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Wednesday, November 17th, 2004 -- 8:27 AM

A central Wisconsin hunter is recovering after a bizarre mishap that could have taken his life.

A hunting arrow smashed through the window of his car before striking 50-year-old Bill Rusch of Antigo in the neck as he sat waiting for a companion to return from some woods in northern Wisconsin. Rusch was recovering in fair condition at St. Joseph Hospital in Marshfield yesterday - four days after the mishap in Vilas County caused an arrow to penetrate about 2 inches into his neck, threatening his spinal cord. Rusch, who owns an archery business in Antigo, feels lucky he wasn't hurt worse, the daughter said in a telephone interview from his hospital room. Tim Lawhern, hunter education administrator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the accident happened about 4:15 p.m. Friday in Vilas County. The errant arrow came from the bow of a 54-year-old hunter who was a companion of Rusch's. Gilbert said the bow's release malfunctioned as the hunter walked from the woods to get into the car at the end of an unsuccessful day of hunting. The daughter said his father kept his sense of humor during the ordeal. After seeing X-rays in the emergency room, the father joked the arrow was a cheap one, "not the kind he sells.?

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