"My dog ate my homework" is what Matt Branch would probably rather be saying following what must be the worst hunt of his life. The Louisiana hunter was preparing to move positions during a duck hunt with friends on family-owned property near Mississippi's Eagle Lake on Dec. 28 when a Labrador retriever managed to shoot him. Branch had put his 12-gauge shotgun into the bed of a truck as the group prepared to move 200 yards along a slough around 9:40am, reports the Clarion Ledger. That's when the dog named Tito jumped in the truck bed, stepped on the gun's safety lock, then touched the trigger, according to Branch's friend, Micah Heckford: "Within two to three seconds [Branch] realized he was hit." Per the Vicksburg Post, a bullet left in the gun's chamber shot though the side of the truck bed, hitting the inside of Branch's upper left thigh.
After calling 911, the group drove Branch to an area accessible to first responders, who removed his pants. "That's when it hit me how serious it was," Heckford says, per the Ledger. "His pants were just soaked in blood." A former LSU offensive lineman and father to a 1-year-old son, Branch—in stable condition at a Jackson hospital—has since undergone "multiple critical surgeries including the partial amputation of his left leg and re-connecting his femoral artery in his left upper leg," Heckford writes in a viral Facebook post, intended to remind even the most experienced hunters about the importance of gun safety. "There was 80+ years of hunting experience amongst our group," it reads. "DO NOT let complacency get the best of you ... Treat ALL guns like they are loaded, at ALL times." A GoFundMe page has raised more than $70,000 for Branch's recovery. (A "good dog" did the same thing.)