A freak accident during a hunting trip has resulted in a former LSU football player having his left leg amputated.
As Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger newspaper reports, Louisiana native and former offensive lineman Matt Branch lost his leg after a Labrador retriever named Tito stepped onto the safety of Branch’s shotgun, sending a bullet through the man’s left thigh.
Hunting buddy Micah Heckford told the paper that he, Branch, and other friends had traveled to Eagle Lake, Miss. for their annual duck and deer hunting trip, which takes places on land owned by Branch’s relatives.
On the morning of Dec. 28, Heckford says the group — “pumped up” for a day of hunting — gathered around a pickup truck.
“At approximately 9:40 a.m., [we] were all standing around the bed of the (Polaris) Ranger and Matt had laid his gun down flat in the bed of the Ranger and walked around on the passenger side to finish loading up,” Heckford said. “I was at the tailgate no more than 4 feet away from him.”
That’s when Tito jumped onto the bed of the truck, inadvertently setting off Branch’s gun.
“The gun shot,” Heckford said. “Everybody looked up. The first thing I saw was Matt and within two to three seconds he realized he was hit.”
The group called 911, rushing Branch to a location where emergency responders could find them. According to Heckford, Branch’s “pants were just soaked in blood” by the time firefighters arrived and whisked his friend off to a Vicksburg medical center. Doctors were unable to save his wounded leg, and Branch had an amputation at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Branch’s friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page to help cover medical costs related to the father of one’s “catastrophic wound.”
“An accidental discharge from a shotgun struck him in the left leg, resulting in massive blood loss and damage to his femoral artery as well as other vital vascular and muscle tissue,” the fundraising page notes. “After several hours of surgery and massive blood transfusions the decision was made to amputate a portion of his left leg in order to save his life. Since the amputation Matt has undergone additional complex surgical procedures with several more to come.
“Normally, sustaining these injuries while in such a remote geographic area would be life-ending for most any human being, but miraculously Matt has survived. He currently remains in critical condition in ICU and is fighting to recover.”
More than $72,000 has already been raised as of Wednesday.
In a Facebook post, Heckford said the accident was a reminder of the “absolute seriousness of being the utmost careful when it comes to gun safety.”
“I myself have been guilty of this so many times,” he wrote. “Sadly, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have left shells in my gun while moving to a different location to hunt, or even wading around moving decoys between flights. I was even fortunate enough to grow up hunting my whole life around my dad and other men that always took the time to teach us the importance of gun safety. I know we all remind ourselves every time we hunt of the basics of being safe, not pointing our guns at one another, not swinging wide on a shot, etc… But do we really ever grasp the seriousness of just how important it is?
“I would like to encourage everyone that reads this to take the time to not only double check themselves going forward, but take the time to double check everyone else you’re hunting with as well. DO NOT be afraid to be THAT guy on EVERY hunt that reminds EVERYONE multiple times just how important safety is. Please DO NOT let complacency get the best of you. There was 80+ years of hunting experience amongst our group the morning this happened.”
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