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The Day Outdoor Writer John E. Phillips Almost Died


I was shooting my bow great on the afternoon of a Mossy Oak writers’ hunt held on Toxey Haas’s land. Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, vice president of Mossy Oak in charge of television and video production, had several writers participate in this bowhunt. After sighting-in my bow and splitting my first arrow that had hit the bull’s-eye, I felt very confident.

The next morning we got up before daylight. Each writer was assigned a guide to take him to his tree stand and mine was the late Bob Dixon, the then national sales manager for Mossy Oak. We arrived at the stand site in the dark. I tied my bow to a pull-up rope. I checked out my safety harness and started to climb the ladder steps up to my tree stand. Dixon stood under the stand to make sure I got in the stand safely, and that I had all the equipment I needed. When I got to the top of the ladder steps, I reached with my left hand to a large limb over my head. I felt the palm of my hand cover a big knot on the limb - more or less for balance - as I made the transition from the steps to the stand. As I shifted my weight, I pulled hard on the knot, that then broke away from the limb. I began to fall upside down and backwards, tumbling head first toward the ground in a split second. Fortunately for me, Dixon acted instinctively. Instead of trying to catch me, which probably would have ended with us both being hurt, he made a flying tackle, hitting me on the off shoulder and forcing us both to the ground. Because of his quick reflexes, he saved my life. 

dixon5_llAs we both lay on the ground together, I tried to determine what had happened. I also wanted to make a quick check of my body parts to make sure they were all intact. I could hear Dixon asking, “Bubba are you okay? Bubba are you okay?” I lay silent for a few seconds, looked at my arms, legs, hands and feet and didn’t see any blood. I told Dixon, “Bob, I'm not planning on falling in love with you. But if you can just hold on to me a little bit longer, until I can determine the damage I’ve caused to my body, I certainly would appreciate it.” Then Dixon and I both had a good laugh. Neither of us mentioned what could have happened, if Dixon hadn’t been at the foot of my tree and known exactly what to do when he saw me falling. 

We got up and dusted ourselves off. Dixon grinned as he asked me, “Do you want to climb up and get in your stand again?” I smiled and told him, “Sure, I do. I'm not dead, I didn’t get injured, and many of the bad things that could have happened during the fall didn’t.” Dixon waited until I safely stepped over into my tree stand, secured the tether to my safety harness around the tree just above my head and made sure I had enough slack between the harness and the tree to lean out and take a shot with my bow. 

About 9:00 am, a mature doe came within bow range. I made the shot and heard the deer run about 30-yards before she crashed. About 11:00 am, Dixon returned to my stand to pick me up and take me back to camp. He said, “Bubba, you’ve had a great morning. You fell out of a tree, didn’t get hurt and took a nice doe for the freezer.” 

Since that time, before I start climbing, I always secure my safety harness to a tree, or I use a life line when I'm climbing up or down a tree. My wife, my children and grandchildren are very important to me. I want to hunt, live and have fun with them for many more years. I consider a safety harness and a lifeline hunting necessities.

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