I don’t remember going down. Face down — in the grass. I knew that I had been hit in the head, but I was surprised to see bright red drops of blood — my blood, in the grass. I could hear shouting and was aware that my companions were helping me up.
Someone asked me if I could see, but by now the blood was streaming down my face into my eyes, and I could see nothing. I asked for something to wipe my face, and someone put my hunting cap in my hand. I wiped the blood from my eyes, and yes — I could see. Then blood again obscured my vision. It was surreal — almost like a dream.
At the same time my mouth was filling with blood. I spit it out, but it filled again — instantly. I asked about my gun. It was my son Clayton’s little twenty gauge. Someone answered that they had it. I was aware that a truck was pulling up and realized that it was for me. I wondered how the truck got there. We were out in the field away from any road. Someone helped me into the front seat. I spit a mouthful of blood into the floorboard.
I asked the driver where we were going, and he answered “to the hospital in Cheraw.” “How long will that take” I asked. “Fifteen, 20 minutes maybe” was his answer. It might have been the longest 15 minutes of my life.
The day had started out like any other. It was early December and was delightfully cool. I left from work at our construction company around mid-morning and headed to Darlington to meet up with my friend David. His new boss, whom I’ll call LC, was hosting a group of contractors to a quail hunt at a preserve near Society Hill. I had grown up hunting wild quail, but had never been on a preserve hunt. I knew that it would be a little different. I left my truck in a shopping mall parking lot and rode with David to the preserve, where we met up with LC and five other hunters.
The first thing we had to do was to sign paperwork holding the preserve harmless in case of an accident. There was a nice lodge there, but we were handed a box lunch and whisked off to a sporting clay range. I have little patience for shooting at pretend targets and was glad when it was done.
Now, on to the hunt. LC had paid for a certain number of quail and they had been placed out in the field while we were shooting clay’s. Back at the lodge we met our guide and his dog, a German short-haired pointer, then headed out into the large open field that stretched out across the gently rolling hills to a lake.
We had been divided into two parties of four hunters each, each with a guide and bird dog. Our party was made up of my friend David, his boss LC, another invited contractor and myself. David was the only person that I knew.
No one gave any safety speech, but we instinctively lined up abreast with the guide and dog in the center. I was on the far end of the line with David and the others to my left. We went out about a hundred yards and turned toward the woodline to the north. The lodge was to my right. The first few quail that got up flew straight back toward the lodge and beyond. I supposed that they were returning to their flight pen. I didn’t shoot at any of the birds that flew toward the lodge, which was only about a hundred yards away.
Actually, every quail that we got up flew straight back toward the lodge. Finally, the guide just seemed to lose his patience and admonished us for not shooting at the quail. He reminded us that they were our birds, and that we had paid for them. I answered that I would not shoot toward the lodge under any condition, even though it was probably beyond the range of my little gun.
LC was not so inclined to let those birds go that he had paid for, and he made every effort to shoot at any bird that we put up after the guide had fussed at us. I saw then that he was behaving unsafely and was probably dangerous. I should have excused myself, or made up some excuse to leave, but I didn’t want to offend my host or embarrass my friend. I stayed with the hunt, and made every effort to keep our line straight, and to stay out of his line of sight. I should have trusted my instincts.
Now, here I was being driven to the hospital by a stranger, and I didn’t even know how bad my injury really was. There was a lot of blood, but no pain. I was probably suffering from shock. When we rolled up to the emergency room entrance the driver let me out and drove off. Someone must have called the hospital to let them know we were coming because a group of nurses and a doctor met me coming through the door. They whisked me into an examination room and started cleaning me up. They kept asking me if I could see, and I assured them that I could. Finally, the doctor told me that I had a shot very close to my eye, and they were concerned that it might affect my vision. That was the first indication to me that I had been hit in the face. I thought that I had only been hit on the left side of my head, up in the scalp.
