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Steward’s Mistake Almost Cost His Life


Editor’s Note: This is the most-important article you'll read this hunting season that can save your life, keep you from losing 1 week to 6 months of work, save you thousands of dollars and prevent pain and suffering for many years. The longer you’ve hunted from a tree stand, the more likely that you’ll fall. We all think of tree stand accidents happening during hunting season, but this week we’ll look at three people who work with and shoot video for the Mossy Oak Pros Mark and Terry Drury of Drury Outdoors, who have fallen before the season. Part of the reason they fell was they believed they were bullet-proof from tree stand accidents. 

Dr. Bric Steward of Elizabethtown, Illinois, has been filming for Drury Outdoors’ TV show, “Bow Madness,” for 9 years and has been deer hunting for 24 years. 

I wear Mossy Oak Treestand. I live in the Midwest and primarily I hunt from a tree stand. I like the openness of the Treestand pattern, because I believe that pattern breaks-up my silhouette more when I’m in a tree than other patterns do. Also, in the Midwest during the rut, most of the leaves are off the trees. So, Mossy Oak Treestand really gives a tree stand hunter an advantage by looking like the tree limbs and sky rather than being a blob of color in a tree. I took my first deer from a tree stand, and I’ve been hunting out of tree stands for 24 years. But because I've got all the experience and time in a tree stand doesn’t mean I'm accident-proof - none of us are. 

In 2010, I had a strap attached to a maple tree, a fairly-fast growing tree, on one of my tree stands that broke. The strap was weathered, and a squirrel had chewed about three-fourths of the way through the strap. But I didn’t notice this when I climbed into the stand. I wasn’t even hunting from the stand when I fell. Before bow season I had gone in to cut shooting lanes in front of my bow stands. The farmer just had harvested his corn crop, so in the early fall was the first time I’d had access to the stand. 

When I’d been hunting this area during spring turkey season, I’d noticed I needed to trim the shooting lanes in front of my stands before deer-hunting season. Once I went up the steps to sit in the stand to determine which limbs needed to be trimmed, I noticed that squirrels had been chewing on the seat of the stand. I never thought that a squirrel might chew on the stand’s straps. When I put my first foot on the stand, everything was fine. But when I transferred my weight and put my second foot on the stand, the strap broke, and I fell. This stand only had one strap on it. Today, I make sure every stand has at least three straps holding it to the tree. I had brought my Muddy Safety Harness with me but had left it on my 4-wheeler. I wasn’t planning to climb a tree. However, when I looked at this stand, I decided that I really needed to climb up into the stand, choose the limbs I needed to cut and leave other limbs to keep me from being too exposed. I stayed close to the tree, and just held on to the tree as I climbed, knowing I wasn’t wearing my safety harness. If I’d only taken one minute to put my safety harness on and place the strap around the tree, I could’ve saved myself a lot of hurt and pain. But I didn’t. When the strap on the stand broke, my feet were still on the stand as it came down the tree, and my fingernails had bark under them where I tried to hold onto the tree as both the stand and I fell to the ground together. When I hit the ground, my back folded backwards. I felt my spine crush just like you’d crush a soda can. 

Luckily, my dad was with me when I fell. He took the 4-wheeler back to the truck and brought the truck down to the stand where I was on the ground. I'm a chiropractor, so I knew I had busted the L1 vertebra in my back. I took my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed the emergency room doctor at the local hospital. When I told them what had happened, at first they thought I was joking. Finally, I convinced them I was serious. Then when I reached the hospital, they were prepared to treat me. I realized as soon as the accident happened that I could be paralyzed. But when I arrived at the emergency room, the doctors were able to keep the swelling down, which was probably one of the reasons I wasn’t paralyzed and didn’t have as much spinal-cord damage as I might have had if my injury had continued to swell. 

Harness_day4Since I'm a doctor, I'm often asked, “Why didn’t you wait on an ambulance and paramedics to arrive, brace your neck, and put you on a backboard to take you to the hospital?” In the county where I live, we only have one ambulance. There is a backup ambulance in the southeastern corner of the county, but my accident happened in the northwestern section. When I was climbing up the tree that morning, before I stepped onto the tree stand, I heard the siren on the ambulance going north on the highway not far from my tree stand. I realized they were taking a patient to the hospital about 30-minutes away. If I called the ambulance service, I knew that by the time they got that patient dropped off at the hospital and returned for me, that trip would take over an hour. Also, I knew the sooner I was treated the better my chances for recovery would be. That’s why I told my dad how to prepare me for transport and asked him to help me get in the back of the truck, so as not to damage my spinal cord any more than it already was damaged. 

At the hospital, I learned I had a L1 burst fracture. (The vertebra in the spinal column had exploded much like a rock would shatter if you threw it hard against the ground). So for a period of time, the spinal cord didn’t have any protection. My left lung also collapsed. Today I don’t have any feeling in my legs. I can feel pressure on my legs, but I can’t feel any pain. I've lost the muscle strength from my knees down, but I still can walk, because I still have some muscles in my calves that work. When the surgeons went in from my left side, they actually had to remove a rib to reach the vertebra that was damaged. The doctors used that rib to replace the vertebra that had shattered in my back by using a titanium cage, taking the bone meal from that rib, packing that cage full of that rib bone meal and putting that cage in the space where the fractured vertebra had been. Next, they put a plate on the side of the titanium cage and rods on either side of the cage to keep my spine in place. Then, they screwed the rods, plates and cage together to fuse T12, L1 and L2 together. Today my back looks like an erector set. 

The biggest lesson I learned from this fall was that only a split second is required to put on a safety harness and attach yourself to a tree before you start to climb up or down. However, I got in a hurry for no reason at all and didn’t take the time to put on my safety harness. Too, always check your stands before you get in them. I had checked this stand for safety during spring turkey season, and it was in good shape then. So, I assumed that when I went to cut shooting lanes that the stand was still in good shape. But I failed to check it on October 23 when I fell. 

After my surgery, I was in rehab for 4 months, although I went back to work in 6 weeks. All I did then was catch up notes and prescribe treatment plans for another doctor that I had hired to run my business while I couldn’t work. I couldn’t actually adjust patients for 3 months after I’d finished rehab. 

Many of us spend thousands of dollars each year on life and medical insurance. However, often, we won’t take an extra 2 minutes when we’re hunting to put on our safety harnesses and make sure we’re attached to trees when we go up, come down and sit in our stands. I was stupid in doing that. Please learn from my mistake. 

To learn more about hunting deer, check out John E. Phillips’ new eBook and print book, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oak Pros Know Bucks and Bows.” You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or Smartphone.

For information on making jerky from your deer to provide a protein-rich snack, you can download a free book from

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