October 27, 2014
By Steve Wright, OutdoorChannel.com
Gerald Swindle nearly cancelled his own TV show, The Hit List Presented by Moultrie on Outdoor Channel. He did postpone the taping of one episode; postponed due to pain.
And he might have set some sort of unofficial Guinness Book of World’s Record mark: Highest fall from a treestand and lived to tell about it – Gerald Swindle, Warrior, Ala., 22 feet.
"I'm telling you, I'm the luckiest guy in the world," the 44-year-old Swindle said. "More men have probably died from that than have got up and walked off."
He got up in considerable pain, but Swindle was able to walk away from a potentially fatal accident.
He is the second Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing angler this year to suffer a serious fall from a deer stand. Bassmaster Classic champion Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., wasn't able to defend his 2013 title in February after breaking both bones in his lower left leg and tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in a January deer stand fall.
It was more than eight months later before Pace was physically able to fish in another B.A.S.S. tournament, which he did October 2 - 4 at North Carolina's Lake Norman, where Pace finished 10th.
Click image to see photos of "A Fall Not On The Hit List"
Swindle's accident occurred on September 10, just before the top 50 Elite Series anglers were scheduled to compete in the Toyota Angler of the Year tournament on Lake Michigan's Bays de Noc.
"I was getting everything ready to film a deer hunting show for The Hit List," Swindle said. "I was just doing all my prep work. I had about a 150-inch deer on camera. I went to this spot to set everything up, knowing when I got home from (Escanaba, Mich.) I could go hunt.
"I was hanging a treestand above my stand for my cameraman."
It should be noted that Swindle is extremely safety conscious when hunting – period, but especially so when it involves a treestand. He uses a "life line" safety harness at all times, even when climbing up to and down from a tree stand. Well, almost at all times.
"I was using an old stand with an old strap," Swindle said of the treestand he was setting up for his cameraman in a tree behind his. "I was going to put a new ratchet strap on it. The tree was so big that I couldn't get my safety strap around it. So I took my belt off, and I stepped over into the stand. I was going to throw my safety strap on there and tie off."
Before he could do that, the front strap on the old tree stand snapped.
"It was just like a trap door opened, and then, POW, I hit the ground," Swindle said.
As anyone who has ever lived to tell about one these incidents knows, there's no time to think or plan your fall.
"I hit just flat on my side and bounced. It felt like I bounced four feet in the air, but it was probably about this far," said Swindle, while holding his thumb and index finger about four inches apart. "I hit on my face, under my ribs, on my ankle and my man parts got all swollen up."
Swindle was with his son-in-law, who was frightened of what he would find after Swindle hit the ground. And Swindle couldn't tell him much because the fall had knocked the breath out of him.
"It freaked him out," Swindle said. "He came flying down the tree. When he got to me, I was pointing at my feet. When I finally got my breath, I told him to pull my pants up. I was trying to make sure it didn't shatter my legs.
"He pulled up the legs of my pants and said, 'I don't see no bones sticking out.' Then he just sat down and said, 'What do you want me to do? I'll call a helicopter, whatever.'"
As Swindle gradually got his thoughts together and closely examined himself for injuries, he came to the realization that he was one of the luckiest men on earth.
"I did make him get back up there and finish hanging that stand," Swindle laughed.
He is certain that his fall came from 22 feet. Swindle's stand was a 20-footer. The cameraman's stand that he was attempting to set was 2 feet higher, in order to get an over-the-shoulder view of the archery shot Swindle hoped to take on that 150-inch whitetail buck.
Swindle was able to walk away from the fall, but its effects continue to painfully linger. His wife, LeAnn, had to drive the truck pulling Swindle's boat all the way from Warrior, Ala., to Escanaba, Mich., which is just short of 1,000 miles one way.
"Every time we'd stop to by gas, I'd fill three one-gallon zip-lock bags with ice," Swindle said.
One he placed on his shoulder and neck. One went in his lap for his swollen "man parts." The other Swindle placed on his ankle.
"That whiplash in my neck, from bouncing off the ground, it was so sore. I was miserable," Swindle said.
Swindle was probably the only angler, among the top 50 on the Elite Series who earned an invitation to the event, who didn't mind the three-day postponement of competition due to high winds on Lake Michigan. The delays resulted in the tournament being reduced to two days instead of three. Even on those two days, strong winds produced some rough water.
"When I was at Escanaba, oh my gosh," he said. "When that wind would blow, I was like, 'Really? Really? This is going to hurt.'"
Swindle was wearing an ankle brace three weeks after the accident, when he competed in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open at Lake Norman, near Charlotte, N.C.
Like most lessons in life, Swindle learned this one the hard way. He has bow hunted for more than 25 years. He is extremely safety conscious. And he'd never suffered a bad fall until now.
"I've been helping people hang ladders, when they slide off the tree," he said. "You can see it coming, and you can jump.
"This was literally a trap door. I heard it coming, then I bounced off the ground. There was no time to prepare."
There's not much you can do to prepare for a 22-foot fall. Swindle might have been lucky he fell on his side, where the blow was distributed along more of his body, rather than landing on his feet, like Pace did when he shattered the bones in his lower leg.
Pace might have emerged from that fall unscathed, if his left foot hadn't landed in a hole in the ground.
That's the other unknown involved in a tree stand accident. In the varied terrain below a treestand, no matter where it's set, the chances of landing on flat ground with no obstructions are slim.
The key is not falling. Ever. No matter what the height.
"I wasn't hooked up for only 30 seconds, and it almost killed me," Swindle said. "You just can't take those chances."