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Cokato hunter stresses safety after back-breaking fall
Nov. 10, 2017

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

COKATO, MN – Philip Martinson of Cokato hopes other hunters won’t have an experience like he had Oct. 27.

He was just about done setting up his deer stand in preparation for the season, when he noticed that there was a fold in the strap. Martinson climbed up and adjusted it, hanging on with his feet and leaning against the tree.

But just as he reached the clasp, his weight shifted, and he fell backwards onto the ground – about 10 to 14 feet down.

“It happened so quick,” Martinson said.

Right away, Martinson knew his lower back was in bad shape.

“I was in quite a bit of agony and pain,” he recalled.

He reached for his cell phone in his front bib pocket, but didn’t feel it. Thinking he didn’t have it with him, Martinson crawled up a ravine about 20 yards to his truck, and lifted himself into the driver’s seat.

He then made the four-mile drive home, where he texted his wife, Teresa, who had been out shopping.

“I told her to come home ASAP,” Martinson said.

Teresa rushed to help, and they drove to Hutchinson Hospital.

“They had a wheelchair waiting for me,” Martinson said.

After the doctors saw the results of Martinson’s MRI, he was no longer allowed to leave the hospital bed.

“I broke one vertebrae in three pieces,” Martinson said.

An ambulance transported Martinson to Hennepin County Medical Center. He then waited for surgery, which took place Oct. 29. Surgeons removed the bone fragments from his broken L1, and put in new titanium hardware.

“I was glad to be in good hands,” Martinson said.

The day after surgery, Martinson was given a custom-made two-piece thoracolumbosacral orthosis (TLSO) back brace, which he’ll be wearing for the next three months. Once he no longer needs the brace, he plans to go back to work at Dura Supreme in Howard Lake.

As for his future recreation plans, Martinson said he doesn’t think he’ll be hanging any more deer stands.

“When I go deer hunting again, it will be on the ground or maybe a ladder stand,” he said.

Prioritizing safety

Martinson wants other hunters to learn from his mistakes.

“Every time you hang a stand, make sure you are wearing a safety harness,” he said. “If I had been wearing one, I wouldn’t have fallen,” he said.

For people who find a harness cumbersome, Martinson recommends safety vests, which he has used in the past.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural resources, tree stand accidents are the leading cause of injury to hunters. One in three people who hunt from an elevated stand will have a fall resulting in serious injury.

The DNR suggests following the “three-point rule” of tree stand safety. This means always having three points of contact on the steps or ladder before moving, such as two arms and one leg holding and stepping on the ladder. Hunters should also check the security of the step before placing their weight on it.

Martinson said it’s best not to set up a deer stand alone.

“It really would have been key to have someone with me,” he said.

As someone who has been hunting for decades, though, Martinson said he understands that it’s easy to get into bad habits.

“You get away with it once, and you think you’ve got it made,” he said.

Although Martinson has months of recovery ahead, he’s grateful he didn’t end up paralyzed.

“You don’t know how thankful I am for that,” he said, wiggling his toes and feet. “It could have been a lot worse. The Lord was really watching out for me that day.”

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