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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?

After hunting accident, Sauk Rapids man is 'lucky' to be alive

December 2, 2011

By Amy Bowen, SCTimes.com

SAUK RAPIDS— Conrad Zwirtz had just stepped onto the last rung of the portable steps to his deer stand Nov. 6 near Detroit Lakes when it gave way.

The next thing Zwirtz, 62, remembers is waking up on the ground. The Sauk Rapids man fell 15 feet and was badly injured, but was able to call a friend who was about 100 yards away.

Zwirtz now sits at his kitchen table wearing a body brace, slowly healing.

He stayed in the hospital for five days. His injuries included a head wound that required 15 staples, a sprained wrist, a badly bruised leg, a cracked sternum and three fractured vertebrae.

Hunting accidents can be serious. Tony Musatov, a DNR conservation officer in Sauk Rapids, has seen everything from stitches to broken bones.

According to the DNR, two hunters died during the 2010 season. There were 29 accidents and 10 self-inflicted injuries. Statistics for 2011 accidents are not available, Musatov said.

Hunters are still out. The muzzleloader, archery, pheasant, goose and small game seasons are still under way.

“I’m very lucky,” Zwirtz said. “I could be paralyzed or dead. I read about all these guys who fell out of the stands and died. Why did I live? I’m blessed.”

Aftermath

After his fall, Zwirtz’s friend rushed to his side and fired three shots to signal the rest of the hunting party to gather. They called 911 and medics rushed him to the Detroit Lakes hospital. He was later transferred to Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis.

One of Zwirtz’s hunting friends called his wife, Patti Zwirtz, 60, to tell her the news. She has spent weeks off work to care for her husband.

“He’s darn lucky,” Patti Zwirtz said. “When he told me he fell 15 feet, I caught my breath.”

Hunters should inspect portable and permanent deer stands once a year, Musatov said. They should check bolts, cables and chains to ensure they are in good condition. Permanent deer stands should be examined for wood deterioration and whether the ladder rungs are stable.

Hunters also can invest in restraint systems to prevent falls. The harnesses are available at most sporting goods stores, Musatov said, who uses one.

“It’s hard to get used to at first, but now I won’t hunt without it,”
Musatov said. “It’s still catching on. There is some expense to it, but once you have it, you’ll have years and years with it.”

Conrad Zwirtz, who wasn’t wearing a harness, has learned a lesson. He has hunted since 1980, and this was the second time he fell from a stand. The first time was 30 years ago, and he wasn’t injured.

He will consider investing in a harness system.

Patti Zwirtz wishes her husband wouldn’t hunt off the ground anymore. She would prefer that he stays on solid ground.

“You’re not 20 or 30 any more,” Patti Zwirtz said. “You’re 62. But he doesn’t think that way. He’s young at heart.”

Conrad Zwirtz is slowly healing. He started walking about a mile per day, he said.

“I’m going to be a lot more careful,” he said. “It makes me look at what I’ve got. I appreciate it.”

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