Tree Stand Fall A Lesson For All Hunters
A hunter's personal account of a family hunt on Alapaha WMA that turned into a nightmare in an instant.
I would like to ask for a few minutes of your time, especially any hunters. I want to tell the story of an accident, about what happened that turned a family hunting trip into a nightmare in the blink of an eye.
This trip was planned for my dad Eddie Gordon, my son Adam Luke and myself. Some of the greatest childhood memories I have are memories of being in the great outdoors with my dad and my granddaddy growing up. There has been no greater joy as a father than passing that tradition down to my son.
So I looked up this Alapaha WMA hunt and saw that it was close to my son’s birthday. I knew I had a couple days of vacation that I could use and talked with my dad and got him interested as well, since he hasn’t hunted in several years and his taste, as well as mine, for fresh venison backstraps has almost become unbearable.
So two weeks prior to the hunt we went and scouted around. We found daddy a place covered in fresh deer sign from the rut beginning to kickoff to put up his ladder stand. Then we went and checked a place that I had in mind for me and Adam to hunt. Sure enough I found a huge scrape, roughly the size of the hood of my truck, just inside a creek bottom facing the Alapaha River itself.
So the week of the hunt came. As I was getting all my camping and hunting gear ready, I looked at my safety harness, and I purposely left it. I said, ‘Nah, I’m not gonna be that high due to the low ceiling of the forest canopy. I would be no higher than 10 to 12 feet, so I left it home.
On this trip, I had two priorities: get my son Adam on his first buck, and re-instill the itch in my dad’s trigger finger along with his hunger for fresh deer meat. When we hung our stands Tuesday evening, I set up a camera over the scrape Adam and I would be hunting. As faith would have it, there was a nice lil’ 7-pointer tending the scrape that I knew would be a perfect first buck for him (the trail-cam picture at the beginning of my story).
We planned to hunt from Wednesday to Sunday, pulling out at lunch to come home ending our weekend. We hunted Wednesday morning with no luck, although Adam and I did see a huge bobcat that may have dwarfed a few Labradors that I’ve seen. Wednesday evening we hunted, now I had mine and Adam’s stand kind of facing each other (within whispering distance), but I had him turned toward the scrape. I said if a buck comes through, he’s gonna check out that scrape, and it would give Adam a perfect 20-yard shot the way I had him setup. My back was toward the trail out to a pine row we walked in on, and his back was toward the river, which was about 75 yards from us.
That afternoon a buck made a showing. It came in from behind me and slipped off to my left (Adam’s right) before I could ever see it. He didn’t spook or anything, he just slipped in and passed on. Wednesday evening I checked the camera back at camp, and that’s when we got the pictures of the 7-point. I saw my son’s eyes glow brighter than any child after Santa shows up. We hunted Thanksgiving morning with no luck again, and we came back to town to spend holiday time with family and get overly gorged on food, as well. Friday we decided to make a switch and do a midday hunt due to the full moon, which was unsuccessful, as well.
Now on to Saturday morning, the morning of the accident and the worst day I’ve ever had in the woods. It was a little cool that morning in the high 40s to low 50s with a faint mist of rain. Just dreary, gloomy, stay in by the fire and snuggle weather. But I got up and said no, we’re gonna go, we’re gonna go. The Lord rewards hard work, and Adam had already put in a lot of hard work, he would soon be rewarded.
As day broke when we were up in the tree, everything stayed quiet and silent. There were not nearly as many birds chirping or squirrels stirring about, a morning most deer hunters wish for, everything was just quiet and calm. I had started to see the irritation in my son of the lack of deer activity. So at the moment I bowed my head while I was in the stand and asked the Lord to just let him see the buck we got on camera. Even if he didn’t kill him or get a shot, just let him see him. The entire morning stayed pretty much calm and quiet like daybreak. About 8:10 after using a doe bleat can call. I spotted the buck coming up the ridge from the river.
I whispered to Adam, “Here he comes, here he comes, get your gun turned around.”
