Saturday morning July 16, 2016, was going to be my last trip to the lease this summer to do any type of "disturbance" work. I like to give the land at least 8 weeks to settle down after making any major changes or soaking the forest floor with my sweat. I already had my opening day stand hung, lanes cut, 1 dozen + cameras spread over 1,100 acres, mineral and protein sites established, and entrance and exits routes marked with night eyes. All that needed to happen Saturday was to check my newly placed Spypoint Force 11-D cameras and get some quality pictures from Bayou Whitetail Management Group's "Buck Munch" I put out the week before. The last thing on my to-do list was to hang a non-south wind stand, but that plan went south quickly.
I left the house around 7:30 that morning with my 9 year old son, Carter. I make it a point to always have someone with me while hanging stands. We loaded the truck with my four wheeler, a couple of chainsaws, a bag full of Buck Munch, and everything I need to hang a stand such as my safety harness, bow hanger, seat cushion, and my Hooyman saw to cut limbs just out of reach.
I was very optimistic after the first few stops that morning. I found multiple new deer on camera and saw the drastic increase in day time pictures I was hoping for by using Buck Munch. All the important cameras were checked by 11:30am and it was time to head to the truck to drop everything off and pick up the lane cutting supplies and re-hydrate.
When we reached the stand location I gave my son his first important task. "Cut all the vines, remove all limbs and twigs and make sure there's nothing on the path other than leaves and pine needles". As he opened up the trail I climbed tree sticks to my stand I left on a previous trip just to get it off the ground. It was a mid sized water oak large enough for me to barely touch my fingers as I reached around it. I planned to hang my lock-on just over 20' off the ground which sloped down to a creek that is major corridor for the deer in my area. The stand was attached below the first fork in the tree to help break up my silhouette and also give me room to hang my pack and bow.
I was straddling the fork of the tree and feeling very secure. I folded up the bottom of the lock on to remove slack in the strap, cinched the strap tight and pushed the foot rest back down tightly to bury its claws into the tree. I maintained a good grip on the tree being conscious that I was not yet tied off. I wiggled and dug the stand into the bark to get a real good bite and made sure it wasn't going to move. After securing it firmly to the tree and sat for a second and let the sweat role down my face and looked down at my son, "You're doing a good job Bubba," I remember calling out to him.
I stood up and raised the seat to make room for for my body as I twisted to leave only my right foot on the stand while placing my left foot over onto the ladder to begin my decent. As I shifted the majority of my weight from my stand to the ladder the limb that was expected to hold me for a mere 2-3 seconds broke. I scrambled to try and grab the ladder but missed, slicing my hand open in the process. As I began to fall I kicked at the tree to clear myself from the ladder hoping to avoid any additional injuries. I remember thinking "This is it" and trying to tell Carter that I love him. Then it was over.
The next recollection was the feeling of the massive impact of the earth hitting my legs. My body buckled and the impact ended with my face taking the final blow. Carter was at my side screaming. I was disoriented and confused. I was hurting and numb. I was more scared than ever before, but I needed to calm down my son.
"Calm down buddy. Let Daddy figure out what is wrong with him then we can figure out what to do," I spoke slowly and in shortened breath. I felt all over my face and head. There was a little blood coming from my eye, but not my ears mouth or nose. I wiggled my fingers and moved my arms. I rubbed my ribs, chest and pressed on my abdomen and hips. Seems to be ok. I tried wiggling my toes. No wiggles. I tried moving my right leg, nothing. Then my left, nothing. I was worried that I had broken my back but knew that I could be rescued from that. "Ok bud, its just my legs. Daddy is gonna live so don't be scared. I need you to be strong and I need you to go get the four wheeler". It was about 200 yards through the woods and I was hoping he could drive it in and begin loading everything onto it while I called for help. While this discussion took place I began to feel my legs tingle. I had movement in both sets of toes! I began to move my right leg with limited success and decided that if I could take it slow I would attempt to get myself up on the four wheeler and drive myself to the truck with Carter's help. I called my wife and told her I had fallen and that I was ok. It's just my legs and I would update her once I was at the truck.
