A close shave in the wilderness
By V. Paul Reynolds
This event is true. The names have been changed. It took place on a deer hunt in northern Canada.
There was some snow on the ground, and more coming. Bill, with his rifle slung over his shoulder, was driving a four-wheeler along a river bed. As directed earlier by a hunt guide, he was following old four-wheeler tracks that led him up the river bed and across the different meandering river branches. Earlier in the hunt, a guide had left four-wheeler tracks across the river at specific locations, always where the river was the most shallow and safest to cross.
Bill’s destination was a plywood deer-hunting blind, a mile or so up river, located on a bluff overlooking a dry river bed not far from the river itself. The temperature was just below freezing and large snowflakes were pelting Bill’s face as he bounced along. He stayed in the four-wheeler tracks and two different river crossings went smoothly, although he noticed that the water was up to the ATV’s running boards, and the vehicle’s exhaust made a disquieting glug glug sound as he bumped across the river’s freestone bottom.
Just before the third and final river crossing, a doe and a yearling appeared in front of him and bounded off. They caught his attention and he inadvertently drove to the left of the old four wheeler tracks and into the river and a deep hole. The four wheeler nosed over into the unseen watery abyss. In an instant, Bill was in icy water up to his neck and the ATV stalled out. The cold water stunned him momentarily but he bailed off the machine and floundered his way to the river bank.
“Oh my God,” he said to himself, as he assessed his dilemma and glanced quickly at the shiny ATV handlebars protruding above the quick -flowing water. “I could be in trouble here.”
Probing around in his water-filled pockets for his Bic lighter or mobile handheld radio, he realized with a quickened pulse that the two critical devices that could save him were in his day pack. It was strapped to the back of the four wheeler, completely underwater. He wasn’t about to go back in that icy water for anything.
He made a decision. There was no choice. He would keep moving, even if he had to walk all the way back to camp. After crossing the river three times on foot, he would be a mile from the main dirt road, which was ten miles from camp. “There’s an hour of daylight left. One of the other guys returning to camp is bound to find me, once I get to the main dirt road,” he reasoned. “It’s my best chance.”
A seasoned outdoorsman, Bill knew he faced a very serious predicament. His adrenaline was flowing though, keeping his body heat up despite his waterlogged camo clothing. “How long is that good for?” he wondered.
At the third river crossing, Bill beheld way off in the distance what he later described as a “true miracle.” Another hunter on a four-wheeler coming toward him! It was Jim, one of Bill’s fellow hunters who, by sheer happenstance, had decided at the last minute to hunt up this particular river bottom before dark. Bill waved his arms frantically in the air. Jim at first thought he was getting the wave off to hunt elsewhere and turned to go back from where he came. By chance he took one more look back and, from the more intense waving, sensed that something was wrong and headed back toward the signaling hunter.
Bill said later that he never in his life saw such a welcome sight as “Jim on a rescue vehicle” coming his way. The pair made it back to camp long after dark, but only after a cold ten-mile ride on an open four wheeler.
Incredibly, back at camp, Bill was uncomfortable and looked like a camouflaged icicle when he dismounted off the four-wheeler, but didn’t seem to be even in the early stages of hypothermia. He said that during the ten mile ride back to camp his outside clothing froze solid in the wind, and seemed to ward off some of the cold air from his body. Go figure.
In time, the ill-fated four-wheeler was retrieved from its watery location and towed home, by a guide.
That same guide stepped into Bill’s camp and, without a word, dropped his soggy day pack on the floor and walked out, closing the door quietly.
That night, Bill reveled in his warm sleeping bag and said a prayer of thanks, not only for his friend Jim but for whatever fate or Divine intervention brought them together on the same track at the crucial moment.
The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com. or www.sportingjournal.com. Contact email — firstname.lastname@example.org.