FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Oct. 3, 2016) - It was a Sunday like any other as a 15-year-old and his father prepared for a morning of duck hunting in central Arkansas. There was a nice chill in the early morning air with a slight fog coming off the warmer water. The decoys were out and the canoe was well hidden behind a blind. The only thing left to do was wait for the sun to rise and the ducks to start flying in.

The pair figured there would be plenty of time to bag their daily limit and go home and clean up to make it to church for the 10 a.m. service. However, at 7 a.m., the young hunter and his father experienced something that would affect them for the rest of their lives. Although they both attended the Arkansas hunter education class together and the father had been deployed a few times, it was not enough to prepare them for what was about to happen.

The day started well, as a couple of birds were downed and recovered. After the father downed another duck, the son excitedly pushed the canoe out to recover it. Like a lot of kids his age, he acted without thinking about everything he needed to do stay safe. He hung his shotgun on a nearby sapling but failed to put the weapon on safe.

Upon returning with the downed bird and stowing the canoe in the blind, the son was ready to resume hunting. The father had just begun to work the duck call and get set for another volley when the unexpected sound of the son's shotgun pierced the morning air.

When the son attempted to grab the shotgun, he accidentally dropped it. As the gun fell to the ground, one of the sapling's limbs touched the trigger just enough to cause the weapon to fire. The son now laid covered in blood and mud, screaming out in pain, "Dad, I'm shot!"

After a quick evaluation, the father was able to pressure dress a gunshot wound that went through his son's left bicep/triceps area. They then made a frantic 20-minute canoe ride to their Jeep, followed by a 15-minute trip to the nearest emergency room. The son's wound was serious enough to require medical transport to a higher-level facility. The end result was a five-hour surgery to save the teen's left arm.

After six days of hospitalization came months of changing bandages on a still partially open wound as it healed from the inside out. An additional surgery was required for a tendon transfer so the son could regain operating capabilities of his left hand, wrist and fingers, as the radial nerve in that arm no longer worked. Following three years of physical therapy, the son was fortunate to have the abilities and use of his arm that most people take for granted.

Since this accident, the son has shared his story with those enrolled in hunter safety programs. Also, he does not hesitate to encourage his friends and family members to know the specifics of firearms safety on any equipment they might operate. Sometimes, one person's close call can be another's best teacher.

Did You Know?

Self-inflicted gunshots are one of the most common causes of accidental discharge injuries and fatalities. These accidents can be greatly reduced by following the International Hunter Education Association's Ten Commandments of Safe Gun Handling:

1. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
2. Treat every firearm as though it were loaded.
3. Unload firearms and open the action except when ready to shoot.
4. Keep the barrel clear and choose proper ammunition for the firearm.
5. Be sure of your target before you pull the trigger.
6. Never point a firearm at anything you don't want to shoot.
7. Never climb or jump with a loaded firearm.
8. Never shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
9. Store firearms and ammunition safely.
10. Avoid alcohol and drugs before and during shooting.

It is also essential you carefully plan your hunt. Keep the following tips in mind for your next trip:

• Always let someone know exactly where you are hunting, who you'll be with and when you'll return. Leave a map with your hunting spots inside your vehicle so help can find you if you don't come home on time. Also, carry a cellphone or two-way radio, but be aware that many backcountry areas do not get cellphone service.

• Always carry a survival kit in your backpack and restock it every season before opening day. A good survival kit should fit inside a small pack and weigh a little more than 4 pounds. A pocket in a backpack is all you'll need. Here are some items your kit should include:

o A lightweight nylon sweat suit in case you have to spend the night in the woods
o Waterproof matches or lighter
o Compass or GPS
o A sturdy, sharp knife
o Duct tape
o Water purification tablets
o Collapsible water bottle
o High-calorie food (candy bars) or beef jerky
o Nylon string or parachute cord
o Signal mirror
o Large handkerchief
o Ax, hatchet or portable saw
o Flashlight and back-up batteries
o Multipurpose tool

• Know how to survive. Take a course or read a book on techniques unique to your location. Know how to obtain water, food and shelter, with water being the most important. The smallest tip could save your life. Play the "what-if" game.

• Learn first aid and know how to use it on yourself if necessary. Practice self-administered first aid. You'll have a better grasp on your limitations and be able to react instinctively when seconds count. Also, be prepared if you know there are poisonous snakes or if you have allergic reactions to insect stings or bites.

• If using a treestand, make sure you understand and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Select a live tree with a diameter that matches the requirement for your treestand. Before each use, inspect the treestand for loose, missing or broken parts. Also, always wear a safety harness when climbing or sitting in a treestand.

• If using an all-terrain vehicle, be sure you have taken a course in ATV safety, wear all necessary personal protective equipment and slow down so you have control. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 800 deaths and 135,000 injuries related to ATVs each year. About one-third of those deaths and injuries are to children under 16 years old.

• Know your state's hunter orange requirements. Visit to learn more.

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