By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Two years after watching his wife nearly lose half of her hand to a crossbow accident in the back country, David Mercado of Casper still gets emotional about it.
“When you have somebody you love who has suffered a really bad injury, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe or understand,” he told Cowboy State Daily during a recent interview while he was in Oklahoma for work. “It’s scary. It’s just a really scary thing – something I don’t ever want to go through again.”
“I remember David saying, ‘Oh my God, don’t look at it, don’t look at it!’” Trudy Archuleta told Cowboy State Daily on Friday as she recalled her husband’s reaction in the immediate aftermath of the accident. “I got a little glimpse of it (her hand) and realized how bad it was.”
An Introduction To Hunting
David was raised in the Wyoming outdoors and has been hunting for as long as he can remember.
“I’d grown up hunting my whole life,” he said. “My dad got me into hunting really early, back when I was still in diapers.”
He and Trudy have been together since 2011. She’d never hunted before meeting him, so he was eager to teach her.
“I wanted to show her everything,” he said. “I’ll hear guys say, ‘I’m so blessed because my wife lets me go hunting.’ Well, I’m even more blessed because my wife wants to go hunting with me.”
David said that they got “really serious” about hunting together in 2017, and Trudy was quick to find success on deer and antelope hunts.
But a chance at a bull elk eluded her.
Seemed Like A Perfect Spot
The couple was excited in 2020 when Trudy drew a bull tag for elk hunt area 19 south of Casper. They headed into a remote spot on Muddy Mountain, about 2 miles in from where they’d parked their pickup.
It was September, during archery season, and Trudy was hunting with a crossbow. They’d brought along a tripod to help steady her shot, should she get one.
The day seemed promising.
“We were calling bulls in, it seemed, every 20 minutes,” David said. “We thought, ‘This was going to be it.’”
But the hunt didn’t pan out that morning, so at about 11 a.m., “We decided to just chill and go into the shade of a tree and take a nap,” David said.
What They’d Been Waiting For
After a while, David spotted what they’d been looking for.
“I looked up on a ridge and I saw a big bull. He was drooling, screaming and chasing his cows around,” David said. “So, I threw a bugle out. He came sprinting, way down the hill.”
He and Trudy moved quickly to get into position. She set her crossbow up on the tripod, with David watching from behind her and continuing to coax the bull in.
‘I Just Remember Feeling A Little Pinch’
Trudy recalled that as the huge bull closed in, she was shaking from the adrenaline rush and her crossbow fell off the tripod.
She picked it up to reposition it, and somehow it triggered – with her hand in the path of the string.
“When she picked up that crossbow, I just heard the loud ‘thwap’ of the crossbow going off,” David said. “I asked her, ‘are you OK?’ and she just said, ‘Ow!’”
“I don’t remember it hurting,” Trudy said. “I just remember feeling a little pinch.”
Almost Too Much For Him
Trudy and David agreed that while he’s fine with the blood and entrails associated with killing and processing a big game animal, the sight of human injuries and blood makes him squeamish.
“If one of our kids gets a bloody nose or something, he just freaks out,” Trudy said.
David recalled the dreadful moment when he had to face that fear.
“She handed me her hand,” he said. “It had basically severed her thumb, right down to her palm, where half of her hand was just hanging there by tissue and tendons.”
Rather than letting his aversion to human gore overwhelm him, David got busy.
“I just dumped out my pack onto the ground,” he said. “I got a piece of string for a tourniquet, and gauze and electrical tape.”
They tried to stay calm on the hike out, but both spouses recall having strong emotions.
“I felt so bad because I thought I had ruined everything,” Trudy said. “Because he is super, super, super passionate about hunting. I was crying and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I messed everything up.’ He just said, ‘It’s OK.’”
“On the way back out, I had a little breakdown,” David said. “I thought how easily it could have caught her in the wrist and just cut her hand off, and she could have bled out … just, horrible thoughts.”
‘Don’t! Do! That!’
About a half mile from the truck, Trudy was getting weak, so David told her to sit down and wait.
“I literally sprinted that last half-mile to the truck, and then got in and hauled butt back up to her,” he said.
Trudy works as a mail sorter in the post office, so the loss of her thumb could have had devastating consequences. During the ride back to Casper, David tried to reassure her.
“I told her it was going to be fine. ‘We’ll get to a hospital and they’ll sew your thumb back on,’” he said.
“Crazily enough, she was able to make jokes about the situation,” David added.
“I tried joking with him,” Trudy said. “I started saying ‘Oh, I don’t feel so good’ and pretended to pass out.”
“He freaked out,” she said. “So I told him, ‘It was a joke, I’m just trying to lighten the mood.’ And he was like, ‘Don’t! Do! That!’”
Beyond Their Capability
After they arrived at the hospital in Casper, Trudy got immediate service in the emergency room. David said the staff complimented him on how well he had dressed the wound, and then they cleaned and sanitized the injury.
Then the bad news came. Repairing Trudy’s injury was beyond that hospital’s capability. They’d either have to get Trudy to a hand surgeon in another city or amputate her thumb.
A nurse made some calls and quickly connected with an expert hand surgeon in Denver who was said he was confident that he could save Trudy’s thumb.
“I thought, ‘OK, well, we can just drive down,’” Trudy said. “But they told us, ‘No, you need to get there now. We’re going to put you on a life flight airplane.’ I thought about how much a life flight bill would be, and I said, ‘Forget it. I’m just going to have them cut off my thumb.’
“But David said, ‘No way. We’re going to save your thumb. I don’t care what it costs.’”
Surgery And Medical Bills
They arrived in Denver and got Trudy checked into the surgery center. David checked into a nearby hotel, expecting to have to wait out the night before hearing how his wife was doing.
But it was only about two and a half hours before the surgeon called and told him that the operation had been a success.
Trudy could keep her thumb.
The couple was overjoyed and grateful as they made their way back home. Trudy had to have another surgery because a bone in her thumb had grown back too thin and a metal rod had to be inserted to help it heal properly.
“You don’t know how many things you do, and then can’t do, when you can’t use your thumb,” Trudy said of her recovery. “I had to have my friend come over and help me wash my hair.”
They were soon hit with bills totally nearly totaling nearly $80,000 for the emergency flight, and another $100,000 for the surgery. David works in the oil industry and his insurance covered most of the surgery, but he and Trudy were aghast to discover they’d probably have to pay for the flight bill themselves.
Luckily, the life flight company itself went to bat for them and got the insurance company to cover most of the costs, David said. The couple ended up with about $6,000 in bills, which was at least manageable.
Still Wants That Bull Elk
The couple continues to hunt together. This year they even took horses into the back country for the first time.
David said he remains keenly aware of all the hazards associated with hunting and won’t forget they day his wife was so gravely injured.
“I had to be her everything. It was my responsibility to get my wife out of there and get her to help,” he said. “I had struggle with some self-blame over it. She wouldn’t have even been doing that stuff if I hadn’t gotten her into it.”
Trudy said she’s still happy and thankful that David introduced her to hunting. Though success on a bull elk has continued to eluded her, she hasn’t let her injury and recovery stop her.
“I still have some numb spots in my thumb, but it’s about an 85% fully-functional thumb,” she said, adding that, “I’m still trying. Every year I’m trying to get a bull. And it will happen.”
Not only hasn’t the accident quenched Trudy’s desire to bag her first bull elk, she’s hunting with a crossbow again.