Because he had it pointed to his left, the direction of the scrape, and the buck was passing on his right. I kept hitting the can call every minute or so trying to encourage the buck closer for a better shot. He kept wanting to hang up behind some dense brush, and I knew Adam wouldn’t take the shot although he had the best gun for that task, a Marlin lever action chambered in .30-30 Winchester with a 3-9×40 scope. Well, I remembered seeing a video online about blowing softly into the bottom of a can bleat call when a buck is close in but you need him to come more for a better shot……….well I can tell you first hand, DON’T EVER DO IT!!! As soon as I blew softly into that call, he hauled butt and left the county.
Then amongst my disgust with myself already, Adam said to me, “I had a clear shot and was about to shoot.”
BAM!!! Another million tons of disgust lands on me. I was just sick beyond words. All I could say to him was, “Buddy I’m so sorry, I had him right there for you and then blew it literally. I’m so sorry.”
I looked at my watch and it was nearing 8:20. I kept using the can call, the way the instructions say, trying to see if I could coax the buck back, but deep down I knew he was gone. So about 9 a.m. I sent my dad a text and my exact words were, “We’re getting down, I’ve done won jackass dad of the year, this morning.”
Little did I know how deep that message would turn out to be… I continued to sit in my seat of my climber as I saw my son safely to the ground. When he got down and got his gear together, I lowered my bow down to him and began getting ready to start my climb down. But before I did, I told Adam about my earlier prayer, I told him I prayed to God that you would at least see that buck, not kill or even get a shot, but just see him, and he did just that! I looked toward the sky and said thank you Lord. I picked up the top piece of my climber to begin my decent and realized I didn’t put my backpack on, it was still hanging on the side of my stand, so I sat the top half of my climber back down on the tree. But I did not sit back down on it to get it bit back into the tree and locked in like it’s supposed to be. As I went to reach for my backpack on the side of the stand, the top half of my climber fell to the foot piece. As I tried to reach and catch it, I lost my balance as started falling backwards. As I was falling, I felt my feet tangle in the stand, and all I could think was this was going to be really bad and it was going to snap my legs when I caught full force.
Luckily my feet were caught in the seat webbing and straps of the stand, and I was just left hanging about 10 feet in the air. Panic mode was in full force, I knew I was in big trouble. My son was freaking out and crying, it was not a situation that I thought I’d ever encounter because “I wasn’t gonna climb that high.”
As I was hanging there, I stretched out as far as I could reach and saw I was still higher than I wanted to be to take a fall upside down. After a couple of seconds I realized I could reach the stand when I raised up. So I grabbed ahold of the climber and began getting myself free. My right foot almost instantly came free with little effort. My left foot took a bit more. But I am glad I got caught up the way I did. If I would of hit the ground full force when I first started falling, there’s no doubt in mind that I wouldn’t be able to share this story today and the outcome would of been way worse.
As I could feel my hand slipping grip from the stand, my left foot came free and down I came. I landed on my head and neck and left shoulder and arm. As I unfolded myself, I was laying on my back, and my son came running to my side, asking if I was ok. I told him yes, daddy just got the wind knocked out of him, just let me roll over on my stomach and collect my bearings. As I rolled over, my left shoulder did not want to work, and it was an instant fiery burning pain I had never felt before, especially around my elbow. I instantly thought about compound fracture. So I began assessing myself for injuries and deformities as best as I could at this point. By this time I was sitting up on the ground. I was collecting items I had dropped out of my pockets during the fall. I never lost consciousness. As I stood up, my vision instantaneously filled with white spots along with dizziness, and then came one of the strongest surges of nausea I’ve ever felt. At this point I knew I was in big trouble! I knew I could not walk out to my truck back at the gate. So I told Adam that I felt sick and I needed to sit down. I pulled my cell phone out and checked, good service.
I first called 911, and I told the dispatcher what happened and where I was. I told her to connect me over to Georgia State Patrol because that is who dispatches Georgia DNR game wardens, and i told her that I was gonna need one to help get me out. So I got connected over, told the GSP dispatch what my emergency was and location. I told her to get the warden to call me, and I could tell them exactly where I was located to within 20 yards. So she took my name and number then said one would call me back momentarily. So at this point I knew my dad would be waiting at my truck for me and Adam to come out, so I sent Adam to get him. While I was waiting for the call back, I knew it may take a bit, so I called a good friend Sheriff Cone to see if he had a direct number to warden, because I knew needed help fast. I hadn’t been on the phone with him a minute, and my phone beeped with a number I wasn’t familiar with. I switched over, and it was the warden. Luckily he was already on the WMA I was hunting. I told him what happened and where I was. He said he’d be to me in less than 5 minutes. While waiting for his arrival, I tried calling my fiance and kept getting a carrier busy signal. So called the Sheriff back to see if he could get in touch with her for me, which he did.
