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Woman injured in fall from deer stand readies for Wisconsin opener

TREGO, Wis. -- It's hard to keep a good hunter down. But that's where Rick Harder plans to keep his wife, Bonnie, when Wisconsin's gun deer season opens Saturday.


On the ground.

Safe in a portable ground blind.

It was almost a year ago, on the third day of Wisconsin's gun season last fall, when Bonnie Harder fell 14 feet from a ladder-style deer stand, crushing a vertebra in her back. She spent the next two months learning to walk again.

If she had her choice, Bonnie would climb right back up in that stand again this fall.

"Because the view is so good from up there," she said. "You can just see so much farther."

Spoken as a true deer hunter.

The Harders, who live near Spooner, have agreed for now that Bonnie will hunt on the ground this fall. But next year -- well, there's talk of an elevated, enclosed stand with a set of stairs and handrails.

For now, Bonnie is pleased to be walking under her own power.

"I'm probably at 75 percent," she said.

Bonnie, 54, uses a cane when walking outside on uneven ground. Inside her home, she walks without the cane. Her left leg remains somewhat numb, and she uses a brace from her ankle to her knee to add stability. Her right leg is her stronger one. Other than a few numb spots, it has regained its feeling, Bonnie said.

"She's come a heck of a long ways," said Rick, 53. "She's worked hard."

It was the third day of deer season last fall when Bonnie slipped while exiting her frost-covered stand. She fell 14 feet to the forest floor. She underwent surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, where doctors fashioned a new vertebra from titanium.

After two months of inpatient rehabilitation at Miller Dwan Medical Center, she began doing outpatient therapy at the clinic. She suffered a setback in February, when a large blood clot developed in her left leg. The clot was eventually controlled, but her left leg remains somewhat swollen as a result.

Slowly, Bonnie has resumed many of the activities of her life. She drives. She played golf on the Fourth of July. In September, she resumed teaching a Bible study class to kindergartners at Trego Community Church. She and Rick, both firearms safety instructors, taught their scheduled classes in the spring and fall.

Bonnie was in a wheelchair when she talked to the firearms safety students in the spring about tree-stand safety.

"Boy, I'll tell you, when she tells her story, they don't horse around," Rick said. "They listen."

Bonnie is a self-described positive person. She says she has not questioned the fairness of her situation, nor been upset about her diminished mobility. This is her outlook: "OK, it happened to me, and let's see what I can do to better myself."

People in Spooner and Trego have rallied around her.

"They've just been great. They give me big hugs," she said.

The community put on a benefit banquet for her in April, raising $4,000 to $5,000, Rick said. A fellow deer hunter from Minnesota sent her a $300 insulated cover, called a "Sport Cozy," that he manufactures to keep hunters warm in their deer stands.

"We are really, really grateful, not only for our friends and family," Rick said. "We've had some awfully good care up at Duluth."

Rick and Bonnie sighted in their deer rifles on Monday. They have taken off most of the Wisconsin gun deer season to hunt. Relatives will join them for Thanksgiving.

"We'll have the Thanksgiving we didn't have last year," Bonnie said.

And she isn't hunting just to be in the woods. She has a concrete goal for deer season: "To get my buck," she said.

Deer stand safety tips:

  • If you're using a commercial tree stand, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • If the weather conditions aren't conducive to climbing safely, don't do it.
  • When approachng your tree stand, unload your firearm or take the arrow out of your bow. Attach the firearm or bow to a haul line, which already should be in place. Never haul a firearm up with the muzzle pointed at you. If you're worried about dirt getting in the muzzle, put a balloon over it.
  • Always maintain three points of contact when climbing -- two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.
  • At your platform, attach your "fall-restraint" system. Use a fall-restraint system of good quality. Do not alter it. The secret of the fall-restraint is the short tether. Whether it's a harness or a belt, it's designed to keep you in the stand if you slip, not to catch you five or six feet below.
  • Retrieve your firearm or bow using the haul line.
  • When you're ready to end your hunt, reverse the process.

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