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After 2 years, hunter who fell makes return to tree stand

December 16, 2018

RIPLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Joel Miller finally could breathe a sigh of relief.

He found the body of the 9-point buck he’d shot with an arrow a short while before. More important, though, he left behind a fear that had nagged him for more than two years.

On Oct. 5, 2015, Miller slipped and fell out of a tree stand. The 17-foot drop snapped a piece off one of his vertebrae and put a gash behind his right knee that took 17 stitches to close. The injuries healed relatively quickly, but they left him unwilling to hunt out of a tree stand.

“I skipped the 2016 season entirely,” said Miller, a teacher at Ripley High School. “Last year, I started getting interested in deer hunting again. I ran a couple of trail cameras and set up a ground blind.”

He briefly climbed back into a tree stand to see how it felt. He didn’t like it.

“I’d never had a fear of heights before, but I developed one after my fall,” he said. “I still get chills when I’m at certain elevations and look down. On my way to our camp on the Greenbrier River, there’s a bridge I used to enjoy looking down from. Now when I cross it, I get chills and look straight ahead.”

This past summer, after seeing a buck with antlers still in velvet, Miller decided to confront his fear and start hunting from a tree stand again.

“I changed my approach to it, though,” he said. “I went away from stands you hang on the tree because the footing when you climb into them is never 100 percent sure.”

Instead, Miller purchased a 21-foot ladder stand, a type that sits atop a pole secured to a tree and has a full-fledged ladder for ascents and descents.

“I wasn’t big on ladder stands before the accident because I thought they were too low to the ground,” he said. “I was afraid the deer would be able to see me or catch my scent. Eventually, I realized a ladder stand would be at least as tall as the stand I fell out of.”

He scouted a likely hunting spot, found a good place and set up the stand.

“I climbed up into it before the season to get a feel for how much shooting range I’d have,” he said. “I got hooked up in my harness and ranged the distances to a few trees in my shooting window, but I didn’t really shoot out of it. I didn’t want to disturb the deer in the area any more than necessary.”

On the morning of Sept. 29, the opening day of the archery season, Miller thought about going hunting but didn’t.

“That morning I decided to hang out with my family,” he said. “I figured I could go hunting in late afternoon, when it wouldn’t be dark when I was climbing into the stand.

“I was very cautious. I had more clothing on than when I tested the stand, so my mobility wasn’t as good. I was a little nervous, but I was confident at the same time. I never thought, ‘Oh, gosh, I can’t do this.’”

In mid-October, he got his first shot at a deer from a stand, but missed.

“It was the first buck I’d drawn back on in four years, and I was nervous,” Miller recalled. “It had nice antlers, and I was shaking. I misjudged the distance and shot under him.”

A week later, and somewhat to his surprise, Miller got another chance at that buck.

“He came in, and I watched him for about 10 minutes because he was facing me. Finally, he turned broadside and started to walk away two or three steps. I shot him and watched him run away. He ran about 100 yards and went down.”

The buck had a nice 8-point frame with a small, palmated “crab claw” on the end of its right main beam. It was, by a sizable margin, the largest buck he’d ever taken with a bow.

“Finding that buck gave me the greatest feeling,” Miller said. “It meant I’d finally come back from all that I’d been through.”

A few days later, Miller took another 9-pointer, albeit from a ground blind. The two bucks rekindled the 27-year-old’s love of hunting.

“It’s like I regained a part of me that had been lost,” he said. “It’s back in me now.”

He said he’s much more careful than he was before his accident.

“I’m slower climbing into the stand,” he said. “I make sure my footing is solid before I take my next step.”

He also wears a LifeLine, a rope with a special knot that clips to his harness. If he should ever lose his footing, the knot would grip the rope and prevent him from falling.

“After the accident, I bought three of them,” he said.

He said his experience has taught him a lesson, one he’d like to pass on to other outdoors enthusiasts: “Don’t let adversity take away something you used to enjoy so much.”


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

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