The warden, my dad and son got to me; that’s when I told them I knew I was hurt pretty bad and needed to go the hospital. I asked the warden to drive me to the front entrance. He really didn’t want me to move me, but I told him that I had been a firefighter-EMT for well over 14 years with at least 10 years a piece between each branch, and that his pickup truck would be a lot smoother ride out of these woods than any ambulance. So he obliged. I got up and walked to his truck. The EMS had sent out their squad truck, and it was operated by a guy who I had worked with before in my EMS career, Joe Thompson. I told him what happened and gave him the full story with my medical history. When the ambulance got there, they got me loaded up and assessed my vitals and transported me to Tift Regional ER. On the way I was talking with Ricky and telling him everything that happened and how negligent I was for leaving my harness at home and was mentally starting to beat myself up. He seemed to see it and started to ask me questions about the campground at the WMA, changing my directional thinking and keeping me calm.
When I got to the ER, they ran several tests and x-rays. Soon I found out that indeed I had fractured my neck, and an orthopedic physician would be in to see me sometime that day. It wasn’t 20 minutes when I saw him walk by the trauma room I was in, and then less than 5 minutes he came in. That’s when he explained that I had three fractures amongst two vertebrae (C6 & C7) in my neck. Two of the fractures were on the back of the vertebrae, the spiny part that looks like a fin. The third fracture, which is of most concern to him, was between the two vertebrae, where it keeps your neck in line and structurally supported. He said, as everything sits where it is now and heals, it will be fine. But if it shifts, it will have to be surgically corrected or it could cause paralysis.
In so many words, he said I came as close as I possibly could to having paralysis.
BUT I WASN’T CLIMBING THAT HIGH?!?!?!
Not only did I go through this horrific accident, and I still have a long road of recovery ahead, but my son was there and witnessed this nightmare unfold. That’s something that will never be erased from his mind, and that hurts me worse than any of the physical pain I’m enduring.
Now that you’ve read my testimony, I’m begging you as brothers and sisters of the outdoors, wear your safety harness! No matter how high you think you won’t be climbing. No matter what kind of inconvenience it may appear to present before the hunt, no matter how close you will be to help. Always wear a full body safety harness and be tied in from the time you leave the ground until the time you feet get back on the ground! Wear it, wear it every time, and make sure your family, friends and loved ones wear theirs every time too! I’m just very thankful that I’m still alive and well enough to share this story so it may prevent another accident like I went through or one even worse. Thank you for taking the time to read this story. Please share it with your family and friends, as well as anyone or groups on Facebook. God bless you all!
I want to take a few minutes to say thank you to everyone for all of your prayers, calls, texts, Facebook messages and post. The show of love and support for me and my family from all the people has been very heart warming and overwhelming during this tragic event. For those who have not seen or heard I had a serious accident Saturday while deer hunting, I fell from my deer stand resulting in 2 fractured vertebrae in my neck. I truly can not tell each one of you, thank you enough!!! I’m too scared to try to list everyone who has expressed words of comfort and I may forget someone and I don’t want anyone left out because each one of you have made this difficult time a lot easier to endure. I do however want to say a special thank you to a few people: Ben Hill County Sheriff Lee Cone for helping me get help on the way and contacting Angie for me; Georgia Law Enforcement Division game warden Chris Thompson for a quick response in getting to my aid and getting me to the WMA entrance for EMS—Chris is indeed one of the most professional wardens you will ever find. Irwin County 911 dispatcher Chanda Burke, who was my dispatch partner when I worked 911 dispatch years ago, for getting help there as quick as possible and keeping me calm. Also, a big thank you for getting me to the hospital to the guys of Irwin County EMS—Joe Thompson, Ricky Edwards, Richard Webb. I can’t thank you people enough!
Other Articles You Might Enjoy