blacked out or what, but when I came back into focus we were on the ground and I could hear Jamie crying. I knew I was hurt, my right arm was numb. My head had hit the roof and then apparently all my weight had come down on my elbow. Jamie had landed at my feet and his leg apparently hit the board that you rest your rifle on to shoot.”
The stand had landed on its side and the door had popped open.
“I told Jamie that we had to get out of there,” said Bobby. “He crawled out but was crying about his right leg hurting.”
The fall had broken Jamie’ s right femur, the long bone in his thigh. He had also broken the thumb on his left hand.
The impact had destroyed Bobby’s right elbow. Doctors would later do what they described as “salvage surgery,” opening the elbow to attempt to put the pieces back like working on a jigsaw puzzle.
Meanwhile, the father and son needed assistance. They yelled for help, but no one heard them. Finally, Bobby knelt down and used his left arm to grasp Jamie. “I know this is going to hurt,” he said, “but I have to pick you up.”
He staggered 100 yards to the road while Jamie cried softly.
Bobby left Jamie at the edge of the road and hurried to bring the four-wheeler. When he returned, he placed Jamie across the back of the vehicle and best as he could with one good arm, he drove and held Jamie in place.
“It was a long, slow, bumpy ride,” said Bobby. “The adrenaline kept me going,” he said. “I knew my little boy was hurt and I had to get him out.”
As they neared the hunt camp they met another club member and help was summoned. Another club member who was a paramedic assisted and a cellular phone was used to call an ambulance for the ride to a hospital in Statesboro. Jamie held up well, given his injuries. He was the most upset when medics cut his camouflage britches off.
Jamie was enclosed in a body cast that went from just below his chest down his right leg to his ankle. The cast continued to his left knee where a brace crossed to his right hip. The boy lived in the contraption for approximately eight weeks — and he also wore a cast on his left forearm.
Bobby went through four hours of surgery to place “four screws, several pins, two rods and about a pound of wire” in his right elbow and forearm. Medical expenses ran about $30,000. Most of the cost was carried by the hunt club insurance policy as well as by the Adams’ personal medical insur- ance.
Today Bobby can pull his bow and shoot a rifle. Jamie is good as new and at press time was about to start soccer practice. Both hunters will be back in the woods this fall, although Jamie is opting for a metal tower stand over- looking a food plot rather than one of the wooden box stands.
“It was a bad fall,” said Bobby, “but it could have been a lot worse. It has made our club a lot more safety conscious.”
Hunter Shot “Mistaken for Game”
The most frightening category of hunting accident is the “shooter/victim” classification. Amazingly, in 20 instances last year, one hunter shot another. Gary Stanford, 47, of Cumming was one of the hunters who was shot “mistaken for game.”
Gary thought he had completed his hunting day. He spent the afternoon and evening of Saturday, November 8 on a stand overlooking a Greene County hay field. The club was located off Walter Church Road near I-20 not far from Greensboro. When he thought it was too dark to shoot, Gary climbed out of his stand and started toward his vehicle.
He had walked approximately 400 yards when he saw another club member, Rickey Jones, of Suwanee, and his son about 80 yards away.
Gary stopped and was about to light a cigarette when a .270 round flashed through his right leg below the knee. The crash of a high-powered rifle followed almost instantly.
The bullet struck and shattered the two bones in his lower leg and blew the opposite side of his leg away. Gary crumpled to the ground.
“It didn’t really hurt when it went through,” said Gary. “I knew I had been shot, and the shot came from where Rickey was. I yelled, ‘You’ve shot me!’”
According to DNR and Greene County Sheriff’s Department reports, and by Mr. Jones’ account, his son had shot a deer earlier and they were trailing it. As they came out of the woods they reportedly saw something move that they thought was a deer. Mr. Jones aimed through his scoped, bolt-action rifle and fired.
“It was just an accident,” Mr. Jones told GON. “I could swear that it was a deer.”
They immediately heard Gary cry out.
“When we heard him, we ran up there and got him out of the woods as quickly as we could,” said Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones didn’t know where the nearest hospital was, so Gary had to remain alert to give him directions.
“My leg was bleeding badly,” said Gary. “They said later that I lost six pints of blood. I was afraid that I was going to bleed to death. I put a tourniquet on or I probably wouldn’t have made it.”
The wounded hunter was driven to the hospital in Greensboro where a Life Support helicopter was summoned and Gary was flown to Athens Regional Hospital.
Gary remembers little about the first two weeks of the 3 1/2 weeks he spent in the hospital. “I was sort of drifting in and out,” he said.
Doctors tried for two weeks to save his leg but there was little to work with. Finally his leg was removed below the knee. Today Gary walks with a prosthesis.
The hospital bill ran to $104,000, not counting doctor bills or the cost of the prosthesis. The total monetary cost of the accident will run in the $120,000 to $130,000 range, said Gary.
Rickey Jones still comes by to check on Gary.
“He swears up and down that he was shooting at a deer,” said Gary.
Gary said he intends to hunt this fall, but Rickey said he wasn’t sure whether he would or not.
