Opening Day Blues

Aaron Gallagher

Fort Scott, Kansas

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. It was the night before firearms deer season was to open in Kansas. I had prepared an entire year for the following morning. I had bought a new rifle slug barrel for my Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun. I tossed and turned all night, just thinking about bagging one of the trophy bucks that had been scouted on my parents' land in southeast Kansas.

After a restless night, it was finally opening morning. I put on multiple layers of clothing and grabbed my gear. My sister and her husband were also going to be hunting with me that day. I started to wait for them to arrive but it was getting close to sun-up so I decided to hike to the woods. I took it slow and easy to my tree stand, being very careful not to spook any of the deer in the area. It was still dark when I reached my stand. I clipped the rope that was hanging from the tree to my unloaded shotgun, then climbed up the tree on my metal screw-in pegs. The pegs seemed to be a little slick so I went slower than usual to my stand. Reaching my stand, which consisted of an old board positioned between the crotch of an old chestnut tree, I finally got comfortable and proceeded to hoist my shotgun up the tree for a great day of hunting. It was a little windy, but otherwise a perfect day. Shotgun in hand, I was now settled in for the hunt.

I turned and noticed a hunter within 300 yards of me sitting in front of two vehicles. It made me a little nervous having someone directly behind me.

The sun was just about to come up when I noticed my sister and her husband approaching their stand about 500 yards to the northeast of me. They got settled in about the time the sun started breaking up over the horizon. We were all ready now for that trophy buck to come into range!

After 20 minutes or so it was full light out. I waited a little while longer and made a couple of toots on my grunt call. I repeated the grunt a few more times after some long pauses. There were still no deer to be seen. After several more minutes I heard a lot of loud talking and carrying on and saw three hunters coming across a fence about 600 yards to the southeast of me. This really bothered me since I knew that the property owner wouldn't have given them permission to be on that land. What was most disturbing to me, though, was how inconsiderate they were being to me and the other people hunting there.

A couple of minutes later I heard something running very fast through the woods. By the time I realized that it was a large 10-point buck, it was in flight over a fence below my stand. When the buck landed, it was on the property right behind me where the three loud hunters were. I decided to use my grunt call in an attempt to turn the buck back on my parents' land so that one of us would have a shot at it. I let out a few grunts and the deer stopped dead in its tracks. I could have had a perfect broadside shot on it but the three unruly hunters charged toward it. The scared deer fled across another fence and into a field owned by my parents. It was well out of shooting range for all of us.

I noticed that the number of hunters behind me had grown to five. A few minutes later the three unruly hunters were within 30 yards of me, directly behind my stand and preparing to cross the fence onto my parents' land. I whistled at them to get their attention so that they would see me and realize that maybe they should not trespass on someone else's land. All three had seen me and one of them wised up and headed back toward the two vehicles. The other two hunters crossed the fenced and started walking onto my parents' land like they owned it! I yelled at them, "Hey, what do you think you are doing?" They looked at me and kept walking. My sister and her husband walked toward them. The other three hunters were out of my sister and her husband's view.

I decided I better get down out of the tree in a hurry to go help handle the situation. I figured three against five were better odds if the unsportsmanlike hunters decided to get combative. I put my shotgun on the gun rest, another old board that I had nailed to the tree. I removed the safety belt that I was using for the first time today, and proceeded to climb down the tree. My sister had talked me into getting that safety belt the week earlier, saying, "Better safe than sorry, don't you think?" I agreed.

On the way down I lost my footing on the first tree step. I reached for a plastic carrying handle that I had nailed on my stand, hoping to regain my balance. The handle came off in my hand and I caught a glimpse of it floating to the ground. It wasn't but a split second later that I realized I was floating to the ground also. It seemed like one of those dreams where you know that you are falling but you can't do anything about it. I could hear branches breaking and my heart pounding. That thing that you hear about people's lives flashing before them in life threatening situations is not a lie. I had a lot of flashing going on right about then.

