Live to Hunt another Day

Jeff Smith
January 2003

The nightmare began on a cold January afternoon in Jackson County.  I arrived at the hunting land with just enough daylight to stalk hunt up the mountain and across the top.  All day the wind had been howling out of the North, perfect for the stalk, and with the rut in full swing; I could hardly wait to get on the trail.  The stalk up the mountain was going great with a few deer sightings and the wind staying constantly in my face.  The narrow strip at the top of the mountain contained an abandoned field, grown up with small saplings.  The field is a deer magnet and itís not uncommon to find dozens of rubs in the field.

Arriving at the top of the mountain, I glassed the field carefully and saw no deer movement.  As I stalked across the field, I saw a nice buck walk out of the field and over the rim of the mountain.  He was not spooked, just moving down the opposite side of the mountain on an old logging road.  As he disappeared, I kicked it into high gear across the field hoping to make it to the opposite side in time to see the buck.  I recalled seeing a hanging treestand just off the top of the mountain near the logging road.  The club rules state that any member of the club can hunt a treestand left in the woods.  I headed for the treestand; the first thing I noticed was the stand had no rope to pull the rifle up.  I slung the rifle over my back and started to climb.  As I started up the steps, I came up right under the stand instead of off to the side Ė not good!  I would have a hard time getting in the stand.  I saw a limb the size of my wrist above and to the side of the stand; I grabbed the limb to help pull myself into the stand.  I pulled on the limb a couple times to test its strength, it seemed strong enough; and I decided to climb in the stand.  Just as I started up, the limb snapped off and I started falling toward the ground.  They say when you fall ďyour life flashes before your eyesĒ, I didnít see any of that but I do remember thinking ďthis is not goodĒ.  During the fall, my rifle had moved around my back to my chest area.  I was falling face first almost horizontal to the ground with my rifle right in front of my face.  As I hit the ground, the scope struck me across the face chipping a tooth and cutting my head just at the hairline.  I saw a few stars and lay there for several minutes.  My shoulder was hurting; of course my head was hurting from the cut.  I wiped my face with my hand and came up with a handful of blood.  I thought it was coming from my mouth and nose, which were bleeding, but had no idea of the cut on my head.  After lying there for a moment, I checked my watch and determined I had enough time to stalk hunt back to the truck. 

I was lucky; I lived through the fall with no major injuries.  Some are not so lucky.  Iíve thought back to that day many times and thanked the big hunting guide in the sky for not calling me to his hunting ground that cold January day. 

This hunting situation had four major problems that added up to spell disaster:

    1.      I didnít have my safety belt - I had not planned to hunt from a stand
    2.      Treestand hung incorrectly with steps under the stand instead of on the side on the stand
    3.      The treestand didnít have a rope attached
    4.      Placing to much trust in a limb to help pull myself in the stand

I had another unfortunate incident while hunting in Greene County a few years back.  Iím a big NASCAR fan and watching that black 3 turn left was one of the most beautiful sights on earth.  About the only thing that could keep me out of the woods during hunting season was when Earnhardt was running good.  I canít tell you how many times Iíve watched the 3-car win a race and then harvest a deer that afternoon.  It was always a good sign when he won and most of my friends would get their lantern ready if Earnhardt pulled off the victory.  It was Sunday afternoon at the club and the 3-car was around the front all afternoon.  We stayed at the lodge to watch the race electing to arrive in the woods a little late.  It was bow season and really warm, the weather was a good excuse to hang around. 

After the race, I arrived at the woods and had a good stand to hunt that afternoon.  The club has over thirty nice food plots of wheat, clover, ryegrass, oats and corn.  I had several hanging stands in place on the property.  I like to hunt out of hanging stands as I can slip into the stand quickly and quietly.  The stand I chose to hunt that afternoon was at the end of a large food plot of corn and wheat that borders a swamp.  The wind was perfect to ambush deer that were traveling out of the swamp and into the plot just before dark. 

I parked and walked through the plot to my stand.  I arrived at the hanging stand and tied my bow to the pull rope.  Being pressed for time, I started up the tree like a monkey grabbing steps as if a hungry bear was chasing me.  On the forth step, the step twisted out from under my boot and sent me toward the ground.  I fell straight down the tree and the back of my left thigh landed on the step momentarily stopping the fall.  I proceeded to fell over backward and land on my back forcing every last molecule of air out of my lungs. When you have a child born, you always count fingers and toes to make sure everythingís in place.  Thatís what I did after I was able to get some air in my lungs; I started to mentally sort things out.  No major pain except my leg, I can move my arms and legs; everything seemed to be working.

After lying on the ground for several minutes, I was much more careful while climbing the tree for the second time.  For the rest of the afternoon, the back of my leg burned like fire.  When I arrived back at the camp, I looked in the mirror at the back of my leg and had a very bad bruise that covered the entire back of my leg.  The area where the step struck my leg was glowing like a beacon.  Itís better to take a little extra time than risk a serious injury that could end your hunting season or worse your life.

One club in Jackson County has a plaque attached to a tree where a hunter fell and died several decades ago.  Every year before the season opened, Iíd walk to that plaque and read it just to remind myself of what could happen. 

Each season, you hear of hunters being injured or dieing from falling out of treestands.  Hunting from treestands is the most dangerous part of hunting - especially in the South where treestand hunting is prevalent.  An old man who hunted all his life told me, ďYou see deer from the ground and harvest deer from a treestandĒ.   This statement has a lot of merit to it.  A lot of deer get harvested off the ground every year but being in a treestand has many advantages over sitting at ground level.  The major disadvantage is the chance of falling to the ground.

The next time youíre in a gymnasium, compare the height you hunt to the height of the basketball goal.  I normally hunt from 20 to 25 feet.  Itís amazing to look twice as high as the goal and imagine falling to the ground from that height.  Iíve survived two falls and hope number three never occurs.

Some people say they wear a safety belt for their family; these people have not fallen from a treestand.  Trust me, I want to see my kids grow up as much as anyone but thereís a lot of pain associated with hitting the ground.  I wear a safety belt for my family and myself.  The human body is not well equipped to take on the ground Ė youíll lose that battle every time as the ground is very unforgiving.  If youíre in a situation where you know your going to fall and jump, you have some control over the outcome.  Iíve had friends who lost their balance and jumped from a boat, log, shooting house roof, latter, etc. Iíll assure you itís much different when one moment all is well and then the next youíre falling.  You donít have time to react before your greet mother earth in a very personal way. 

The great state of Alabama is blessed with mature hardwood and pine forest.  Hunting from the treetops can give the hunter a great advantage in visibility but can also spell doom if a fall occurs.  Always wear a safety belt, take your time when climbing and remember other hunters may not be as safety conscience with their equipment.  Be careful and live to hunt another day.

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