Reader: “I’m Going to Die” After Fall

by John Smith, D&DH reader

My first day hunting the 2010 Wisconsin bow season nearly became my last.

On Nov. 8, I went to hunt a 40-acre wooded lot in the central part of the state. I have hunted the land more than 20 years. Although it is small, it features a nice oak ridge, creek bottom and small pines with good underbrush.

After reaching my chosen tree stand, I began the climb I had made hundreds of times before. I used climbing sticks strapped to the trunk to make my way up the tree.

As I crested the 24-foot climb and stepped onto the stand, the strap holding the climbing stick to the tree snapped. I began a long journey back toward the ground. My life flashed before my eyes. All I could think was “It’s all gone” and “I’m going to die.”

I hit the ground. I was alive, but I had doubts about my future.

I was bleeding from my ears, nose and mouth. When I tried to move my arms and legs, the pain in my back became excruciating. But I needed to get back my jacket near the tree, since my cell phone was in the pocket. Ten feet separated me and a rescue. But I couldn’t move.

I cried out for help. No response. No one was around.

I needed to get to that tree. The fact I was still alive made me realize someone had more in store for me. I had no choice but to crawl.

Views of where it all happened

I don’t remember the crawl to the tree. The pain blocked that out of my memory. My next memory was seeing the phone had no service. I have sent text messages from the woods before, so I decided to try my wife. My text read, “I fell 911.”

The pain forced me to roll onto my back. It proved to be a smart move. The phone suddenly had service. I called 911. Hearing the dispatcher’s voice gave me the support I needed to make it through this ordeal.

As the Iola, Wisconsin, rescue team approached, I was overcome with emotion. I realized I was going to be OK. They airlifted me by helicopter to Theda Clark hospital. I spent 11 days being treated for two broken vertebrates. After surgery, I was able to walk again with the assistance of a walker. Best of all, I was home to be with my family for Thanksgiving. The whole family was together, the family I thought I was going to lose.

I am still healing as I write this article. I wanted to share my story to help other hunters. We all check our firearms and bows to make sure our aim is true. We check how clear our shooting lanes are for the season. We check that our clothes are washed and stored properly. We check the wind to determine which stands to hunt.

We also need to check our stands. They are some of the most neglected items of the entire hunt.

Many of us leave stands in the same trees for years. A lot can happen to wear down those stands. I did not replace the climbing stick straps on my stand because they come loose with a small tap on the fastener. Hunters may be putting their life in jeopardy for the same reason.

The strap

Remember this. The straps were the weakest link in my hunting chain. It almost cost me my life. As I stated earlier, someone has more work for me and offered me another chance at life. My first bit of work was writing this article to help educate my fellow hunters.

Don’t think this can’t happen to you. I was shocked to hear from my hospital caregivers that they may treat more than a dozen hunters a year due to falls. That’s just at a single Wisconsin hospital treating reported falls. Not every fall is reported.

Please use my experience to prevent an unnecessary accident that may cost you your life.