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ND: Several hunting accidents

Minot Daily News
By KIM FUNDINGSLAND Minot Daily News
The Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nightmares, safety lessons follow injured hunters

MINOT, N.D.

Millions of hunting trips and trips to the shooting range are made each year without incident. But a memory-making hunting trip or a friendly shooting competition can turn into a real-life nightmare in a fraction of a second.

It was the second day of the 1997 deer gun season and Dennis Zimmerman of Anamoose was looking forward to spending some time hunting with friends. A short time later, he was in a desperate struggle for his life.

"It knocked me down and turned me around," recalled Zimmerman. "I was able to keep my senses enough to holler at somebody and say 'Don't shoot again - I've been shot!'"

Zimmerman had been struck in the leg by a bullet fired by another member of his hunting party. The round from an old Winchester Model 94 tore through his femoral artery, a wound usually considered fatal. Luckily, one member of the hunting party was Zimmerman's son, Brent, a Border Patrol agent trained in first aid.

"He balled up his jacket and put it on the wound and just laid on it to keep pressure on it. Thank God for that," Zimmerman said. "They put me in the back of a pickup truck that had a lot of snow inside the box. I guess that cooled the blood so it didn't flow so fast. Without my son, I wouldn't be here."

Zimmerman actually was in two pickups after the accident. The first truck became entangled in wire in an understandable haste to leave the field.

"They were way out in the boonies north of Anamoose," said Phyliss Zimmerman, Dennis' wife. "I'm a nurse, but I wasn't out hunting. It was quite a circus, to be honest. After the first pickup got tangled in wire, they threw him into a second pickup. They had called for a helicopter but the battery was dead."

The helicopter from Minot's Trinity Hospital eventually got under way, intercepting Zimmerman's pickup near Voltaire. He was rushed into lifesaving surgery nearly 2 1/2 hours after the accident.

"When I finally got to intensive care, the doctor told me that I had maybe 10 minutes to live by the time I got to the hospital," Zimmerman said.

"That one was close. He has nine lives. I swear it," said Phyliss Zimmerman. "He was struck by lightning and survived that, too. He does limp quite a bit. but he's tough."

Dennis Zimmerman, now 70, no longer hunts with a large group. It's just him and one more hunter.

"That way, we always know where each other is at," Zimmerman said. "An accident is still an accident. With mine there was no malice, no intent. I was just a lucky guy.

"Looking back, I'm just very thankful for hunting with most of the guys in the party. Without them, I wouldn't be around," he said. "I guarantee that the guy getting shot heals a lot faster than the guy pulling the trigger. It's got to be a terrible, terrible feeling."

As is the case with many shooting victims, the effects of the incident last far beyond the physical healing. Frightening nightmares are common, often for years.

"Those nightmares were something very vivid. I went for seven or eight years of having them," Zimmerman said. "They say you don't dream in color. I don't believe it. It's a very helpless feeling being in the middle of a field, wounded, 500 feet or more away from anybody."

In 1983, while hunting with family and friends, Darren Lenertz of Minot shot himself in the foot. It happened after Lenertz, his father and brother, returned to the vehicle after walking a coulee in search of deer.

"Being the safe guy, I walked in front of the truck and away from everybody to unload my .30-30 lever action," Lenertz said. "A shell jammed halfway while being ejected. The gun misfired, shot me through my boot and blew the stock off the gun.

"I thought maybe it missed me. But after getting my boot off, you could see it took out my middle toe and middle knuckle and scraped two other toes," Lenertz said.

The accident happened in the Grenora area. Lenertz's father rushed him to Mercy Hospital in Williston. The doctor told them that if the bullet would have entered about two inches higher up on Lenertz's right foot, it would have destroyed all the bones in the foot.

Lenertz recovered quickly from his wound. He still is an active hunter, but the accident changed his thinking about firearms safety.

"Teach people, in any circumstance, a shell can go off," Lenertz said. "No matter how safe you think you are, you are never really safe. Guns can go off for any reason."

The 2007 waterfowl season proved to be a bit too memorable for Rob Holm of Riverdale. It began on a day that started out better than usual. Mallards were circling over the decoys while Holm was returning to the field after parking his vehicle.

