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This month’s topic is very controversial, although it really shouldn’t be. We’re talking about wearing a safety harness while hunting from a stand. And really it’s not so much controversial as it is stubbornness. And unfortunately most of the push comes from veteran hunters. Nobody ever used to think about wearing a safety harness. They weren’t prevalent until the new millennium, and even then hunters were not taking to them as most would hope. Most never wore them to begin with, so why change now? When safety harnesses first started to really hit the market hard most of them were uncomfortable, hard to untangle and put on, and got in the way when it came time to draw your bow. “So why bother with all that headache when nothing has happened to me the last 30 years in the woods?” most would think. I mean heck, my father and uncle used to stand on a tree limb to hunt whitetails before stands became more affordable. Look, I’m not trying to bash anyone with these statements. I was guilty myself. It was not until my uncle fell 25 feet from his stand, that I really took tree stand safety seriously.
November 12th, 2008. It’s the middle of the rut in Ohio. Bucks are cruising the woods more than ever looking for a hot doe. My uncle, dad’s younger brother, Randy Fabian is planning to stay in the stand all day hoping to catch one of those bucks cruising close enough that he can send an arrow through its boilermaker. He packed a lunch that morning and a spare bladder knowing his all-day stay would bring hunger and discomfort had he not. Randy did have something in the back of his mind tell him to bring his basic safety harness being that he would be there all day. You know the one that’s just one strap around the tree, and one around your waist. Nothing major. But little did he know it would come into play later that autumn day.
He arrived early and parked his truck well before first light that morning because the stand he would be hunting required about a quarter mile walk in across a huge corn field, crossing a small creek, and hiking up a steep incline that housed four shelves. The stand was in a prime location. A natural funnel on the corner of the last shelf before the summit. We’ve always observed bucks chasing does around this ridge right along this shelf in years past, and no one had hunted the stand yet that fall. Randy felt good about that morning. It was one of those days during the rut when you know you’re going to see a lot of action. In addition, Randy was still on cloud nine from taking a very respectable 5×5 public land bull elk in Colorado that September. So as he hung his bow on the hook and sat down in the stand that morning, he was the most optimistic hunter in the woods.
As the morning progressed he saw a few does and smaller bucks. Nothing too exciting, but experienced hunters know that on a day like that, the excitement could ramp up at any moment. Around 1:30 he unpacked his lunch and began to refuel for the evening. By this time the length of the day was getting to him. And the food he just consumed, now digesting in his stomach, wasn’t helping. It was roughly 2 o’clock now. Whenever I talk to Randy about this day he always says he never really remembers falling asleep, just faintly remembers falling. “It was kind of like a dream,” he said. Then nothing. Total darkness.
A flutter of the eyes, and a gasp for air. Miraculously, Randy had survived a 25 foot plunge to the hard, unforgiving Earth. But now what? This was prior to cell phones becoming popular so he had no way of contacting anyone. It was sometime between 2 and 3pm so the soonest anyone would come looking for him would be a long 4-5 hours away. That morning he planned on going to work but decided to call off sick after his wife had left for hers. So she had no idea he was even in the woods somewhere. He made the mistake no hunter ever should, and that was not tell anyone where he was going before heading into the woods that day. 27 years of hunting under his belt and he’d always let someone know… until now.
Trying to catch his breath which had been knocked out of him from the fall, Randy rolled over to see his bow still hanging above him in the tree. As he rolled around in the dirt his shoulder popped back into place as it had been dislocated on impact. His whole left side throbbed with pain. Being the rut he figured my father or one of us might be hunting somewhere close enough to hear him yell. But as he tried to yell nothing would come out. At least of any volume. He was sure his ribs were broken. The simple belt he had put on that morning had actually saved his life. As he fell his head went first. Had his fall continued like that he may not be here today. However, the belt caught him despite breaking just enough to kick him back upright to where he landed on his side rather than his head. So aside from everything that has just transpired, the fact his insides feeling mangled, the intense pain on his left side, the cheap belt kept him alive. But for how long?
Randy knew there was no way of contact, and waiting for someone to come looking wasn’t an option. Having yet to be able to stand up with a huge knot in his right leg which most likely came from hitting a tree step on the way down, and pain shooting down his whole left leg from hitting the ground, he knew he was going to have to walk out. Every bit of a quarter mile separated him from his truck, but at that moment in time it seemed like 10 miles to Randy. Somehow, after the first 100 yards or so he was able to stand up using a tree to pull himself up. As he began to work his way down the ridge he had to switchback to keep himself from toppling over head first down the steep bank. He took his time. Not knowing if time was on his side or not, he still knew that getting in a rush would only make things worse. He made it to the bottom and waded across the creek. He crawled up the opposing bank to meet his next challenge, cut corn.
Completely healthy you’d never think corn stubble would ever be a challenging obstacle in nature, but with two severely injured legs it was a different story. He did his best to not trip over every stalk as he limped across the field. Just over halfway across the field now, only 200 yards separated him from his truck. Over the noise of his boots stepping on the cut corn stalks Randy heard a sound. Probably the greatest sound he could have heard at that very moment. It was a car engine, and the sound of tires rolling across the gravel road. It was getting closer. He made it out amongst the trees a car was cruising down the road and was going to drive right past him. As it rolled by, Randy raised his hands and began to wave. Still not being able to yell, he waved his hands frantically now. But the car never slowed down. His arms fell to his sides. Although he was discouraged by not getting it to stop, he kept moving. If he had a second wind, this is where it came in. He pushed on. Finally making it to his truck he crawled in. The pain heightened as he drove desperately down to his mother’s house just a short mile down the road. As soon as he pulled in she knew something was wrong. She immediately called his brother, Scott who rushed over to then drive Randy to the hospital.
Randy is a very lucky man. Most cannot say that after a fall like that from a stand. He never broke a bone. He fractured his pelvis, his ribs were only severely bruised along with his shoulder, the knot in his leg stayed with him for months. He was able to leave the hospital the following afternoon only having to use crutches for a few weeks. Later that deer season in January Randy climbed back up in a stand. He now takes a proper safety harness every time he hunts in a tree stand. It’s crazy to think how much worked against Randy that day, and yet he was able to walk away with only minimal injuries. It was truly an eye-opening experience for all of us. I bought my very first safety harness along with my father that same fall. I haven’t left the house for a stand without it since.
I’m telling this story to hopefully open more eyes before something like this happens to you or a loved one. Don’t wait until it happens like we did. Be proactive and buy a proper safety harness today. It’s worth every penny. Of all the gear sold in outdoor and hunting stores now, a safety harness will be the best purchase you ever make. Harnesses now are much more affordable, easier to use, and lighter weight. You’d be a stubborn fool not to wear one. So please, if you don’t wear one for yourself, wear one for your loved ones at home so that you may return to hunt another day.
Tune in next month as we discuss how you can better prepare for deer season. Feel free to provide feedback on my articles, send requests on what you would like my next article to cover in the bowhunting realm, or shop over 75,000 hunting and outdoor products by visiting my website at launchtoi.com/LukeFabian