OKAY, GUYS AND GALS. Let’s have a show of hands. And please be honest about how you answer my questions. Ready? Here goes: How many of you bowhunters always wear a safety harness of some kind when you’re hunting from a treestand?
Not bad, but I noticed that a few hands didn’t go up. So let’s try one more timely question: How many of you have fallen from a tree or know somebody who’s taken a tumble while bowhunting?
Oh, oh! More hands than ever just shot up. Seems almost every bowhunter outthere has either fallen or knows someone who did. Honestly, based on reports I’ve seen, that’s just about what I’d expect. It’s a serious and growing problem. Believe it!
Regardless of how you answered my questions, listen up. I want share what happened to a friend of mine.
ROD HOFF AND I KILLED OUR FIRST MONTANA ELK on a shared bowhunt in 1988.
We each arrowed spike bulls while hunting in the Little Belt Mountains. Then, before we headed home later in the week, Rod one-upped me by tagging a young 4×4 muley buck. I enjoyed watching him make make a short stalk and take the killing shot. It was a great hunt that neither of us would ever forget.
Then one day in early September of 2000, I got a phone call from Rod’s younger brother, Rick. He informed that Rod had gone bear hunting by himself on the opening day of Minnesota’s bear season and hadn’t come home that night. The next morning searchers located Rod’s remote treestand. His lifeless body was lying 16 feet directly below the stand platform.
“Apparently Rod was preparing to climb down after his evening hunt,” Rick told me. “He’d already lowered his bow, unfastened his safety belt, and hooked it around his waist. Then it seems that when Rod started to climb down, he lost his balance … or slipped. We’ll never know for sure. Only that somehow he fell. Headfirst.”
A coroner determined that Rod died instantly of a broken neck. He was 47 years old at the time. Like me, Rod was a veteran, woods-savvy, safety-conscious bowhunter. Like me, Rod always wore a fall-restraint device. And until Rod’s tragic accident, neither of us had ever fallen from a tree. Yet somehow Rod finally slipped. That one fall was enough and Rod died.
I WAS LUCKIER. Two years ago I fell during a late summer accident on my Indiana farm. The irony was I wasn’t even hunting at the time. I was simply trimming a few dead limbs in a big oak overlooking one of my mineral licks. Briefly, here’s what happened.
I was busy working atop a 10-foot step ladder while Janet and our two dogs, Sadie and Fancy, watched from below. I asked my wife to hand up a saw I needed. She retrieved the tool and walked over … then stopped short when she saw poison ivy ringing the base of the tree. I’m immune to the pesky plant but Janet can seemingly break out in an itchy red rash by merely looking at poison ivy. Rather than putting her at risk another outbreak, I told her to stay put, unhooked my safety harness, and climbed down to get the saw.
On my way back up the ladder, no more than 6 to 8 feet off the ground, I spotted a small branch I’d missed on the backside of that oak. Reaching around, I gave the dead branch a sharp yank. It didn’t break, so I pulled harder. The limb suddenly snapped. I lost my balance and jumped off backwards before falling, hoping to land on my feet rather than risk a nasty spill. But my momentum carried me on over onto my butt and back. My head bounced off the forest floor and the next thing I remember was Janet kneeling over me. She was wearing a worried look and asking, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”
Turned out I’d coldcocked myself, earning a quick trip to an Emergency Room. Tests revealed a mild concussion, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Within hours, painful twinges cropped up in my left shoulder and lower back. That soreness lingered for weeks, making backyard bow and arrow practice sessions an ordeal.
Still, I consider myself lucky. I’m still here to remind you that if falls happened to Rod and me, it can happen to anyone, including you. And if you still harbor doubts, let me know. I’ll gladly put you in touch with paralyzed hunters I know who’ll never walk again after falling from trees. These hunters, who once believed accidents couldn’t happen to them, are living what’s left of their lives in wheelchairs .
SO DO ME, YOURSELF, AND YOUR FAMILY A BIG FAVOR, guys and gals. Realize that falls can and do happen to anyone. Remember Rod Hoff and me the next time you’re ready to climb into or out of a treestand. Wear your safety harness and use it.
But never forget to take special care at all times you’re aloft, especially in the dark and in wet or cold weather.
Finally, please take a close look at installing and using commercially produced lifelines that attach to a carabiner with a sliding knot and clips to your safety vest or harness. They eliminate all chances of falling while climbing. I’ve seen ‘em listed in Cabela’s and Bass Pro hunting catalogs, so pick up a copy or go on-line or visit the nearest store for full details. Most fall prevention devices I know of currently cost $40 to $90, and they’re an excellent investment. Whatever the cost, look at it this way: all fall restraint devices are always considerably cheaper than a bill from your home town hospital or funeral home.
That’s the latest bowhuntin’ gospel straight from the Book of James.
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