After tucking a couple of mallards under some decoys, Holm slid back under a burlap cover in anticipation of more action.

"The ducks were working toward me. I was laying on my back, calling, and kind of tucked my gun in a little closer toward me," Holm said. "As the ducks started coming in I rolled over to watch them and call them. Then I rolled back. All of a sudden I heard a shot and felt my leg jerk ... I felt the blood immediately fill my boot."

Holm normally hunts with two or three other hunters when using a decoy spread. On this day however, his fellow hunters couldn't make the trip. So there he was, severely wounded and completely on his own. Suddenly his pickup seemed miles away.

"I had a cell phone with me but my head wasn't thinking at the time," Holm said. "I figured, since I'm by myself, that I wouldn't be found until much later. I knew there was a lot of blood going out. I didn't want to just be out in the middle of a field."

Holm had the presence of mind to eject the remaining shells from his shotgun and, using it as a crutch, managed to stumble his way back to his pickup. He then called his wife, Brenda, telling her he would meet her at Coleharbor.

The shotgun blast had entered behind his fourth toe and had completely blown off another toe.

"Now I deal with the consequences. There's pain associated with it," Holm said. "I'm not afraid of the gun. It's just the stupidity out there that gets you hurt. If anything, it makes me more aware of what's going on. That extra caution will help make sure it doesn't happen again."

Exactly what caused Holm's shotgun to go off remains a bit of a mystery, but Holm is fairly certain he forgot to pull his thumb-activated safety back into the "safe" position after shooting the two mallards.

In fall 1990, Bob Frolich was hunting snow geese with family members and friends. When the birds quit eyeing their decoy spread, the 27-year-old Frolich and another family member decided to sneak up on geese in a nearby field.

After crawling together down a fence line that offered suitable cover, the two hunters were within 30 yards of a large flock of feeding snow geese.

"I said to him, 'On three, we'll get up and shoot,'" Frolich said. "I counted one, two, three and then the lights went out for me. I thought my gun blew up in my face. I knew it was bad."

Frolich had fired at a snow goose. Simultaneously, he "got hit by a train or something."

"I slowly opened my eyes, expecting to see blood," Frolich recalled. "My gun was fine."

When Frolich told his hunting partner that something had happened, the response he got back was, "What do you mean? I didn't even shoot yet."'

Frolich saw the smoke coming out of his partner's shotgun barrel and then looked down at his leg. His foot was angled 90 degrees from the front of his leg.

"I think you did shoot," Frolich said. "He then opened his shotgun and ejected a smoking shell. Then he started freaking out."

The hunting partner ran for help.

"I just laid back, depressed and thinking my life was over," Frolich said. "I knew I'd lose my leg and be in a wheelchair. For me, an outdoorsman, that's as good as being dead. I remember seeing blue clouds going over and then I passed out."

X-rays revealed 55 pellets in one leg and five in the other. The blast entered behind the kneecap, smashing everything in its path and turning Frolich's leg to mush.

Today Frolich has a prosthetic leg and still goes hunting. Now, however, he prefers to hunt alone or, on occasion, with a few very close friends.

"I tell people this, and it's so weird," Frolich said. "Of all the people that I have ever hunted with, if I could pick one person out of 50, it would probably have been the one I was hunting with that day. He was just meticulous about loading his gun, checking the safety and always caring what he was doing. Looking back on it now, I can honestly say that I'd rather be me than him. He gave all his guns away about a week later and is still affected to this day. He's a family member so we still see each other."

Frolich, the fisheries development supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, remains thankful to be alive. He also pays closer attention than ever to how people hunt and how they handle firearms.

"I've seen good hunters, avid hunters from all walks of life, that are careless. I think they are lucky," Frolich said. "The first thing is muzzle control. I don't care if the safety is on, the gun is unloaded or any of those other things. It is where the barrel is pointed that is No. 1."

Holm has recovered enough from his injury to get back into the field this fall. However, that fateful moment in 2007 has changed his approach to hunting.

"Make sure you let someone know where you are at and when you expect to be back," he said. "The perfect answer is to be more safe in the field and always, always know where your barrel is pointed.".

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