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Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Hunter’s Injury Report

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 16, 2011.)

One careless swipe with a
skinning knife turned my left
index finger into a fountain of blood.
Does a hunter have anything in common with a quarterback who gets slammed to the ground by a defensive end?

And with a boxer who gets a serious cut that could cost him the fight?

And with a point guard who goes down with a sprained ankle when he takes a high-pressure shot in a basketball game?

Whether hunters are athletes is debatable, but they're not that kind of athlete. Still, the hunter can get the same injuries superstar athletes get. Knees, wrists, ankles, elbows, ribs - they're all vulnerable when you go hunting.

Years ago, after a freak accident with my truck, Dr. Gottwald told me I had the kind of injury quarterbacks get. How can that be? I'm only a turkey hunter.

As I eased my truck into the woods, the passenger-side wheels hit a drop-off. The truck rolled onto its right side, and slammed me against the door. I couldn't raise my right arm. The x-ray showed a second-degree shoulder separation.

In the heart of Alaska, one careless swipe with a skinning knife under the inch-thick hump skin of a moose turned my left index finger into a fountain of blood. I severed the digital artery and the digital nerve. It was distressing because I was 50 miles from medical attention and the only way out was by a Super Cub bush plane, not due to pick us up for six days.

Twelve years later this knucklehead is still paying the price for burying his knife into his knucklebone. Half of that finger is still numb.

More recently I took a game-ending shot from an awkward position at a hefty spring gobbler and ended up chasing him down. He flopped though the long grass and I nearly flopped too as I caught my heel on a stump and sprained my ankle. Hobbled as I was, I won that foot race with some help from a buddy. Two months later my foot is no longer purple, but the ankle remains tender and stiff.

I've suffered a few other wounds. Bouncing a scope off my forehead earned me three crescent-shaped scars just above and between my eyes. Yes, three. The first time was the worst. I was shooting at a flock of fall turkeys to split them up, and ended up with a face that was scary bloody, plus a sprained knee. Oh yeah - I also remember a flock of little cartoon bluebirds orbiting my head.

At least the next two incidents had an up-side. My bleeding forehead was less important than the eight-point buck and the dandy spring gobbler I took home.

So, in the sporting world it's not only athletes who get separated shoulders, sprained ankles, and bloody cuts.

We hear about accidental shootings and falls from treestands. While the statistical probabilities of those tragedies happening are negligible, they're never low enough to ignore. Every precaution must be taken to make sure life-threatening accidents never happen. Ever.

Despite my track record, I'm not really as hapless as I sound. I know it pays to be careful. Freak accidents happen. Simple mistakes such as stepping into a woodchuck hole can have big consequences.

That knife fight with a stubborn moose hide could have been worse. Under the circumstances it was almost impossible to clean my wound, but I had the foresight to bring an antibiotic to Alaska and I began taking it right away. The penicillin may have prevented a serious infection and perhaps even saved my finger.

Respect knives, guns, the trees you climb, the rocks and stumps you jump over, the streams you cross, the antlers, hooves and spurs of the animals you kill, the trucks and other vehicles you drive, even the ground you walk on. If you don't, any one of them could end what you love doing most.

As we get older we take more seriously the wisdom that boy scouts preach - be prepared.


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