Falling from a deer stand is the last thing seasoned hunter Tommy Brown had on his mind that crisp fall morning in 2005. Living in South Carolina his entire life, hunting came as naturally to him as eating grits with shrimp. Tommy has always been drawn to the land, and working as an appraiser has been the perfect career fit for him. Anyone who knows Tommy will immediately tell you that he is a true outdoorsman. He named his only son Woods. As far as Tommy was concerned, there was no name better suited for a son.
My husband had hunted with Tommy many times over the years, mostly for ducks and doves. But in 2005, it was all about hunting for legendary whitetails during firearms season in Brown County, Illinois, where Tommy was to experience hunting monster bucks quite unlike the comparatively small whitetails we see in South Carolina.
Climbing up those frosty rungs into the deer blind was a thrill Tommy had anticipated for months, and he felt blessed as the night sky, filled with bright stars, morphed into early light. He thanked God for this amazing creation, and relished the time to sit quietly and take in the beauty before him. That single morning Tommy saw more bucks than he had seen in several seasons at home in South Carolina.
When deer activity slowed for the morning, Tommy decided to climb down to move to another stand a few hundred yards away. Disregarding his host’s suggestion to clip his gun to the cord provided, Tommy began his descent, gun in hand. The box blind was wrapped in camouflage netting and as his feet stepped to the third rung, his backpack snagged the netting. He made a quick twisting motion to free himself, and in that one movement he felt a distinct sensation of floating backwards, followed by the inevitable impact. Then, silence.
Sometime later, he awoke dazed and confused, and as he opened his eyes, he felt like his body had imprinted into the ground. Panic set in when he realized he could not move. His body felt crushed from the fall, but Tommy was thankful that he could feel his toes wiggle. Try as he might, his right side would not respond to his brain’s commands, and terrible pain signaled his injuries were severe.
He made a quick twisting motion to free himself, and in that one movement he felt a distinct sensation of floating backwards, followed by the inevitable impact. Then, silence.
“I began to yell for help,” Tommy told me. “I saw my two-way radio, which had fallen out of my pack, lying to my right. I was going to have to reach over my busted side and drag myself to it. After yelling and crawling, I managed to grab it and heard myself screaming: ‘Mayday, mayday! Help, help, please!’”
No one answered. Knowing the dangers of hypothermia and shock, Tommy had a sickening feeling come over him. He prayed. A short time later Tommy again radioed for help. Fortunately, this time his wife’s uncle Jerry heard the pleas for help.
A rescue helicopter was transporting another hunter from a neighboring property and was too far out of range to help get Tommy to the hospital. When the medics finally arrived, they cut off Tommy’s clothing and loaded him onto a piece of plywood on the back of an ATV. Tommy was in a daze, drifting in and out of consciousness during the long, grueling, and seemingly endless ride over rough terrain. He was shot full with morphine, but that did not keep him from realizing the extent of his injuries. After what seemed like an eternity, they reached the waiting ambulance.
They arrived at the nearest hospital but were quickly shuttled to the capital city’s hospital when doctors determined that Tommy had a broken humerus, two broken ribs, and cracked vertebrae. Tommy miraculously recovered from his injuries. He is the lucky one. He later learned that the other injured hunter, the one who was airlifted from a nearby property the same morning, is now a paraplegic.
“I fully recovered, but at the touch of a tree stand rung, my senses heighten and I concentrate on every single move—particularly descent,” said Tommy. “There is a well-used cord on all of my stands, and this former lone hunter checks in with someone after getting on the ground. I feel it’s only by the grace of God I was not killed or permanently injured. I returned to the ‘scene of the crime’ two years later and took the deer of a lifetime—182 inches.” (Tommy is shown with this buck in the photo above).
Tommy’s stand has since been named “911” for obvious reasons.
Every time I climb into my deer stand, I can’t help but think of Tommy Brown. When someone you know and care about goes through a life-changing event like this, it has a way of doing just that. Every step I take is cautiously measured. My cell phone is always in a zippered pocket. If there is bad reception, I carry a walkie-talkie for backup. I never hunt solo—I don’t need to prove anything. There is always someone in a deer stand somewhere close by who knows where I am and when I am getting down from my stand. And, of course, it is imperative to always wear a safety harness. You could say that his story has made a huge impact on how I hunt.
There are not many things that Tommy Brown enjoys more than hunting, and his deep desire is to pass along his story so that other hunters may stay safe doing what they love and cherish. Hunt safe, my friends!