The new plan was for Carter to get the four-wheeler to me so I could get on. He had some difficulty finding it at first so I pulled it up on my GPS using the onXmap chip and it took him directly to it. I could hear him yell "I'm coming Daddy" when he was there and started it. I assumed he would take the trail that we had already cleaned and cut to come back in to get me. NOPE. He did exactly what I told him to do. He followed the GPS. If you don't know how GPS's guide you they do the most direct route. He came plowing and bulldozing through the woods like a Mac truck driven by Donald Trump. At one point he got himself stuck in some fairly thick undergrowth. I hollered to turn on 4 wheel drive and plow them down! He did just that. He was so proud once he pulled up next to me and I was proud of him too.
I tried pulling myself up on the 4 wheeler. That the first time I felt the full brunt of the injury to my knee. I screamed and immediately told Carter we need more help. My knee had just seemed tight while trying to push on it, but the second I put weight on it was as if a bomb went off inside it. I called my lease president who lives just up the road to come help. Carter picked my head up and let it rest on his leg as we both laid there and talked, waiting. He had everything loaded on the bike and retrieved my other trail camera for me to help pass the time.
Once help got me on the four wheeler we made it back to my truck and they loaded me into the truck. By this time I was well aware of how serious the knee injury was. A great friend and his family met us at the lease gate and drove me 35 miles to the hospital. We prayed, and just talked on the way there. I was glad to be alive and did not care that my hunting season was probably over. I was just glad to be alive and out of the woods.
After 3 days in the hospital, knee surgery, a broken femur, receiving a soft tissue transplant to reconstruct my knee, contusions on my lungs and head, hand lacerations and a severely sprained ankle I have a lot to think about, reflect upon, and especially be thankful for. The first is taking safety to the next level. I already had multiple safety measures in place. I always have someone with me when I'm doing elevated or power tool work, and I always where my harness when I'm sitting in my stand. The problem was I wasn't sitting, and most harnesses aren't designed to set up stands with. They are designed to attach once you're in the tree and stationary. The other option is a life line. Again not designed for stand set up. Designed for the ascent and descent of the ladder. I was sent one option last night that is currently available that I plan to check out, but I really want to work with someone to make safety easy and accessible. Preferably, something you can hook up at the bottom of the tree and be connected to until you're back on the ground.
The thing that has crossed my mind more than anything else is my life and the role my family and friends play in it. I have been absolutely flooded with phone calls, texts, Facebook messages and visitors over the past few days. I honestly had no idea so many people cared about me. You can't imagine how the offers to mow my grass, thoughts and prayers you've sent, and hugs and handshakes have meant. This life-changing event put my true friends into perspective for me. For those of you that dropped everything to help, and still consider yourself on call, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I have also received tons of sentiments hoping I'm better for hunting season or hoping I don't miss hunting season. But honestly, now that I'm thinking clearly I could care less about hunting season this year. I'm thankful to be alive. I was at a point in life where many things were colliding and needed reorganizing and re-prioritizing. Now I've got time and the perspective to be able to do just that.
Walking away from this accident will always be the thing I'm most grateful for. But walking away will be in vain if I don't change anything. I beg everyone to wear a harness when in a tree; ladder, lock on, climber it doesn't matter. Find something that works for you or hopefully I will be able to find or design something better and is more convenient and safe for hanging stands. I'm also going to focus my time on organizations such as my own, Louisiana Bowhunter, and others I'm passionate about such as QDMA to enlighten and encourage not only the use of tree harnesses but ethical hunting practices, and respect towards our fellow outdoorsmen and women. Please share my story with every hunter you know. I thought I was safe. I was experienced. Unless you have every scenario covered there's still room for an accident to happen. Be safe and be thorough. Your family needs you and you need them. Make sure they know that!
UPDATE: Sept. 30
10 Weeks post surgery I am still not able to put weight on my leg. After recent additional tests it has also been found that my hip was damaged in the fall as well and will require additional surgeries to repair ligament damage. I am continuing Physical Therapy and simply having to give my knee more time to heal.