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Hunting is among the safest sports anyone can enjoy. It’s so safe that, statistically speaking, a fellow would be several times more likely to end up in the hospital after a few sets of tennis than after enjoying a weekend deer hunt.

Study after study confirms it. The problem is that hunting is such a safe sport and accidents are so rare that we far too often take our safety for granted.

How many times have each of us climbed a tree without a safety belt/harness? How many times have we climbed into a stand or over a fence while carrying a loaded weapon? Most of the time we know better, but we do it anyway because it’s easier or expedient.

How many times have each of us headed out to the woods without an orange safety vest, worn it under our outer coat, or even removed it once on the stand? I know I have. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a Haralson, Ga. family that endured a nightmare due to discounting the value of the simplest piece of hunting safety gear – a blaze orange safety vest.

Henry Whitfield and his family are all experienced outdoorsmen and women who live each year looking forward to hunting season. They are knowledgeable hunters who’ve enjoyed many successful hunts in the field together and are familiar with the use of blaze orange safety vests in order to comply with state hunting regulations.

However, after one particular afternoon hunt on a neighbor’s property, they no longer see wearing one as simply obeying the law – they recognize it as the lifesaving device it is meant to be.

After finishing up a day’s work, Henry and his eldest teenage son, Kris, accompanied by Kris’ friend Dakota, headed to the nearby property for a late afternoon whitetail hunt. When they arrived, they remembered their safety vests had been left in the truck parked in front of Henry’s workshop. Rather than return and burn up valuable time, the trio went ahead with their hunt, knowing they had the property to themselves.

Henry chose to sit on a stand overlooking an overgrown field bordering a thickly-forested creek bottom where the two boys were to take up stands. The wind had been blowing steadily, but as afternoon turned to evening, powerful gusts picked up, driving the teenage boys to give up their perches in the creek bottom and head back up the hill.

A lone buck had been feeding in the field in front of Henry, and he finally decided to take the shot when the buck spooked toward the cover of the treeline. As the boys reached the clearing, they took off running, hoping to clear the area and not disturb Henry’s hunting.

But, instead they stepped into the field at the same time Kris’ dad fired.

The .308 round sped into Kris’ chest at twice the speed of sound, knocking the young man to the ground, entering dead center and exiting the left side, coming to rest in his left arm.

Henry remembers seeing his son fall and hearing him cry out, “Dad, you freakin’ shot me!” Henry flew to his son’s side, knelt beside him and did the only thing he could think to do – plug the wounds with his fingers and send Dakota for help.

Kris never lost consciousness. He and his father waited for what must have seemed an eternity for a team of paramedics to arrive on scene. Henry remembers how difficult it was to leave Kris’ side and let the first responders do their job. As the paramedics went to work, one of them – Mr. Hal Painter – saw the grief overcoming Henry and took him aside to ask if he was “a praying man.”

“Yeah,” Henry responded. “Let’s pray,” Hal told him.

A helicopter arrived at the scene and flew Kris to a Level 1 trauma center in Atlanta. As the surgeons began their work, they found the bullet had passed completely through the center of his left lung and grazed his heart.

They determined the bullet’s trajectory came just 2mm shy of piercing the heart muscle, instead pushing it aside and actually wrapping around the curve of the heart before exiting the chest.

No surgery was attempted, as the youth’s lung clotted, and the bleeding stopped on it’s own. The doctors attempted to put Kris into a medically-induced coma, but he never lost consciousness and was placed in critical care.

Kris’ mother, Becky, was escorted to the hospital as Kris was being admitted to the CCU. She asked a family friend to please pray with her. “It truly was a miracle he survived, and I know that God’s mercy was at work. My son is alive! There were so many prayers from so many different people for Kris and our family during this ordeal, we’ve truly been blessed.”

After six days of CCU care, Kris was moved upstairs to a recovery ward, where he stayed an additional six days until he returned home and walked into his family’s home on his own two feet.

Praise God! Just three months later, Kris suited up and was on the field with his teammates at a Haralson County High School football game.

Kris recently graduated from firefighting school and soon will be working with members of the same first responder team that came to his aid that fateful day when his life was nearly cut short by a decision to not take the time to retrieve and wear a blaze orange safety vest.


About the author;

Toby is a 20+ year veteran of the turkey woods and is a dedicated member of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Having wandered back and forth all across the south hunting trophy gobblers, he's accumulated a lifetime of knowledge about the wild turkey and has developed hunting tactics that can help you to get within range of a big boss gobbler yourself this season.

Toby's signature call, the "Rebel Yell" box call is now a part of the Heirloom lineup of handmade calls and he is currently assisting in the production of the Heirloom's "Dixie Darling" and "Long Tom" box calls as well. No outdoorsman could be more welcomed to the Heirloom Turkey Call family.

Toby's hunting experience doesn't begin and end with turkey hunting; he's also recognized as expert in tactics to put the toughest of bucks and boars on the tailgate.