Life changing events in the field part 1. North America & part 2 Africa


April 14, 2009, 09:04 PM
I got to thinking the other day about things that change your outlook and opinions in the field. Things that happen that alter your habits making you sit up and take notice. Events which change the gear you carry the way you do things or your opinions on the rifle you carry or the caliber you use etc.

Flooded out in the Guadalupe’s.
About 10 years ago I took several friends on a desert mule deer hunt in the Guadalupe Mountains of NM. We got a bit of a late start and my normal camping spot was occupied. I was tired and wanted to get camp set up before it got to late in the evening. The whole area was covered with rocks and cactus. I was in a hurry and being lazy so I decided that I’d just plop a tent down in a nice sandy dry arroyo bottom. That is a dry wash for you folks not from the South West. I know all of you boy scouts out there are cringing right about now but I’d checked the weather and there wasn’t supposed to be a drop of rain within a hundred miles of our location, plus it’s NM in November it NEVER rains in November.

Well it didn’t rain at our location that night BUT it did rain about 40 miles or so from us in the high mountains which drain into the Crow Flats where we were camped. In any case about three in the morning I woke up to freezing water running into my sleeping bag . About the time that I woke up I could hear a roaring sound. There was no question in my mind what that was. I woke the other two guys, grabbed the rifles and some essential gear and evacuated . I was able to go back and snag the rest of the gear and the tent before the real flood hit. And if we would have been in our tent we’d have been dead. The main flood hit with a violence that had to be seen to be appreciated at one point the water was running 8 to 10 feet deep and was roaring so violently that we had to yell to each other to communicate standing shoulder to shoulder. It took all the next day before the torrent subsided enough to allow us to get the truck out and head out of the now flooded flats to higher ground.

Lesson learned and any outdoorsman should know better, no matter what the forecast ALWAYS camp on high ground. BASIC stuff but we tend to get complacent at times. Just don’t camp in a flood plain DUH!!


Tent collapse on the Mac Arthur River Alaska.
It was about 1991 I was living and working in Alaska as a bush pilot and had taken my vacation in October. I had planned to do a brown bear hunt down on the Mac Arthur River. The first day was uneventful except that we didn’t see a single bear and the weather starting to turn nasty. After a full day of hunting we happily returned to camp.

Let me back up here a bit. Before we’d left we found out that our normal tent was missing and had been left in another town several hundred miles away. So I sent my hunting buddy out to get another one. Instead of spending the bucks on a decent tent he went to Wal Mart and bought a cheap one after all we were only going to be hunting for a week why spend a bunch of money?

Well my friend and I were about to find out. After a quick freeze dried meal we sat by the fire and spun some tales and sipped a bit of whiskey before turning in. At some point in the night I was woken up by the wind not just any wind mind you but a roaring, ripping, howling banshee, tearing itself down from the Ak Range into the title flats where we were camped. I noticed that the tent was stretching and pulling but it seemed to be holding up. I drifted off again and slept for while that was until my rude awakening some time later in the night. It had started to snow a wet heavy snow mixed with rain. My wake up call was when the tent ripped open with the weight of the snow and the combined force of the wind. Dumping several feet of wet snow our collective heads and soaking everything in the tent.

I won’t tell you that we were in severe danger as we had very good rain gear and warm weather gear. But I will tell you that it was one of the most miserable wet cold nights I’ve ever experienced in my life. We stayed up all night under the makeshift shelter we made with the remnants of tent and some fallen timber.

Lesson learned. Don’t EVER go out into serious country with cheaply made gear. It may well cost you your life.
PS we didn’t get a bear. And the next day we had to evacuate because Mt Spur was getting ready to erupt. We were camped at base of Mt spur. Also I bought a North Face expedition grade Everest rated arrowhead wind penetrating tent as soon as I got back . I still have it

Tracking a wounded bear in NM.
No drama here and the bear was dead when I found it. I was elk hunting on my in laws ranch in northern NM. I sat down to cow call and was almost immediately faced with what I’d call an aggressive black bear. He wasn’t human aggressive necessarily as he never saw me but he was close and he was posturing in way that made me think he could be trouble. I just happened to have a bear tag in my pocket so I introduced him to a 180 gr Nosler behind the shoulder out of my .30-06. The bear took off at the shot and made it into some thick brush before I could slip another bullet into him. Remember a couple of things when bear hunting. They don’t always go down to the shot and if they do get out of sight before going down always give a bear plenty of time before following up. The general rule of thumb is to wait for at least 30 minutes maybe more. I followed the blood trail for about 300 yards. When I found the dead bear he was facing his trail in a perfect ambush spot. Bears are not like deer and when they feel they can’t go any further they will often set up for an attack even a little black bear. Don’t ever rush a blood trail on a bear.

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April 14, 2009, 09:06 PM
Tracking a wounded buff in the long grass.
This was my second buffalo and at the time I was still just discovering what the term “long grass” really meant. If you ever have the opportunity to track a wounded cape buffalo in the long grass you will all of a sudden realize the significance term “long grass” and why it evokes the emotion that it does in professional and non professional DG hunters in Africa. It is a long story but I screwed the pooch and rushed my shot hitting a very nice old dagga boy to far back just as he disappeared into a sea of wavy brown, long grass.

