Today’s post is from longtime blogger and friend of BIG DEER, Dean Weimer.
On Saturday October 24, 2015 my buddy “Big John” Sliger and I were on a routine mission to move, or adjust, a problematic stand setup. You see, the climbing stick system we used with that set was quite squeaky, and the camera stand we had set for filming was still attached high up in the tree.
The main issue was that we’d chosen a gargantuan walnut tree with several large limbs that could impede the filming of a hunt. To be sure, the big walnut was the perfect hunting tree; its sheer size and deeply knurled bark hid us well. The archaic nut tree also offered us many large limbs with which to hang and hold gear. But, our setup needed some tweaking, or a perhaps even a wholesale move.
With the best hunting of the rut approaching, this cool and sunshiny afternoon was perfect for getting things organized. The actual hunting stand had been moved prior, so I was ready to climb up the stick system and shimmy the rest of the way up to reach the camera stand.
Things were going much as planned. I was able to get to the stand and release the ratchet strap that doubled as security for the base of the stand, as well as the security strap for the top wrung of the climbing stick. I loosened up the main strap to the big stand and dropped it to the ground.
Big John was on the ground surveying the woods line to determine if there was a better tree for this rig. He was walking towards the big walnut as I stood on one of the large limbs and prepared to descend to begin undoing the climbing sticks.
At that instant my boots started slipping from the heavily knurled bark. Not panicking, I reached to grab the top wrung of the stick. What I didn’t realize was that that particular wrung was no longer affixed to the tree. The last thing I felt was the steel bending as my free fall began.
The next thing I knew I was in shock, lying inside of a small brier bush. Big John, who was suddenly right next to me, yelled, “Dean, are you alright?”
I wasn’t. I couldn’t breathe, and I felt a tremendous sharp pinching sensation in my mid-lower back. I was also bleeding from being scratched by the bush. My first instinct was to move away from the stickers. Thankfully my arms and legs were functioning just fine.
John again yelled, “Are you alright?”
A few moments later I got a little air in my lungs and responded, “Give me a second.” I had fallen approximately 13 feet and landed very awkwardly on my back and slightly to my side. In the first moments after hitting the ground I thought I might be spending my last moments alive. It was scary.
As calmly as he could John asked if I’d like him to call my wife. I said, No. He then dialed 911. Within moments the emergency siren in my hometown began screaming. John had to leave me there momentarily so he could drive his pickup back to his hay barn to direct the emergency team when they arrived.
It was during those 10 or so minutes of lying there helpless next to that big tree that I had time to think about what had just transpired, and to contemplate what my immediate future would hold. I felt pretty strongly that something was broken in my back. I was in severe pain, and still reeling from the shock of a 237-pound body hitting the hard, dry ground. I learned later that I actually bounced nearly a foot off the ground when I hit.
Left alone and with my own thoughts, I questioned whether this deer hunting thing was really worth it after all. I was married in March 2013, and the next year we had our first child, a young, feisty fireball named Hadleigh Sue. As moments passed, I realized that, although I was hurt, I wasn’t in as much as trouble as I could’ve been. I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave my wife and daughter just yet. I was also embarrassed.
On Monday, October 26 I had a nearly 6-hour surgery to replace a “burst” fractured Lumbar 1 (L1) vertebrae. I now have a mostly titanium replacement “cage” in place of the bone.
The first 3 weeks of my recovery were Hell-on-Earth. I had to rely on my wife, family and friends to complete menial, everyday tasks; it wasn’t a lot of fun.
During week 3 I experienced quite a bit of depression and I began to feel sorry for myself a bit. Narcotic painkillers exacerbated these feelings, but at the time I needed them. After the 5th week (and getting off the narcotics) I began to slowly start to feel better. I finally went back to work on December 7, and I was relegated to wearing a plastic and metal “turtle shell” prosthetic vest around my rib cage to give support while things slowly healed.
The worst part of the ordeal for me is now long past. I never got to go hunting one time after that–my season was shot. I still have quite a bit of pain and stiffness, and my surgeon discovered some arthritis in my spinal column. I was already beginning to deal with disc issues, bulging and natural wear-and-tear.