According to DNR Law Enforcement records, no charges were filed against Rickey Jones.
Ladder Stand Nightmare
David Griffin, 49, of Flowery Branch, is one of the 29 hunters who were injured in tree-stand accidents.
Wednesday, November 26, 1997 is a date David will remember for the rest of his life.
“I’m not really a big hunter,” said David. “I hunted when I was younger and had just picked it back up about five years ago. I only go hunting four or five times a year.”
On the day before Thanksgiving last year, David and several co-workers got off work early and headed for hunting land in Banks County off Yonah Road. When David and a friend parked their truck, David picked up his cellular phone and stuck it in his pocket. “You never know what might happen,” he thought.
His friend led him to his stand, a 10- or 12-foot tall ladder stand leaning against a tree. From the small plywood platform atop the ladder David had a view of an open area in front of him. Behind him was a thicket. His friend assured him that deer had been coming to the opening, especially in the late afternoon. David placed deer scent on several cotton balls that he scattered around the tree before laying his cell phone and flashlight at the base of the tree and climbing up.
The day was overcast and breezy, David remembers, because the tree was moving in the wind and the plywood seat was creaking.
“I’m going to get out of this stand, it’s kind of rickety,” he thought. He looked at his watch and noted that it was 2:20 p.m.
Before David could climb down, he began to cough. He had been recovering from a virus and was still congested, he said. “I was afraid I was going to scare all the deer away so I leaned forward to tuck my face into the front of my coat to muffle the cough,” he said.
As he coughed violently, he apparently passed out.
The next thing David remembers is waking up on the ground in a blurry daze.
“I knew I hadn’t climbed down, and then I realized that I had fallen, and then the pain started.”
He looked at his watch again, and it was 2:40 p.m.
David could feel that his jaw had been gashed.
“I could tell I was bleeding from somewhere because my chin was sticky,” he said.
David had fallen on top of his rifle and the firearm may have been what shattered his jaw. One of his teeth had been knocked completely out. Another had been split to the root, and still another had been cracked.
When he looked at his right foot it was twisted at an impossible angle and white-hot pain seared up and down his leg. David rolled off his rifle, flipped the safety off and fired a three-shot distress signal to alert his hunting buddies. He then picked up his cell phone and called 911. His call was answered by a Clarke County operator.
“I’ve fallen out of a tree and I think I’ve broken my leg,” he told the operator.
“Where are you located,” she asked.
“Three-fifths of a mile off Yonah Road in Banks County,” he replied.
“I can’ t help you, I’ m in Clarke County,” the operator said.
“I’m laying on the ground and I’m hurt, can’t you transfer my call?” said David.
“No,” the woman said, “but I can give you a seven-digit number to call,” she said.
David had nothing to write with and scratched away the leaves to attempt to write the number in the dirt, but could not. Finally, in frustration, he hung up on the operator and called his wife at home. Luckily she had just walked in the door and she was able to contact emergency help.
A club member who had heard David’s shots came to investigate and afterwards hurried to open a gate for the ambulance.
David’s friend also came and was shocked to see David’s smashed jaw. David reached up and touched his jaw and his thumb disappeared into the wound up to the first joint.
“I felt like I was going into shock,” said David. “I had him raise my left leg, but I told him ‘please don’t touch my right leg.’”
Apparently when David had started to pitch forward out of the tree his right foot had dropped behind the first rung of the ladder and it twisted as his body dropped below the rung. His ankle shattered, both his tibia and fibula were broken below the knee. His femur was broken, as was his hip.
The medics were brought in by four-wheel drive. David screamed while his leg was splinted and they braced his neck and placed him on a back board for the ride out. He was taken to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. Doctors worked most of the night to set his leg. His jaw, which had been broken in two places, was not reset until after Thanksgiving day. His mouth was wired shut for four weeks to allow the jaw to mend, and David lost 30 pounds.
Infection in the leg has been an ongoing problem. In January the leg had to be reopened to the bone to treat the infection in his thigh. Six months after the accident, David had metal pins removed from his lower leg, and it immediately became severely infected. He spent four more days in the hospital.
Today, David’s ankle still swells and aches and he carries a wicked scar that runs the length of his thigh. Dental repairs are still being made. He carries a metal plate in his jaw and a rod in his thigh. David estimates his medical expenses at between $80,000 and $100,000.
David was not wearing a safety belt. Now he thinks the safety strap should be mandatory for anyone hunting from an elevated tree stand. He has not given up hunting.
“When my stepson came to the hospital to see me after I had been hurt he said ‘Well, I guess I’m going to get a deer rifle out of this.’
“I told him that I was still going to be hunting with it,” said David. “And my wife said I could go hunting all I wanted — as long as I hunt no higher off the ground than the top of a five-gallon bucket.”
Georgia’s hunting accidents could be cut significantly if hunters would emphasize three things: wear safety belts in tree stands, positively identify their targets, and control the muzzle of their firearm at all times. GON reports on hunting accidents each year, but it’s a story we would like to do less frequently.
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