Thursday, September 5, 2019

THE ONE - A Story of a Life-changing Hunt

Opening the door to my truck, I stepped outside, and took a deep breath of cold air as I walked toward my tailgate.  Smelling the air has become a tradition, there is something about it that awakens you on those early hunting mornings.   Frozen corn stalks and grass crunched under my boots as I made my way through the forest.  I climbed up into my tree stand, watching my step, as the frost made them slippery.  It's amazing how ice crystals form on metal and in the peace and serenity of this morning a glistening crystal caught my eye.

As I got into my stand I put my bow and my bags in their proper places, took out some 'hot hands' and busted out my afternoon snack.  As I sat there relaxing, the forest came alive.  Birds flew right past me, turkey gobbled in the distance, squirrels sounded like a ten pointer walking through the woods.  It helped keep my blood pumping and my mind on alert.  The morning was picture perfect with an amazing sunrise full of all the colors people dream about.

About an hour into the morning I saw something off in the distance, 'The One!'  That's right, I named this buck 'The One'.  I've been watching it grow for over two seasons and each year I'm more pumped to check my trail cam to make sure he was still around.  'The One', was no world record buck but, for a public land deer, it was a giant.  There he was, walking the edge of the field, sniffing the air, taking his sweet time.  Every minute and every step he came a little closer until he was about 44 yards out.  I wasn't quite comfortable with that shot, so I continued to wait. I'm already shaking and freaking out because I'm within minutes of taking the biggest deer of my life.  I thought to myself, man, that thing is going to look great on my wall.

I stood up, drew back, got the pin sights on the kill shot and released.  Thwap!

"Michael, Michael, it's time to wake up."  As I open my eyes, my beautiful wife looks at me.  I have a big smile on my face and knew it was a dream, because we all have had that one before.  But,  'The One' was still out there waiting for me.

"How are you feeling"?  said the Doctor.  I looked back at my wife with confusion and tried to sit up.  I can't!  I can't move! Not my toes, fingers or legs.  I start to freak out.

"Michael, calm down.  I'm going to give you a sedative to help you relax." the doctor said as she left the room.  I turn and look at my wife who is now crying.  "Sweetie, we have to talk." she said.  "You broke your back and you're paralyzed from the neck down."

The pain and exhaustion had set over my body and I could barely get the words out.  "How, how did this happen?" I asked.

 "You fell out of your tree stand" she said.

Things didn't make sense at first, but then it all became clear.  It wasn't a dream, 'The One' was right there in my sights, but my foot slipped on the frost and I fell twenty feet onto my back.  The only reason I'm alive today is because another hunter happened to be walking by and saw me on the ground.

As reality set in, thoughts started racing through my head. I'm never going hunting again and never going to flip a jig during a bass tournament.  And I can honestly say that's OK. I have a lifetime of memories!  The hardest part is that I won't be able to walk my daughter down the aisle or dip her at the father-daughter dance.  I won't be able to coach her softball team, go sledding down our hill, or just jump in the car on those hot summer months to grab an ice cream.  All because of 'The One'.

After months in the hospital, the doctor cleared me to go home.  Our whole world was turned upside down and it was difficult to get me situated.  My man cave where I once watched endless hours of fishing and hunting videos, got my gear ready and relived fun memories was now my make-shift bedroom.   As my wife was fluffing my pillows and making me comfortable, I looked around the room in disbelief.  And then something caught my attention.  In the cold, dark corner of the room sat a present my wife had gotten me a year earlier.   It was my Hunter Safety System harness.  I just stared at it and cried for what seemed like forever.  Life as I knew it was over.

You see, 'The One' wasn't about harvesting my personal best buck, it was about 'THE ONE MISTAKE' I made by not wearing my safety harness.  If you think you can't afford one, imagine the hospital bills your family will have when this happens to you.  And if you think that it can't happen to you, call me when it does.  I have nothing but time!  You think wearing them makes you uncomfortable, try only being able to lay in a bed with the endless pain of bed sores all over your body.

As hunters so much time is spent taking care of our equipment and buying the newest gadget in hopes of harvesting that trophy.  But, so little time is discussed about the safety harness and being safe in a tree stand.  Do yourself a favor this season- buy yourself one and wear it.  Your life depends on it.

September is Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month and it’s also the month that most hunters head back to the woods to hang stands in preparation for the upcoming hunting season.

Did you know?
In 2018, the DNR reported thirteen hunting accidents related to falls and eleven of those were either not using a harness system or using it improperly.

Still need a harness?

Check these out:
Muddy® MagnumTM Pro Harness - $39.99
Hunter Safety System Treestalker II Harness - $99.99

Monday, August 26, 2019

Deer and Beer Fest Rivals Fish and Feather Expo

This past weekend organizers opened the doors to the first annual Deer and Beer Fest held at the Interstate Center/ McLean County Fairgrounds.  "We planned this show in Bloomington for the same reason the Deer and Turkey Classic existed here successfully for so long. It’s roughly within an hour drive or less to Peoria, Springfield and Champaign." said Cole Thompson, event organizer.  While I know many people from these cities attended this fest, I also got word from our Chicago area readers that they took the trip down to enjoy a beautiful weekend talking hunting, fishing and the great outdoors as well.

Pumped and ready to start the show!
I've been to several great hunting and fishing shows across the country and in my opinion the Deer and Beer Fest competed with some of the best outdoor shows in Illinois.  Granted it's no SHOT SHOW or ICAST but, the atmosphere and energy was the same.  Not only from attendees but from the vendors themselves looked pumped and ready to go. There is already talk about expanding next year's show to include vendors outside throughout the other parts of the fairground.  "The McLean County Fairgrounds has over 100 acres of outdoor space with 50,000 sq ft indoors, and a 20,000sq ft pavilion area. There’s all kinds of opportunity for growth at this facility" said Thompson.

While many of us are used to our hunting and fishing shows in the winter, August is the month of cabin fever for hunters and that's why it was a great month for the show.   "Hunting season is right around the corner. Hunters are gearing up and ready to spend some cash on what they need or don’t need" said Thompson.  Although shows during the summer may not grow in the hunting community, maybe fishing shows will try this and see how it works on their end.

Attendees had the opportunity to win lots of goodies

As I walked in, it looked like any other show, however like the Energizer Bunny, rows kept going and going.  These rows were filled with quality products along with non-profits and businesses promoting their ideas and chasing the American dream.  Although many attendees came for the great deals on their hunting products, others came for the Big Buck Contest and Trophies of Grace did not disappoint. Luke Brewster's World Record Buck, harvested in Illinois, was also in attendance. Let me just say..WOW.   Nope- not putting a picture up of that monster, because like a sunset or sunrise, it's better in person, trust me!

Just some of the amazing deer on show from Trophies of Grace
If you missed this year don't worry! They'll be back and I'm excited as can be to see how this show grows.  However, I'm a little disappointed in one thing, no gutter guard companies at the show.  I mean, what's an outdoor show without them there?  Just in case some of you can't tell, that's sarcasm.  In all seriousness, this show met and exceeded my expectations and you should plan to take the whole family next year.

I applaud all the workers and vendors for making this an amazing show.   Makes sure to check them out the Deer and Beer Fest on Facebook.  SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!