It was about twenty feet from my stand to the ground and I was sure that this was enough of a drop to be fatal. I covered my head and was in the fetal position. Thud! I hit on my left side first and then my head hit. I was knocked out for a second. When I came to I realized that I was still alive and I thanked the lord. I was gasping for air and thought, "Oh no! I've got a collapsed lung!" I took some slow deep breaths and started breathing normally again. I thought I just had the wind knocked out of me. I was still on the ground at this time and decided to get over to help my sister and her husband. I got up and felt a bad pain in my left side. I sat down at the base of the tree to see if the pain would let up. A minute or so passed and I decided to get back up. I felt good enough to walk. I heard the two vehicles screeching off. I figured they must have seen me make my quick exit from the tree and thought that guy might be a little mad, since he just made a twenty foot descent without using any steps. I finally reached my sister and her husband.

The first thing I said to them was, "I am lucky to be alive." Then I noticed that the unsportsman-like hunters were headed to the back of my parents' property. They had made up some excuse to my sister's husband as to why they were there. They had told him something like, "We didn't know we were not supposed to be on this land." This seemed a pretty stupid excuse since I had gotten their attention earlier and one of them had turned back. I took my camouflage face mask off and asked my sister if my left eye had a scratch on it. She gasped and said, "Yes, and a nice shiner!" We all decided to head to my sister's truck and drive to the back of my parents' land to see if the unwelcome hunters were still there.

It took a few minutes to get to the truck and we all put our gear in the box. My sister's husband got in next to my sister. When I tried to get in the truck I felt a very intense pain in my left side. I leaned up against the side of truck and said, "Just a minute, just a minute." We decided to go directly to the hospital.

A moment later my sister's husband spotted a large buck across the road on property owned by my parents. He exclaimed, "I'll be right back! I'm going to get that buck!" He headed over to the patch of land that the buck was on and got the cross hairs of his .300 magnum rifle lined up on the buck's vital area. Boom! He took a shot and we all saw two does get up and exit to the south of the property but no sign of the buck. He turned to us and said, "I know I got him and he's a big one!"

My adrenaline was flowing now and my sister and I decided to help track the buck. I was holding my left side because of the intense pain, but wanted to help find the buck. We started looking from the point that my sister's husband knew that he had shot him. We were hoping to pick up a blood trail quickly so that we could get me to the hospital. It was several minutes later and we were afraid that it might be a hunter's worst nightmare--a wounded animal that got away. Suddenly my sister's husband shouted, "Hey, I found blood!" Off in a small patch of trees I spotted the buck. We walked toward the deer and when we got up to it we all counted the points on the rack. It ended up being a very nice thirteen-pointer. I patted my sister's husband on the back and said, "Nice job." He was very excited and replied, "That is the biggest buck I have ever killed!" We took a few pictures and my sister's husband field dressed the buck very quickly.

My sister helped her husband load the deer in the back of the truck. They wouldn't let me help because they thought I should just take it easy. My pain was getting worse and we decided to head to the hospital. We dropped the buck and my sister's husband off at their house and my sister proceeded to drive me to the hospital. On the drive to the hospital I told my sister I was hoping for just a few broken ribs. I could get them wrapped up then head back to see if I could bag the nice ten point buck I had spotted earlier.

We finally reached the hospital, filled out the necessary paperwork, and, after a little wait, I was in the emergency room getting checked out. My vitals were taken and I was asked for a urine sample. After another short wait the doctor came in and told me that they had found blood in my urine. I thought, "Oh great!" The doctor decided to do a CAT scan of my abdomen. The CAT scan showed that I had a bruised kidney and a lacerated spleen. My spleen was bleeding and the doctor thought that he might have to operate on it. He told me that sometimes the spleen will stop bleeding after a few days of strict bed rest. He didn't want to do surgery unless he absolutely had to. I told him, "I like your thinking."

I was put into the intensive care unit and my vitals and blood levels were checked regularly. The next morning the doctor informed me that the bleeding in my spleen had slowed and that I was going to be moved to a regular room. I ended up staying in the hospital for five days, but I kept my spleen. The hunting season came to a close and I still had an unfilled buck tag. I did end up with a bruised kidney, a lacerated spleen, some broken ribs, a few weeks off from work, and a very bad case of opening day blues.

I can say one more thing though. It was truly an unforgettable hunt.

Opening Day Blues

December 1, 1999; 9:30AM...13 Points; .300 Magnum

Aaron Gallagher

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