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3 (Totally Avoidable) Backcountry Close-Calls

3 (Totally Avoidable) Backcountry Close-Calls

There are accidents, and then there are preventable or avoidable close calls that should never occur. There is a distinguishable difference between the two. Here are three avoidable close calls that I should have never experienced.

Swimming Against the Current 

I was wade fishing a river with my best friend for smallmouth bass, as we often did during the summer. On this trip my buddy brought his brother-in-law along, who also happened to be a sheriff’s deputy. During the course of our fishing and wading, I approached a large, deep pool and began casting to where I saw a big fish holding. The fish was on the fringe of my casting range, so I made a very concerted effort to whip my lure as hard as I could toward the fish, which was hovering in deep water downstream of me. The resulting effort caused me to slip off the large, slime-covered rock I was standing on up to my waist in the river. Thinking the rock was only mere feet away, I got my bearings and began stroking back against the current to get back on the rock. I soon wore out as the current was very strong in that portion of the river, and I realized I was in big trouble.  I remember my muscles burning and then realizing I was going to die. I started sinking and looked up through the clear water as I submerged and recall seeing the bright sunshine. I figured that was the last thing I would see. Moments later the sheriff’s deputy was pushing me to the surface and treading water for the both of us as we floated downstream to a shallow spot.

It amazes me how in less than two minutes I nearly bought the farm. The lesson I learned was to pay attention to the current and where I was, and never try to swim upstream when it is far easier to just tread water and float downstream to safety.

Cold Temps and Water

I love to hunt waterfowl. One season the cold Canadian air moved in with a vengeance to our part of the mid-Atlantic. Excited at the prospect of a potential push of new birds to the area, I went duck hunting by myself because my friends could not get off work.

The cold air was moving in just after daybreak, so the water in the tidal creek was not frozen, but soon would be. After a glorious hour of good shooting opportunities, it was time to go home. The wind was howling and whitecapping the small creek, and water was freezing on the decoys as I picked them up. My gloves were not waterproof. That was my first mistake.

My cold hands soon grew so numb I could not feel anything. Since I was not in pain and I did not want to leave my decoys, I continued picking them up, thinking in a few minutes I would pull the engine rope and go the mere 500 yards to the truck.

My second and third mistake was not recognizing how dangerous the situation already was, and not realizing the wind and the tide were going the opposite direction from my truck.

Upon getting the last decoy in the boat (which took amazing effort to coordinate my now numb arms), I turned to grab the pull rope on the motor, only to find my fingers would not close around it. My brain was telling them to close, but they would not move. I could not get my fingers or even my hand to do much other than act like a club. I suddenly realized how perilous the situation was as the boat was moving me further from the ramp and into bigger and more dangerous water.

After quickly working my coat upwards and shoving my hands into my armpits, I was able to get a little bit of feeling into my hands. By then I had drifted ¼ mile away. I hunkered down in the boat floor out of the wind and tried to pull out my cell phone, but could not. I dropped it. So back into my armpits my hands went, causing my whole body to shiver uncontrollably.

After another long stretch of drifting, I managed to get two fingers around the pull rope, and using a stick, I worked the little choke knob out on the motor. I was so grateful the motor came to life on the first pull. I had to use both arms to steer myself back to the ramp. The fact I was not paying close attention to the deteriorating conditions and noticing that my fingers were useless nearly cost my family a husband and father. Going hunting alone in those conditions was not wise!

Bottom Falls Out

My daytime job does not allow me to take off work very easily, so most of my deer hunting is done after working hours—which means I am in a hurry to get to the deer stand. One such evening I attached my climbing stand to a beech tree with smooth bark and realized that my bungee cord that normally was used to attach the top half to the bottom half of my stand was missing. Since I had only an hour and a half to hunt, I opted to go ahead and climb the tree since I had never had any issues before.

I got my stand up to the desired height and hunted until dark. However, when I started down the tree, the bottom part of the stand fell out from under me to the ground leaving me hanging. I scrambled to pull myself up on the seat and realized my phone had fallen from my pocket in my struggle. The top half of the stand was also feeling unsteady. No one knew where I was hunting and no one would hear me if I yelled.

Luckily I had a flashlight and a piece of paracord. I tied a slip knot and pulled a loop in the cord and after many attempts, lowered it to hook my buckle on the lower part of the stand. It took nearly an hour, but I got the stand bottom up and was able to reattach it without falling.

Phrased in the passive voice: Many mistakes were made. First, use a safety harness! Second, tie or bungee the top and bottom parts of the stand. Third, never climb a smooth barked tree. Fourth, let someone know where you are hunting.

This season, use your head and take all the safety precautions you can before, during and after your time afield.

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