The legendary General George S. Patton once told his troops, “No b$%*&#d ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor, dumb b$%*&#d die for his country.”
I am reminded of this quote from time to time when afield and things have become, as the British are wont to say, a bit dicey.
In hunting, we are out to take the life of an animal, not lose ours in the process. That said, in my life, hunting has tried to kill me more than once. It’s succeeded in hurting me, or those I know, seriously more than I like to remember.
Here is my list of my scariest moments.
10. Turn Over ATV
Blacktail hunting one rainy November day, I was driving an old 3-wheeler down a frozen, northern-California dirt road, too fast, when the front wheel caught a rut, launching the bike and me over the edge like a space shuttle. I hit the ground so hard I broke a rib and both of my contact lenses popped out of my head.
9. Gun Exploded
Brown bear hunting in Alaska many years ago a buddy got so excited while chasing a monster bear through the muck that he tripped, then he didn’t stop to check that his rifle’s muzzle was clear of debris. It wasn’t. When he fired his .375 H&H Mag. the barrel exploded in his hands. His glasses saved his eyesight and his gloves saved his hands. It also saved that bear’s life.
8. Welcome to Alaska Flying
My most “interesting” Alaska bush plane experience occurred right after I killed my first Dall sheep and the outfitter, who is the best bush flyer I’ve ever known, started to take off from the river gravel bar, then suddenly powered down and stopped. Seems the rudder cable had frayed to the point of nearly snapping. No worries, the next morning we simply took a thin piece of wire off my backpack and duct-taped the cable together, then flew home and headed straight for the bar. Are you kidding me?
7. Cut Yourself
One rainy October afternoon, I was skinning a huge brown bear out with my friend Bo Bennett when I sliced the index finger of my left hand to the bone. We finished the bear and flew back to Anchorage the next day, where we caught a flight to Kodiak Island for a week of deer hunting. I didn’t take the time to get the finger sewed up, so of course it got horribly infected on the island. When I got home, I was put on serious antibiotics for three weeks, which saved it. To this day when temps get cold it turns white and throbs.
6. Treestand Fall
Today only a fool hunts up a tree without a safety harness, but decades ago there were no such things. I was filming a TV show when my cameraman fell asleep and started to go. I was able to grab his belt in time. I’ve never gone down myself, but have many friends who have broken arms, legs and shoulders. And we all know someone who knows someone who was killed. Be safe up there!
5. Wounded Grizzly
In my days as a bear guide I was involved in several “root ‘em out” exercises following a client’s poor shot on a wounded brown or grizzly bear. None were fun. The closest call came when a large brown bear barreled out of southeast Alaska’s old growth forest from about 20 yards. Fortunately both my buddy and I were able to put a big bullet in his head before he got on us. I do remember, when he stopped skidding, being able to reach out and touch him with my rifle barrel. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!
4. Gilligan’s Island
The client wounded a black bear and — by the time Jim Boyce, a Navy Seal who served two combat tours in Vietnam, and I had fruitlessly searched for it — the tide was rushing it, throwing our little Zodiac up on the sharp rocks. Boyce jumped in and unsuccessfully tried to start the motor while I hung onto the sides, getting sucked underneath and shredding my pants on the rocks. We finally got it off the rocks and loaded the clients. But then we had to paddle to the big boat — anchored a half-mile offshore — into a seven-knot current using one paddle and the top of the battery box. Had we not saved the Zodiac, we’d still be stranded. Is that you Maryann?
3. Lion in Truck
On my first Africa safari, I was blind as a newborn baby and didn’t realize that when the idiot professional hunter and egomaniac client decided to chase down a big male lion with the Toyota Land Cruiser that the decision was both foolishly dangerous and highly illegal. Not to mention the two of us were in the open bed of the Cruiser. After four hours, the angry lion charged and actually jumped onto the truck’s roof and rolled back into the bed, scattering us like quail. After we finally killed it, I was shaking like a leaf. That was a dark day for me.
2. Winter Rodeo
Picture this: minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, a day’s ride from a cabin, three guides, a cook, three clueless clients and me along with seven saddle horses and seven packhorses overloaded with camp, three bull moose and a grizzly bear and nobody properly clothed thanks to an unseasonably late, September Alaska storm. When the winter rodeo ended, everything we owned was scattered for a quarter mile. There was a real danger of somebody freezing to death or, at the very least, serious frostbite. We managed to gather things up and stagger into camp well after midnight. Then, as the clients crashed, we spent the hours until dawn taking care of the horses. Wonder why I moved to Arizona?
1. Sheep Fall
At 0500 on August 10, 1994, Dall sheep hunting on my own after being dropped dozens of miles into the wilderness by a bush plane, I fell 150-feet straight down a cliff. I broke my left tibia, cracking the fibula in half, breaking the ankle in six places and mangling two fingers on my left hand. I couldn’t get back to camp and the pilot wasn’t coming back for 4 days. Twelve hours later, a FedEx cargo plane heading from Anchorage to Memphis answered my Mayday, and six hours later a Lifeguard helicopter had me at the hospital. Three surgeries and a year of rehab later I killed a ram — but I feel the affects every morning when I get out of bed.
Guess I should have paid closer attention to General Patton.
Do you have some scary hunting stories of your own? If so, what? Where? How? I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured photo: John Hafner