A nurse asked if I had any pain and I told her no, but I asked her to look at my finger, it was hurting. I thought I might have injured it when I fell to the ground. They took me to X-ray and took images of my head and right hand. When they moved me back to the examination room my friend David and his boss LC were waiting. Strangely, I felt no animosity toward LC and accepted his apology with ease. By now the bleeding had stopped and my head was a little sore.
The doctor came back into the room and told me that I had a good many pellets in my scalp, face, shoulder and side. I also had a shot pellet in my right index finger near the tip. They did not intend to remove any of the shot, but the one in my finger would cause problems, and would need to be removed by a surgeon. The doctor asked David and LC to leave the room and informed me that a deputy needed to speak with me.
The county deputy wanted to know if I thought the incident had been accidental or if there was any conflict between us. I assured him that it was accidental, but I also felt that is was due to carelessness on LC’s part. I assumed at the time that the preserve would notify DNR law enforcement of the incident, and that they too would investigate. No such investigation ever occurred.
The doctor told me that I could be released after a short period of observation, but that I had been given medication that would prevent me from driving, and wanted to know if they could call someone to pick me up, or if my friends could take me home. I asked the doctor to let me use the phone to call my wife. It was not an easy call to make, but I didn’t want her to hear from someone else that I had been shot.
When Ginger picked up the phone I spoke as softly and calmly as I could, with no strain or alarm in my voice. “Hey, we had a little accident and I got a couple of shot stuck in my hide. I’m OK, but they wanted me to get checked out at the hospital. I’ve been given some medication as a precaution, and they don’t want me to drive. Can you come pick me up?” I told her that I was at the hospital in Cheraw, and she told me that she was on the way. My calm reassurance didn’t fool her.
I told David and LC to go home, that I would be OK. But they insisted on staying until Ginger got there. She had never been to Cheraw, so she got her Dad on the phone and he talked her through the drive. I think it helped her to have a friendly voice on the line so that she wouldn’t worry so much about me. It would take her more than an hour to drive to Cheraw, so I had more than enough time to re-live the events of the afternoon.
Thinking back, I remembered that after we had moved farther from the lodge the quail that we put up flew in every direction. We all shot some birds. The afternoon wore on and we found ourselves back at the lodge toward the evening with a good bag of quail. No one had got hurt and I was relieved. Then the guide asked if we wanted to shoot a few pheasants.
My instincts told me to go home. I had survived the afternoon with a careless hunter, but I had never shot a pheasant and I elected to stay. It would prove to be a big mistake.
LC went to the trunk of his car and made a big show out of bringing out his three-inch magnum Benelli automatic. He wanted the extra firepower for the bigger birds.
Somebody from the preserve put out the pheasants and some Hungarian partridge and soon we were headed back into the field. The dogs had no trouble finding the pheasants and the partridge. I shot a pheasant and a partridge. David had also collected two of the pheasants. LC hadn’t shot anything.
Without me realizing it, our line had gotten a little bend or arc in it with me on one end and LC on the other end, about 30 or 40 yards apart. I was wearing a solid orange cap and my hunting vest was orange. A hun got up ahead of the dogs and flew back over the hunters in the middle of the line and sailed right by me. LC fired at the bird and hit me instead. The blow knocked me right to the ground.
Nobody from the preserve checked on me at the hospital or afterwards. My friend David kept in touch, but LC was transferred to another state. It took me a little while to be able to pick up a gun and go hunting again.
The hospital made a referral for me to have the pellet removed from my finger by Dr. Capers Hiott, of Sumter, who is now retired. Dr. Hiott removed the pellet in his office during an outpatient visit. When he was done with the procedure he asked me if I had seen the X-rays taken at the hospital in Cheraw. I had not, so he put them up for me to see. I was stunned by the images. I counted 17 shotgun pellets scattered about my head. None had hit my eyes, my nose, ears or teeth. They are still there to this day, years later. I also had pellets in my shoulder and side. I’ve picked some out with a pocket knife, and I keep them in a clear plastic turkey mouth call box, as a reminder.
I learned a valuable lesson that day in December — to trust your instincts. And, I believe that the Lord had spared me for things yet to come.