December 28 started out like a normal day in Mississippi. Former LSU offensive lineman Matt Branch, who played in Baton Rouge for head coach Les Miles from 2008 to 2011, hosted a group of friends on his property for a day of duck and deer hunting. Then, the day turned into a nightmare.
While getting ready, Matt Branch laid his gun in the bed of a Polaris Ranger, then walked around to the passenger side to grab the rest of his supplies. That’s when Tito, a Labrador retriever, jumped into the truck’s bed and stepped on the gun’s safety, which caused the shotgun to go off. When the group realized what had happened, Branch began screaming in pain as the shell ripped through the truck’s bed and struck him in the left thigh.
According to the Clarion Ledger, Branch was hosting his brother, Connor Branch, cousin David Joe Branch, and two friends — David Lamonte and Micah Heckford — for a deer and duck hunting trip like they had numerous times before near Eagle Lake.
“Everybody was pumped up. We rode the levee the day before and there were a ton of ducks. We were excited,” Heckford told the Clarion Ledger.
At around 9:40 a.m., the wild hunting accident changed everything. The men hurried to get Branch, whose listed size on the LSU Tigers roster was 6-foot-6 and 287 pounds, into the back of the Ranger and rushed him to the closest main road for first responders to help. Branch was taken to a medical facility in Vicksburg before being moved to the University of Mississippi Medical Center for the gunshot wound.
“I think that’s when it hit me how serious it was. It was at that point in time I realized how much he had bled. His pants were just soaked in blood.” — Micah Heckford, via Clarion Ledger
According to a GoFundMe page set up for his family, the 12-gauge shotgun shell struck the femoral artery in Branch’s left leg. After several surgeries and blood transfusions, doctors made the decision to amputate a portion of his left leg to save his life. They expect the former LSU football player to make a full recovery after being released from intensive care.
During his time playing college football, Branch appeared in 28 games for the LSU Tigers, but ultimately had his career cut short due to injuries. The four-star prospect from Monroe, Louisiana was the No. 6 tight end in the nation according to Rivals, and he played both offensive guard and tight end at various times for LSU.
While Branch’s recovery will be a long process, this sobering account on gun safety reminds even the most experience outdoorsmen of the dangers involved, even if it’s just for a split second.
“All of us have hunted for 20 years or more and none of us thought about that happening. We were just moving 200 yards to set up and hunt,” Heckford said. “The opportunities for an accident are there and we just don’t realize it. We think we’re being safe, but are we? If there’s a shell in that gun, anything can happen.”