By - Brandon Wikman
The last image burnt into my tattered mind was a faint image of my mother’s face before my body shattered onto the cold forest floor. Am I alive?
We’ve heard that 80% of tree stand accidents happen when hunters climb in and out of the stand. Last week I became a statistic, a statistic that changed my life. I feel blessed to be here writing about my experience and hope to raise awareness to the hunting population that safety is so crucial while outdoors.
The past weekend marked my 22nd birthday. I was finally able to cram an entire weekend’s worth of homework and job duties into the middle of the week, allowing me to escape back home Saturday and Sunday. Spending time with loved ones is extremely important to me. I value every waking moment spent with my mother and sisters. As another birthday rolls in and cards fill the mailbox, I take a different perspective on what my day earth means to me. I dearly thank my mother for raising me correctly and honor the sacrifices she made for the betterment of my sisters and me. It’s not about the gifts, cakes, or glory, but about the moments cherished with the people dear to your heart.
My plan was to spend Saturday afternoon in the woods hunting, doing something I can’t get enough of and absolutely love. At dark, my mother had my favorite dinner prepared with a mouthwatering cake and ice cream to compliment the meal fit for a king. The thought was nice and surely comforted my food deprived stomach as I walked into the woods, but what happened next changed the entire course of my evening plans.
I slowly tiptoed down a deer path en route to my tree stand. The wind was calm, breeze was cool, and my hopes were sky high. As I approached my stand, I unraveled my rope and latched it to my bow’s cam. I eased my bow down cautiously as the rope’s slack tightened. I was ready to scale up the ladder. So I thought.
A backpack full of grunt tubes, rattling horns, and a miscellaneous array of hunting gear shifted back-n-forth against my back as I climbed the ladder rungs. My cumbersome rubber boots took up the entire rung, with only centimeters of excess space. The stand was finally in sight. I motioned to lift myself into the stand, like I’ve done hundreds of times before, but this time was different.
My bulky camo boot slipped off the top ladder rung and sent my balance a rude awakening. The backpack weighted my back towards the opposite direction. I was literally freefalling in midair. It was a nightmare, but I didn’t seem to wake up in my bed in a cold sweat. I was plummeting head first into the frozen tundra. The fall was swift. I had enough time to think about my family one more time before I readied myself for the 20-ft spiral.
My right hand instantly stretched toward the earth while my face cringed. I knew this was going to hurt. It did, badly. A sudden impact of sheer body weight against pure earth collapsed my body into a pile of reckless pain and agony. I quivered like a bird that fell from its nest. I frantically gasped for air, but nothing would fill my lungs other than piercing needle-like pains. I was shocked, but somehow alive.
An instant adrenaline rush fused my body into gathering itself, and I slowly stumbled back to my vehicle. Blood oozed from my nose, trickled down my chin, and stained my camouflage coat. I hobbled my broken body back to the truck and drove myself straight to the emergency room.
Hours of x-rays proved that my body took a blow. I fractured ribs, my scapula, and sprained my legs. The doctor advised I rest and take it easy. I was convinced my bones were broken, but the doctor said otherwise.
On my drive home I realized how lucky I was to fight off busted bones, a broken back or even worse, death. I enjoyed my dinner with the family that evening, but it was a dinner that meant more to me than I’ve ever imagined.
More than 30% of hunters die annually from falling 20-ft. up. The statistic elevates as the height of the fall increased. We must all be aware that safety is our number one priority. I’ve been lucky to have years of safe trips up and down trees, but there was just something different about last weekend. Please be careful and cautious during your next adventure.