By Heidi Fenton | Muskegon Chronicle
Stephen Hellman is known for being a prepared deer hunter.
Each time he heads out to his tent in Sand Lake, Hellman carries a backpack and enough extra materials to be ready no matter what the circumstance.
“He’s got all the comforts of home but the toilet,” jokes his father, Donald Wiltemburg
But on Tuesday, November 17, the Fruitport Township resident found himself in a circumstance that no amount of supplies could have prepared him. He ended a 12-hour hunting trip with six broken ribs, a broken collarbone, and a hairline fracture in his neck.
Covered in bandages and sitting in an armchair just hours after leaving the hospital, Hellman recalled one of the most frightening experiences of his life.
He and Wiltemburg spent last Tuesday hunting on a friend’s farm in Sand Lake, then packed their supplies into a vehicle as darkness fell around 6 p.m.
Hellman realized he’d forgotten his “rattling horns” at the hunting site and jumped on an all-terrain vehicle to grab them before heading home. On the return trip to where his father was waiting, Hellman caught a blur moving past him out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly, there was a sharp thump and Hellman flew off the side of the vehicle. Before he knew what hit him, he felt fur, and the sharp blow of hoofs stomping across his back.
A large buck, jumping from a clearing of 6-foot tall brush, had run into the path Hellman was traveling and collided with his all-terrain vehicle.
“When it hit me, I could feel the fur and everything— it came down in front of me on the ground,” Hellman said. “I kind of was trying to get up, and I was trying to push it off.”
Lying on the ground in the dark, still several yards away from where his father was waiting inside, Hellman knew his options were limited. He slowly pulled himself up and gathered the few materials that had scattered across the ground. The deer had gone off into the brush, though Hellman knew its leg was severely injured.
“I had to get back to where people were so I wouldn’t go into shock,” he said. “I’m yelling for help as loud as I could, which wasn’t very loud because I couldn’t catch my breath.”
He slowly pulled his leg over the side of the ATV and sat back in the seat, beginning the short trip back that Hellman says felt like years. The pain he felt was almost unbearable.
Minutes later, Wiltemburg, still waiting in his vehicle, saw the lights from Hellman’s “quad” come through the brush. But something was wrong, he realized. Hellman was coming in at only a slow crawl.
He got out of the vehicle and headed over to where his son was approaching. Wiltemburg remembers hearing him yell out “I’m hurt,” and asking him how bad.
Hellman uttered only a two-word response: “Real bad.” It was all he could do to stay seated.
Wiltemburg, a. U.S. Army veteran, wouldn’t let his son move until emergency personnel arrived on the scene.
Hellman was transported to Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids where he later learned the extent of his injuries. He realizes now the difficulty he had speaking was from the broken ribs he had from the scuffle.
Doctors estimate it’ll be about two months before Hellman is back on his feet, but he doesn’t hesitate to talk about his next trip to the woods.
“I respect the deer just as much as I did before,” he said. “It’s just a freak thing.”
This article reprinted with permission from the Muskegon Chronicle.