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Swamp Fox Donating Member (106 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-02-05 09:10 AM
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108.  Nowhere to run !
Nowhere to run ! - By Swamp Fox

One of the most exciting and enthusiastic things as a young boy is growing up in a family that loves to hunt together, moreover the experience's along with the lessons proper hunting etiquette can teach will last a lifetime. Beginning at a very early age, watching the preparations my family made that went into planning and preparing for a hunting trip was something only a young boy could dream about. Waiting for the time to be a part of the excitement. Gun safety, sportsmanship, reparation along with that use of the good judgment would have to be proven to your peers before ever being allowed to participate in a big hunt. For these virtues alone, it takes only once to let your guard down that could possibly endanger others, yourself and in some cases cost a life. This was a lesson I learned the hard way, which ended up changing my hunting habits forever, almost to the point of never entering the mountains again.

One such hunting trip was planned in the fall of 1980; that year my father was invited by a friend the uses of his hunting camp in Maine. So like any other year my dad never had a problem getting together 10 to 15 guys, sometimes even more, to make up a camp. Normally these camps would be in northern Pennsylvania (Potter County) right outside a small village called Cross Forks. Actually, we had become so familiar with this area to this day names of hollows like (Tin Smith) (Cherry Run) Kettle Creek) are still fresh in my mind. Anyone that's not familiar with this area, it's called God country, and there's some of the most beautiful mountains you'll find anywhere in the country.

One of first things my dad would always talk about, is how some of tops had very large flat areas and lost hunters have been known to walk in circles all-night without ever finding their way out; in some cases they would freeze to death. He said the reason for this was because our legs are no different than arms, one is more dominant and for this reason without reference points we'll walk in circles. Several times I've turned myself around in these mountains but always managed to find my way out , probably, if for no other reason, being familiar with the area. However, that was a different case in Maine.

To begin my story we arrived in Maine on Sunday afternoon around an area called China Lake and after settling in had several hours to do any scouting. My dad always liked to scout an area before hunting in any unfamiliar territory for several reasons. Sometimes we might scout an area several different times before ever hunting, if for no other reason than to get to know the local hunters and community. This time all we had was his friend and maps to go by for planning.

That Sunday afternoon after coming across an old rebuilt tree stand my decision was to return there on Monday opening-day. About 8:30 the next morning a real nice three point came within fifty yards, so by 11:30 my friend Richard and myself had returned to camp with this deer. Richard was one of those hunting guys you always like having in camp, because regardless of what's happening, you'd know he's always covering your back. That could be
something as simple as spotting an idiot in camp playing with his rifle that was about to shoot himself in the foot. Then what happens everyone's has to stop what they're doing to take this fool to the hospital. Then come back and cleanup the blood all because he dry -fired his rifle thinking it wasn't loaded after reading somewhere in hunting magazine some self-proclaimed expert in gun safety said it was okay.

Anyway, at the same time my dad had also returned to get something to eat and the three of us decided to organize a small drive for that afternoon. What we didn't know at the time was a winter storm had moved into the area , although the sun was shining. To this day I'm not sure why we were not aware of this, but nevertheless we weren't and because Richard and I would both to be drivers, we headed out about 1:00 dressed lightly and without my
backpack and compass, thinking we wouldn't be going that far. 0n my person was light clothing, a wallet, hunting license, shotgun with five rounds of ammunition, knife, cigarettes and matches.

Our goal was my dad was to stay in this flat area, Richard and myself would move along a shoulder to a certain point then head inward. About 2:00 it started snowing while we moved along the shoulder for an hour or so . At 3:00 we had started moving inward towards my dad , by now several inches of snow had fallen and the wind started to lightly pickup.

Moving across this area we separated ourselves by a hundred yards or so, every once in a while closing the gap within sight of each other. As we move across this flat area with Richard on my right, it began to snow even harder. With the wind, it also made it difficult to hear one another as we moved along Somewhere around 3:30 I crossed another hunters tracks in the snow thinking someone else must be in the area. Several times I shouted for Richard with no response , so I started moving more to my right hoping to come within vision, that never happened.

About 3:45 I came upon what appeared to be the same shoulder we had followed earlier. At first I tried walking in the direction that seemed most logical and after approximately 10 minutes came back to the very same spot. My first reaction was of concern because of knowing I had turned myself around, and was now walking in circles. Another problem was because of my first attempt, it's now impossible to figure out which tracks to follow in reverse. But the real problem was by this time there was only about half an hour of daylight and my clothing was soaking wet, with the temperature somewhere around 25 degrees and getting colder. At the same time it was beginning to snow even harder along with the wind, that's when the panic started. Actually, I started bitterly running for what must have been about 100 yards, stopped, sat down and tried to control the panic. The only time I'd ever faced this level of panic before, was once during my tour in Vietnam.

After several minutes of thinking of my options, it became very obvious finding a way out without a compass or help wasn't going to happen. My No. 1 concern was being lost in these conditions along with hypothermia, however at that very moment because just running I wasn't cold, although it was only a matter of time. Looking around there was several large pine trees in the immediate area, which would make a nice temporary shelter. Another plus thing about these trees, down low a lot of the branches were dry. I immediately started breaking small branches into several different size piles, knowing because of the conditions there would not be that many opportunities to get a fire started. Starting with my hunting license first, this attempt failed, at the same time my matches had become partially damp from removing them out of my pocket. Knowing this, my second attempt was done so not to take any more chances of failure, because by now my hands were so cold and nomad it was hard to even feel them. Nevertheless my second attempt using the paper money and business cards out of my wallet was successful and after several minutes the fire starting to create some hot coals. And also allowed for the warming of my hands.

After what must have been about ten minutes, some snow from one of the large branches above the fire fell down and completely put it out. Luckily there was enough hot coals created by this time, using them along with several very small branches and down on my knees blowing, was enough to get it restarted. By now it was completely dark and for the next hour or so my total focus was the survival of this fire, bitterly running to the surrounding trees to gather firewood. At the time signaling for help was not an option because snow creates a sound barrier and along with the wind, makes it almost impossible for sound to travel very far. Nevertheless somewhere around 6:00 several times using my shotgun tried to signal for help with no response knowing there's a possibility no one's listening. Also my voice was completely gone by now because of trying to yell for Richard earlier.

In previous years it would not have been uncommon for one of us not to return to camp until way after dark, an hour or so. That also met nobody's worried or concerned that anyone lost, so any chances for rescue was hours away. The upside was by this time my clothing was dry the heat from the fire warmed my body and as long as I was able to find firewood there'd be no problem in surviving the night regardless of how bad things got. The downside was by 8:00 my hands were bleeding from breaking and gathering firewood. The next several hours were spent with total focus on the fire and my family, it also helped pass the time and control fear.

Somewhere around 11:00 p.m. I could hear the search party calling out and used one of my two remaining rounds of ammunition to signal out. After what must have been about 10 minutes a flashlight came within my vision. At first this person yelled out to come in their direction, my first response was of refusal knowing the fire was my only survival for the night and wasn't leaving it under any circumstances. Thinking to myself what happens if we didn't connect up and for some reason I loose sight of the fire.

In closing: the funniest part was finding out later that not too far away there was a logging trail that led to the main road. It's those things; the other hunter's, family and friends will never let you forget.

That snowstorm before ending generated 24 inches of snow with wind gusts that exceeded 40 mph.
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