This is a co-worker of my wifes, and it shows why you wear a saftey strap.
Hunter has crash course to success
Posted: Nov. 26, 2008
Brightened by a fresh dusting of snow Saturday morning, the oak woods and corn stubble fields of western Buffalo County were a sight for hunters' eyes.
Like the legion of other hunters afield for the opening day of the 2008 Wisconsin gun deer season, Brett Werlein of Waunakee was already excited. What he saw as he looked out Saturday from his tree stand near Nelson - a still woods, trees mostly devoid of leaves, a veil of white greatly increasing visibility - only heightened his anticipation.
"It doesn't matter how many years you've hunted, opening morning is huge," said Werlein, 39, and a veteran of 28 deer seasons.
The typical questions ran through Werlein's head: Will the deer move? Am I in the right spot? Will I tag a deer? What will the season hold?
Hunting on his family's 80 acres, game-rich land he knows well, Werlein had a pretty good idea that he could answer the first three questions in the affirmative.
But no hunter, whether of 28 or 108 years of experience, could have foretold the events about to befall Werlein.
As the woods lightened with the dawn, Werlein settled back in his 15-foot-tall ladder stand and waited for what the day would bring.
He was hunting his favorite spot, on the side of a ravine in a mixed stand of oak and birch, overlooking a confluence of game trails. His stand was secured to a large white oak.
Werlein's brother Brad was hunting about 300 yards away; other relatives, including his father, several uncles and a brother-in-law, were situated in other stands on the property.
Deer activity was apparent from first light. Several does ambled through the woods by 7 a.m. Werlein let them pass.
"It was a great morning to hunt," said Werlein. "If you had to pick the conditions, you couldn't do much better."
About 7:15 a lone doe moved through, uphill from Werlein's stand, followed by another deer. Werlein focused on the second animal: antlers.
He raised his 12-gauge shotgun to his cheek and looked through the telescopic sight.
The buck's rack extended wider and higher than its ears.
"Nice," thought Werlein as he clicked off his safety and waited for the buck, just 60 yards uphill, to step into a good shooting lane.
Seconds later, a report echoed through the woods. The deer bolted downhill at the shot.
"I knew I hit it," said Werlein. "Then I just tried to get it in my sights again for a possible follow-up shot."
His right eye glued to the scope, Werlein tried in vain to catch up with the deer. In his off eye, he had the sense it was running toward his location. But he wasn't sure.
Werlein's tree stand reverberated with a heavy impact. In an instant, the seat fell out beneath him and - since he was not wearing a safety harness - his body was launched in an uneasy free-fall.
He pulled the gun from his face and tossed it to the side. His next impression was the white ground growing closer, a big brown object just left of his stand.
Incredibly, the buck had run downhill on a collision course with the base of Werlein's stand.
Luckily, Werlein fell feet first to the uphill side of his stand. He rolled as he hit earth, a painful jolt running through his body.
Werlein and the buck lay there, sprawled on the leaf litter, just feet apart.
"I opened my eyes and this deer was right there," recalled Werlein. "For a few moments we just looked at each other."
A former football player, Werlein knows what it's like to have his wind knocked out. As he lay there, unable to move and gasping for breath, he hoped that was all that had happened.
Clocked at speeds up to 38 miles per hour, a mature buck can easily outrun an NFL linebacker.
Whether it can hit as hard as say, A.J. Hawk, is a matter for speculation.
What's clear is the nine-pointer, with 220 pounds of muscle propelled downhill in an adrenaline-charged sprint, packed enough punch to dislodge Werlein from his perch and destroy the ladder stand.
"I was stunned," said Werlein. "That crash came out of nowhere."
Werlein didn't move for two minutes. "I started to try to move my feet and hands," said Werlein. "Eventually I was able to stand up."
Hunting statistics show one-third of all hunters will fall from a tree stand. They don't indicate how many of those falls will be caused by charging deer.
"The thing is, I'm deathly afraid of heights and I've never fallen out of a tree stand," said Werlein. "Until now."
Shot through the heart, the buck rolled a few more feet downhill and lay still, its flank cut open by the ladder.
Werlein was able to stagger back to his family's cabin. Only when his hunting party saw the ladder stand did they completely believe the story. The impact broke a weld on the stand and dented and detached the lower portion. Werlein declared it a total loss.
Other than some neck and upper back pain, Werlein said he is fine. He also knows he's lucky. The fall could have severely injured or killed him.
His plans for future seasons?
"I'll be hunting right in that spot, yes," said Werlein, who also will likely wear a safety harness from now on.
And he's in the market for another ladder stand, perhaps one with reinforced steel components. Do they make them with deer-collision ratings?
Werlein plans to have a shoulder mount made of the buck.
"It's not the biggest deer of my life, but it's definitely one I'll never forget," said Werlein.