The good news to this story is that I am still here and upright. I have lost quite a bit of weight and have a newfound passion to get fit and healthy. I will begin physical therapy soon and hopefully be ready for next season’s bow opener on October 1. I have not climbed a tree since, and I’m in no rush to do so. I will definitely be investing in some type of new climbing safety harness, as I still plan on bowhunting out of trees. My advice to you is to do the same.
My goal now is to teach other deer hunters that accidents can and will happen. I can remember for years thinking that sooner or later, I would most likely fall. Well, it was later, but it did finally happen.
Many other hunters weren’t so lucky with falls such as mine. We all have heard stories where hunters became crippled, or have even perished in falls. I thank God often that my situation didn’t turned out differently. Be safe out there everyone.—Dean Weimer
Author’s Note: I do normally wear a body harness while hunting, but did not have it on that day.
Hanback Note: We are so glad that Dean is on the road to recovery, please join me in wishing him the best in his therapy, and that he is back in the woods with his bow this October.
The moral of “The Fall”: Never climb a tree without a safety harness, whether you are hanging, pulling or tweaking a tree stand, or climbing up a ladder to hunt. Never climb without it! That one day you don’t wear it… Don’t take that chance.
I am afraid of heights and don’t mind telling you that. But because of it, I don’t have to worry about this type of thing happening to me. Most of my deer were shot from the ground and with a bow. Shorter ladder stands aren’t to bad, I feel like I could jump out of them and be safe. Any height advantage I use is more for me to see better, than to get up and out of the deer’s view pattern. Even at a pretty good height, a hunter will still get busted if he does not draw back at the right time. It just doesn’t seem worth it in my book to put yourself in that kind of danger, when it can be done in a safer manner and still achieve the desired results.
Did not know of your fall till you posted. Very sorry, but glad you are on the mend and have a story to relate. I asked for and got a harness system (HSS) for past Christmas and plan to use it all times as well. All should read and learn so we have a safe hunt next year. Get well and hope the rehab goes well.
glad you are ok, buddy. Having a family to take care of and being around for them is definitely more important than hunting.
Wow! Definitely an eye opener. Hope everything goes well with the recovery process.
Jim, To be honest, I never seriously considered purchasing any of those safety line systems prior to the accident, so I guess no is the answer to your last question. If I had been wearing a traditional body harness (the one I actually use while hunting) I guess it might have kept me from falling. The difference is that I wasn’t actually standing on a deer stand; just a tree limb. Since I was climbing freely I guess I felt no need to have any harness on because this was just a “routine” tree climb, etc. I do think, however, that fatigue and not being “in shape” might have played into the accident as well. Also, if the top segment of this particular climbing stick system was fastened to the tree I would have been fine. It all happened so fast. John asked me later, “Why didn’t you ‘tuck and roll’?” Well, the last thing I remember was that steel bending and “Wham!” I truly don’t remember the actual fall…it happened so fast.
A friend of mine fell out of a stand a few years back and he was lucky that he wasn’t hurt worse than he was.
One good thing that came out of it, is that he wears a harness now.
Dean, I hope you recover quickly. BTW, I have a question for you. If you had been wearing a harness, would the accident have still happened? In other words…do you normally use a safety line and stay hooked from the ground up? And would you have had it installed before the accident?
Wow! Good to hear that you didn’t get hurt any worse than that! Still a dangerous injury ,Hope you heal up and get better soon, best medicine might be just getting back in the tree October 1. Hope all goes well between then and now so you can get back out there !
Dean I’m very happy that you weren’t hurt worse than you were and that you’ll be able to continue life as it was, but with a little more pain. I have had 2 close friends fall and become paralyzed from the waist down. I also had a friend that sadly fell 28feet and died when his neck broke. I myself have fallen but only like 10 feet when I was using a climber and the bottom fell out completely so I was lucky and now I make sure that I wear my harness every time I climb a tree regardless of how high I’m going to climb up that set. I wish you the best of luck this coming fall and I’m truly happy nothing worse happened to you man.
Get well, Dean.
(Update: I started PT last Tuesday and went for my second session on Tues. of this week. I am going well; still sore and stiff at times, but well.)
Thanks Mike. Be careful out there guys. I got extremely lucky. Also, kiss your wife and kids as many times as possible. ;)