DUMAS (AGFC) – When he regained consciousness, Lee Walt felt excruciating pain. He couldn't move the lower part of his body. He was on the ground, alone, and no one knew where he was.
After a few painful minutes, Walt fished his cell phone from a pocket – and there was no service for it.
Walt was a victim of a tree stand accident, a 20-foot fall at his hunting camp north of Dumas and near the Arkansas River.
Persons injured in tree stand mishaps far outnumber those involved in accidental shootings, especially the "mistaken for game" incidents that have greatly diminished since the wearing of hunter orange became a requirement in the late 1970s, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Tree stand falls often are a result of either deteriorating materials of the stands, especially homemade wooden ones, or a hunter's inattention and dozing off.
Walt had climbed to a stand 20 feet above the ground. It was a manufactured stand, not a home-built rig. His wife Patty was planning to use the stand for bow-hunting, and Walt wanted to put up one next to it so he could video her hunt. He remembered stepping from the ladder steps to put his weight on the stand. And it collapsed under him.
The cause was later found to be a sheared-off nylon ratchet strap holding the stand to the tall tree.
Walt's injury was a shattered pelvis, and this made his legs useless. His truck wasn't far away, and he pulled himself across the ground by his forearms to the vehicle 30 to 40 yards away, where there was a two-way radio.
His father, Martin Walt, answered the radio and its alarming message, "I am hurt." Other family members and hunting associates got the word. Martin Walt found his son, and with much difficulty got him into the elder Walt's truck seat.
They headed to a Dumas hospital but met an ambulance on the levee near the river. Paramedics examined Lee Walt and made the call to go to Jefferson Regional Medical Center at Pine Bluff. They administered painkillers quickly.
Extensive surgery directed by Dr. John Lytle reconstructed Walt's pelvis. For days he could not move in the bed, couldn't turn over. Healing began, and Walt was able to return to his home then graduated to the use of a wheelchair.
"I'll be in the wheelchair two more months," he said. "I am getting physical therapy to keep the muscles in my upper body in shape."
Even with the major injury, Walt is not giving up on the current hunting season. He has already been bow-hunting twice, rolling his wheelchair into a ground blind.
He looks back upon his accident and sees some mistakes.
He went out to the stand alone, although it was for work and not for hunting. He didn't tell anyone where he was going. The moment of the fall when he put his weight onto the stand is uncertain, looking back on it. Should he have put on a harness or at least a safety tie of some sort before stepping to the stand?
Walt already was an advocate for safety harness use in tree stands. These are highly recommended by Joe Huggins, hunter education coordinator for the Game and Fish Commission. "We recommend that anyone using a tree stand also use a full body harness, a good one that straps between the legs," Huggins said.
A body harness can be used going up and down the stand's ladder, Huggins said, as well as while the hunter is atop the stand.