“There are somethings that either you can, or you cant do”. Don’t believe me? Take singing or sky diving for instance… I have been a dabbler for most of my life in all things outdoors. My days walking the woods, building survival shelters, and hunting by the river for tyrannosaurus rex with my pellet gun have been a real life testament to that. (Ahh to be a young blank canvas again, with equal amounts of courage and imagination.) For every hour spent honing my skills with what little knowledge I had, there were literally months of research and study that went into them. Books cover to cover dozens of time, drawing pictures of the correct way to build fish traps, spending allowance money on the perfect cordage to set a dead fall… Not to shabby for a kid who hadn’t even hit puberty, and for damn sure hadn’t kissed a girl. I always feel (much like mountain men of both today and yesteryear) that the woods are my refuge and my sanctuary. That is where I go to re-charge my batteries, and to get myself back to center, headed true North…. But even I make mistakes.
I awoke yesterday in the early AM, put on what I believed to be sufficient hunting attire for our unseasonably warm November weather and threw a rifle and my pack into my truck. Grabbed a couple Gatorade’s out of the fridge and was on my way. Trent and I had decided to make a push to a little chunk of critter crazy country that was way too far off the beaten path for most people to ever think about hiking into… That’s where the big ones live. I will save you the suspense of the hunt, save to say that we spent a lot of time on our hands and knees looking for hope. At some point later in the day we decided to fan out and look for sign. Mind you Trent and his father Cory are very respectable hunters to say the least, their collection of antlers, and pelts are enough to make most taxidermist jealous, and the fact that neither is ever in a pinch for venison from the deep freeze, should tell you something. We were hunting public land that is, as the crow flies, less then 15 miles from their house! Dropping our packs on the road we worked our way down to a ridge they know well, after seeing no sign we decided to spread out a bit and work our way back to the road. With a point in a general direction we were off, chasing tamarack needle covered deer trails I scurried as quickly and quietly as I could to intercept the road and my hunting com padres. The trails started to diminish as elevation increased. You and I both know that you should always walk with intent using landmarks to navigate your path, problem is (Damn you people who make hunting videos that show Idaho as being open farm land, that just isn’t true up here in the north) most places where you get into big critters, are too dense to see anything. At one point I had to army crawl through what we call bear tunnels (small circular tunnels going through low lying brush that predators use to travel through the dense tree growth and brush in old clear cuts) when I exited the hole I looked directly up into something bright white… Rabbit hair all over the place, and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t just buy a new coat and leave the old one there. Definite predator area, better stop complaining about sweat in my eyes and start keeping a look out. This is where most people make there first big mistake (If you remember correctly I had already made a BUNCH of mistakes, remember that I had left my pack on the road with all my stuff in it. Water, GPS, Cell phone, you know all the important stuff) the worst mistake you can make is pretending that you are not lost, and being pig headed about it. So I stopped, sat down for a minute and made a plan. I knew that where the packs were located was east of where I was right now, and off I went…Alone… Without a GPS… Through the nastiest chunk of hell that I have hunted through in a while. 45 minutes later I could see a finger ridge just a bit farther to the East and figured that I finally had my bearings, and as I traveled farther the forest opened up now I could actually see the ground and the forest canopy would let light through, But the wind was deafening. As I stumbled over windfalls and worked my way down I could finally see out past the old growth timber “That’s water, I can see the lake.” hunting be damned, I said it out load and was pretty happy about it too, soaked in sweat, I started descending into the timber. A quarter mile down something stepped onto the trail just down hill from me. Good gravy it was a bull moose, and he looked not to happy to be sharing the trail with whatever he was looking at. He looked up at my camo silhouette, and started to do the good ol’ shift his weight from side to side and shake his head game. Let me just say that as much as I love all of Gods creatures (especially how they taste) I have seen too many moose get a little too amped up and total pick ups. To attempt to fight one on his turf, was not on my agenda. “Hey big fella, I’m not another moose, just keep on your merry way and I’ll keep on mine” I spoke calmly. He must not have liked that too much because he shifted back and crapped all over the trail. At this point I had had enough, leveled my rifle at a stump by my feet and let it rip. 430 grains of .458 caliber bullet whacking old dead wood turned out to be enough to catch his attention, and he stumbled off. 20 minutes later there I am standing on a road (Notice I didn’t say my road, or the main road? I simply didn’t know. ) Looking up as the sun sunk lower in the sky I realized that a choice had to be made, I have two ways to go. I stopped and had a little heart to heart with myself, and decided that there was really only one option, I had already came to far east, I need to go west. I either find the packs, the trail head or the lake. If I ended up at the lake, I could probably thumb a ride (or just hoof my way) to Trent’s Dads house and use the phone there to call them and tell them that I had made it out (did I forget to mention that we had cell phone service by our stands? Too bad mine was in my pack. ) So West I went. About a mile down the road the wind started to die down, maybe just maybe if I shot my pistol Trent would hear it and know where I was at, and return the favor. “BANG” the report of my pistol echoed off the canyon walls. I stood quietly for a minute, then off in the distance I could hear the sharp report of Trent’s 10mm. I had somehow missed our ridge by 2, but I had found the road, and they had to be close, the last mile passed in no time and as I cleared the last bend they were both sitting there waiting for me. Packs on, we made the long hike out to the road.
This extended alone time gave me some time to think. The list of things that I had done wrong was far longer that what I would like to fess up for, You don’t equip a pack with survival tools then leave it on the road, any more then you would carry a gun into the woods without bullets. I was plain stupid. But one positive that I personally take away from the situation (since I’m not getting searched for right now), is something that I never forget to pack, I always have it with me. MY MIND SET. The best survival kit ever built is right between your ears, No amount of stuff replaces your knowledge. What good is it to have a plasma cutter, if you think plasma only comes from Bio-life and a a cutter is a person that listens to My chemical romance. Your personal skills govern what you are capable of. Be calm, make a plan, and be realistic. Survival is one of those situations where you either can or you can’t. You can do everything right and still come in second place, which is a pretty grim final score. Your best bet is to supply yourself with everything you need, in the easiest to carry package available. Know how to use everything you carry in situations and places where you may be tasked to do so, and most importantly, fill your mental survival kit. Keep topping it up until you feel like you can’t carry any more, then cram more knowledge in. Be a student of the land, of nature, and of Life. Your want to coexist and thrive is what keeps you going, the difference between people who get into bad situations and become stranded (or worse) and the people who save themselves, is there ability to not keep making the same mistakes. “You took the wrong road. Wrong ridge? Got separated from the pack? Got sweaty? Thirsty? Cold?” Now what do you do? Your already getting close to the answer because you identified the problem, now don’t continue to make that same mistake. Stop, evaluate, and then make it better. Use what you KNOW to be truth, and don’t run on emotion. If you do your part, every answer to every survival situation is there at you disposal… Right under your hat.
-Grant Willoughby 11/13/2016-