Jake Risner’s story is a strong reminder for all outdoorsmen.
Jake’s loaded Remington Versa Max lay next to him in his layout blind, the end of the barrel pressed against his left forearm. A flock of mallards had just landed in his decoys.
As he pulled the gun out to shoot, he heard the sickening metallic click of the safety disengaging. The events that followed were equal parts tragedy and miracle.
The sun had yet to break the horizon on Michigan’s Otis lake on October 27th as 28 year old Jake Risner eased his kayak into his duck hunting setup. Having been bumped from his initial spot by two younger hunters, he paddled a half mile out to a new location and parked his kayak in a bog.
The mallards landed before he was ready and he wanted to get a shot at them. He had stowed his shotgun stock first into the layout blind to keep the barrel from getting wet, which caused him to have to pull the gun up and towards him to shoulder it. He pulled on the gun, but something in the blind caught and disengaged the safety.
Time slowed and a wave of fear washed over Jake. He knew what was coming. The concussive thunder from his 12 gauge flashed against his arm while he watched in disbelief as a chunk of his own bone and muscle blew back behind him in the kayak.
He panicked and began screaming, “I just shot myself! I just shot myself!”
In an act of desperation he rolled out of the kayak into the water to try to swim back to shore but it was useless. His left arm had been reduced to a stump ending at his elbow with only one nerve and a flap of skin remaining. Crimson billows clouded the water around him as his waders began to fill and drag him down.
He turned back to grab the side of the kayak as a sudden peace come over him. He thought about his four year old son, his family. How he didn’t want to die without a relationship with Jesus.
Jake was losing blood quickly. His screams alerted the younger hunters he’d previously met to call 911, but they didn’t call immediately (he thinks they had difficulty finding their phone), nor did they attempt to help rescue him. He would have to get back to shore by himself.
Then he made a plan.
Using the bungee cords attached to the rear of his kayak, he fashioned a tourniquet effective enough to slow the bleeding. Concerned with salvaging his severed forearm and hand, he located the appendage and placed it near him in the cargo area of the boat. Jake then began navigating the half mile of open water and bogs back to the boat ramp.
It took him an hour and half to get near the boat ramp. During that time Jake had pumped close to five inches worth of blood into the bottom of his kayak. He was getting weak and got stuck on a bog 60 yards off shore. There were police waiting to assist at the ramp, but it took an additional 25 minutes for them to launch a rowboat to get out to him.
When they did reach Jake and saw the severity of his injury, they applied a more effective tourniquet before taking him aboard.
Once they reached the ramp, Jake walked himself into the waiting ambulance and was then rushed off to rendezvous with a helicopter that would take him to Butterworth hospital in Grand Rapids.
In transit, he tried gauging his odds of survival by the responses of his rescuers, most of whom were tight lipped and refrained from saying much.
“Am I going to make it?” “Am I going to die?”
One crew member responded by saying, “We’re gonna get you to the hospital and take care of you.”
A neutral answer at best and certainly not encouraging. Jake was looking for some type of cue from them about his odds. He felt like the team wasn’t optimistic about his survival. He gave them his parent’s phone numbers so they could be notified of his situation.
At the hospital, Jake was given 18 units of blood and his family was briefly allowed to see him. They pleaded with him to stay strong and fight. They told him they loved him. His dad prayed. Through wires and tubes and tears, Jake was thankful for his dad’s prayer.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE
Seven and a half hours later, Jake awoke in a hospital bed with his family in the room and was surprised to see his left arm reattached. Going into surgery, the doctors made it clear that amputation would be necessary to save his life, but later learned that a resident advocated for him. He felt that since Jake had beaten so many odds, he deserved a chance to salvage it.
Jake had five surgeries in as many days. His forearm and hand had become an amalgam of parts harvested from other areas of his body: veins from his thigh, muscles from his abdomen, skin from his left leg and all of them cobbled together with various pieces of hardware and stitching. Two weeks later, at his own request, he was released home.
While Jake survived his horrific accident, surviving the financial toll is proving yet another struggle. A self-employed lumberjack and arborist by trade, he’ll never be able to return to that work again. Insurance is covering a portion of his bills, but the remainder he’s left with would bankrupt most any American family.
Like the majority of outdoorsmen, Jake is stubborn and independent. Asking for help is not in his nature…but he and his son need it now. If you feel like helping out, here are two easy ways to do so:
- Our friends over at Red’s Gear want to help raise support for Jake. Use the code STANDWITHJAKE at check out and Red’s Gear will donate 10% of your total purchase to his fundraising page through noon on Thanksgiving day. As an added thank you for your generosity, you’ll save five percent on your total purchase.
- You can donate directly to his family at their YouCaring page.
The evening of my interview with Jake, he had just finished a deer hunt with his rifle. He’s not gun shy as a result of the accident, but he is different. He now wants people to know the saving power of Jesus Christ and seeks to encourage others to persevere through adversity. He feels like he was given a second chance and is open to sharing his experience through speaking engagements. Email Jake to request him to come speak to your group or association.
Our outdoor pursuits call to us so strongly because they uncover who we truly are. Through this story of tragedy and survival, Jake shows us the heart of a real outdoorsman; one that perseveres and persists for the sake of others.
All photos courtesy of Jake Risner