By Scott Bestul
One of my closest hunting buddies fell from a tree stand last week. Bob was just planning to check his stand, maybe sit ‘til dark and watch one of his favorite early-season fields. All was fine as he crawled onto the platform, and the stand held as he settled into the seat. But something felt strange—like the stand base wasn’t quite snug to the tree—so he bounced a bit on the seat.
The next thing Bob remembers was lying on the ground. “It was like getting the wind knocked out of me, but this time, my breath wasn’t coming back,” he told me when I visited him. “And then the pain set in.” He didn’t know it, but he’d bounced off a fence post on the way down, then landed on one side. End result: 10 broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured skull (around his eye socket), a concussion, and too many bruises and contusions to count.
Like all accidents that don’t end in a fatality, Bob’s incident was a good news/bad news affair. On the plus side: He was carrying a cell phone and remained conscious so he could call his wife. He was in an area where he could pick up a cell signal. A friend knew the approximate location of his tree stand. Emergency personnel had an ATV and could reach him. They were also highly trained enough to diagnose the punctured lung and insert a half-inch tube to drain the fluid (doctors later told Bob he’d have suffocated to death had he laid there 2-3 hours without this procedure). By nightfall, my friend had been airlifted to a nearby hospital. He’s home now and expected to make a long and painful—but complete—recovery.
Here’s what went wrong. Bob had left the stand in the tree too long, and the tree’s growth had snapped one prong off the hook that held the fastening chain. And though he’s a devout wearer of a full-body safety harness, Bob had decided that day that a simple belt would suffice. That single strap may have slowed him for a split second, but it clearly didn’t prevent the fall.
You hear the safety messages all the time, and so do I. Wear a safety harness, no matter what. Pull your stands after season and keep them maintained. Always let someone know where you’re hunting and when you expect to be back. This stuff is in our heads, but many of us don’t obey the rules…every time…no matter what.