Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick?

For the author, donning eyewear in the field is the norm now.

Autumn often finds me sharing time afield with my pointing dog. We share a special bond as his nose leads me to grouse and woodcock hidden in tag alder swamps and aspen covers.

On a recent “trip,” the tip of my left boot caught beneath a stick lying loose on the forest floor. The toe of the boot carried the stick upwards, slamming it into the heal of my right boot, causing me to trip as my momentum carried me forward.

I exchanged words with no one in particular, picked myself up and carried on. “That’s the worst,” I thought. After a bit more plodding and further consideration, I asked myself, “Is it? Is that really the worst?”

I quickly compiled a list of abuses dealt most frequently by the forest in a typical hunt.

How about the staccato, whip-slap of a sapling that punctuates your mouse-quiet treestand approach in the silent morning darkness? The oak branch that seizes your wool cap? How about the laden pine bow that casually deploys its entire payload of heavy, wet snow right down the back of your neck? The blackberry cane that sets its thorns with a whip, then drags its cat-claw signature across the back of your bare hand? The dreaded frozen ear whip, delivered mercilessly by a frosty branch?

But are any of these really “the worst?” Allow me to share a story:

A friend is an avid coon hunter. Erik spends many dark nights afield tracking racoons with his hounds. More often than not, when the dogs lead him to a treed ringtail, he shines a light on the rascal, and leaves it unscathed to go find another.

One night while chasing the dogs, Erik had a stick brush his eye. No big deal, just a brush, not a full-on poke. He wiped it out with his hand and continued his pursuit. No big deal, or so he thought …

A few days later, the injured eye flared up. Badly. He immediately sought medical treatment. The diagnosis was an ulcer in the eye that eventually involved several weeks of treatments. He endured excruciating pain and loss of vision. Crippling nausea followed the vision loss.

The infection was severe, but he eventually prevailed. A year or so later, his sight has returned, though he has suffered permanent damage to his vision. He has also gained a new perspective on his life.

The good news is that there is a simple way to eliminate eye damage – wear eye protection. I don’t have to tell you that Erik wears safety glasses nearly full-time these days. With Erik’s story for motivation, I started wearing protective glasses for bird hunting. It took a few tries to find a pair I could tolerate, but now I feel naked bird hunting without them.

At best, the eye poke stings like heck and leaves you wincing through watered eyes. At worst you lose an eye.

The title of “the worst” belongs to the eye poke. So, with “the worst” off the ballot, we can turn back to our debate – what is “the next worst?” I’ll bet it’s the frozen ear whip.

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