Mitchell Franks’ Wednesday afternoon bow hunt started out like countless others he’d experienced as he settled into a 20-foot-high lock-on tree stand in central Caldwell Parish.
“It was like a normal day,” said Franks, 52, an offshore construction superintendent from the West Bank who’s been hunting since he was a teenager. “I had been watching a few rabbits that came out under the feeder.”
A couple of hours in, he decided to stretch his legs a little.
“About 6, I decided to stand up,” Franks said. “It was just getting to be perfect time.
“I’m standing there, and all of sudden the platform dropped like a trapdoor. Boom”
Fortunately for Franks, he had purchased a Gorilla Gear safety harness two days before heading up to the hunt in Kelly. He said it was the first time he had ever worn a harness in a tree stand.
“The top strap on the stand just popped,” he said. “The stand stayed in the tree on the bottom strap. So there I was, hanging on my harness, and I was like, ‘God,what the hell just happened?’
“My bow is hanging in the tree, I’m hanging in the tree and there’s nothing under me.”
With his back to the tree, Franks managed to grab a small sapling to his right to turn himself around to face the trunk. He was then able to stand up on the platform still hanging from the tree and reach the ladder.
“Once I got to the ladder, I was able to step up two rungs on the stick ladder and undo my harness so I could get down,” he said.
He found out later that the stand he was hunting on was brand new, and had only been installed about two weeks ago.
“So it could happen to anybody on any stand,” he said. “The message is to use a harness and use it correctly. I hope this might open some other people’s eyes, because it happens.”
Franks said he returned to another tree stand the very next day, and shot a nice 120-pound doe the following evening with his harness on.
“I inspected all the straps before I got in the stand. I wanted to make sure that thing was going to hold me,” he said. “But the harness was quite comfortable to hunt in. It didn’t interfere with me at all."
His job stresses safety regularly, and Franks said he used what he’s learned offshore while hunting.
“It’s what we practice offshore. Safety is our number one key,” he said. “And I’ve gone through lots of training on safety harnesses, fall protection and fall rescue.
“I’ll use them from now on. I definitely will.”
The near-accident has special significance for Franks, whose younger brother Charles broke his neck in a fall from an offshore platform in the early 90s. Charles wasn’t wearing a safety harness in the incident, he said.
His brother hunts from a wheelchair with the Louisiana Handicapped Sportsman Hunting Club in Dodson, and Mitchell is an able-bodied member who assists hunters there.
He shared the story of his near-fall with those hunters over the weekend.
“I went over there and started telling those guys what happened and they said, ‘You’re lucky. You could be sitting like us right now.’ “