Major League Fishing and B.A.S.S. angler Cliff Pace rests in his hospital bed after shattering both the tibia and the fibula in his left leg. (Courtesy Cliff Pace)
Even though a treestand fall in January shattered his leg and kept him from competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit this year, Cliff Pace isn't about to give up deer hunting.
However, he won't be back in a treestand this season without an extra piece of safety equipment.
"None whatsoever," said Pace, when asked if he had any second thoughts about climbing back in a tree stand. "If you had an accident on your way home from work today, would you think about not getting back in a car again? It's no different.
"Life is for living. That's the way I look at it. And I love deer hunting almost as much as I do tournament bass fishing."
Pace fell from the ladder of his deer stand on January 21 as he was climbing down on an unusually cold morning in southern Mississippi, near his hometown of Petal, a suburb of Hattiesburg. Pace was looking forward to defending his 2013 Bassmaster Classic championship the following month on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
But that plan and his lower left leg, both the tibia and the fibula, were shattered in the fall. The unusually cold weather last winter had many ill effects. Count Cliff Pace among them.
"It was probably 16, 17 degrees that morning," Pace said. "It was the first time I'd ever put gloves on in a deer stand."
Pace estimates he was six feet down a 20-foot ladder when one of the gloves slipped off his hand, and he went crashing down. As a former commercial roofer, Pace has taken dozens of falls from equal or greater heights and emerged unscathed. He did manage to land on his feet this time, but his left foot came down in a hole.
"I could see the bottom of it," he said. "It was more like a cupped depression in the ground."
He stood up, tried to take a step and fell on his face "in a mud hole." It was cold, he was seriously injured, and he was now wet.
"A friend was hunting with me," Pace said. "I called him on my cell phone, and he went to get my four-wheeler. It was the most painful ordeal of my life. I thought I was going to pass out."
Pace dragged himself out of the mud and found a branch to bite.
"I bit down on it when I thought I was going to pass out, just so it would take my mind off the pain," he said. "I puked a couple of times. I was going into shock. I got real cold."
With help from his friend, Pace was able to get on his four-wheeler and drive himself out of the deer woods.
Click image to see photos of Keeping 'Pace' with Treestand Safety
The recovery has been long and painful. Pace's doctors told him to expect a 12-month recovery period, though he might be slightly ahead of schedule. Pace is going to fish a Bassmaster Open tournament on October 2-4 at North Carolina's Lake Norman. Shortly after the tournament, Pace plans to climb back in a deer stand.
He has long worn a safety harness while in a stand. This season, however, he will have a Hunter Safety System Lifeline, which keeps hunters from free falling during the climb up and down.
Most every hunter feels confident and safe while making those climbs, but because of Pace's roofing experience, he probably felt safer than most. But he now has a painful memory that will override any of that confidence in the future.
According to Hunter Safety System, 86 percent of treestand falls occur during the climb up or down from a stand. Cliff Pace became a painful part of those statistics last January. He won't make the same mistake twice.
Pace's story should be a lesson for all of us as another deer season approaches.