As we took the track the PH was questioning me at first as to whether I’d hit him or not. I knew I did but the rest of the crew was still in denial, they stayed in denial until one of the trackers pointed to the ground with a stone faced expression . At his feet was pool of rapidly congealing blood. The old bull was hit in the liver. As we proceeded into the grass we were soon enveloped in an almost impenetrable, dense, all encompassing ocean of grass. The visibility was literally two to three feet in any direction. My PH turned to me as we started in and calmly stated “ this is double gun country” truer words have never been spoken this is the situation a heavy caliber double was designed for.

After about 5 minutes we bumped the bull, he jumped to his feet and made a god awful racket as he launched. He couldn’t have been 20 feet away and of course we couldn’t see him but we sure as hell could hear him. We didn’t know at first whether he was coming or going and we all rapidly shouldered our fire arms and prepared for a charge. This is the situation that taught me that a non tang safety is simply to slow and cumbersome to be used in a charge at close range. With a M-70 or any non tang safety bolt gun you either have the safety off or you use a different gun. My M-70 in .458 Lott felt like a clumsy chunk when needing to swing into action that fast. A double swings up with the ease of a shotgun and the safety slides off automatically while shouldering. This was the time and place that I decided that I would one day own a double rifle.

We never found that buff we tracked and bumped him at least 6 times that evening until the setting sun dictated our return to camp. The next day we followed a dry blood trail until we lost it. That old dagga boy suffered an slow painful death due to my poor judgment on the shot.

Lessons learned. Don’t take the shot unless you are sure of a certain kill especially on DG and the old guys knew what they were talking about when it came to DG rifles. The side mounted safety on modern rifles is in the wrong place. It should either be in the tang or the left side so that it can be disengaged without adjusting your grip. And also don’t ever carry your M-70 style rifle with the safety in the middle position. I found that out too if you lift your bolt slightly as your are bound to do while walking the safety will not disengage. That happened to me once during that ordeal too. And it is not a happy feeling.


Elephant charge in the Dande.
Ok so it wasn’t really a determined charge. But it was six elephants all moving rapidly and all wanting to be in the piece of real estate that I was occupying at the moment. We had been on a long tracking session and were after a group of buffalo that we’d spoored off of water late in the morning. We tracked them until they left our concession boundary and we were forced to head back to the cruiser empty handed. About an hour into the return my buddy spotted a brute of a ram impala and decided to shoot him. At the shot a group of cow elephant that we hadn’t seen all turned in unison and charged off, unfortunately “off” was directly towards us. I can clearly remember the PH yelling RUN about the time that I looked up and was treated to the sight of 6 elephant running in our direction from about 40 yards. I’ll never forget that wall of rapidly moving gray hide as long as I live. I also remember just as I started running jerking my .470 open and tossing the soft point out of the right barrel and replacing it with a solid. I was pretty sure this was going to turn into a gun a fight.

Well it turned out the elephant passed to the side of us and continued to crash through the brush until they were out of sight and sound. We had all set a new world record in the 40 yard side ways dash and nobody was hurt. But if you are ever in this situation you will realize why the pros tend to like to carry real big rifles when hunting in elephant country in thick cover. And another thing that will impress you about charging elephants is the size of the trees and brush they can knock over with seemingly effortless ease. It is impressive.


Buffalo charge bring enough gun.
I often hear neophyte hunters rationalize the choice of an inadequate caliber on DG with the statement “well it doesn‘t really matter what I shoot I‘ll have a PH with a heavy gun standing right next to me.” And every time I hear that I cringe. It was in the Zambezi valley in 2004. We’d tracked three ancient dagga boys for multiple hours and were finally able to get a shot. I hit the old bull twice in the lungs with a .470 NE the bull was able to make it to thick cover before disappearing. We waited for about 20 minutes and heard the bull go down with a crash. We cautiously yet optimistically trailed the bull into the thick jesse bush that he’d retreated into. He hadn’t gone 50 yards but it took us at least 5 minutes to cover it, we were being careful as we weren’t sure the bull was dead.

To make a long story shorter. I was walking behind the PH who made contact with the bull at about 15 yards. The bull raised his head. The PH shouldered his rifle and I told him to shoot as I couldn’t see the bull at the time. The shot deflected on some brush and hit the bull in the right ear the bullet was completely sideways when it went through the ear and burned up the right side of the bulls neck raising a wicked red welt. That was all it took for the mostly dead bull to call on his last reserves and launch into full blown charge.

At the first shot I had dodged to the left so as to clear the PH. As the bull stood we both shot and both hit the bull about 1 inch apart right in the hollow where the neck meets the chest. This old warrior sucked up both 500 gr solids through the heart without so much as a flinch. In fact from my perspective it did nothing but accelerate the bull in his charge. As the PH’s second shot went off I remember hear his ejectors ping as he opened his rifle to reload. Guess what folks now it was me and the bull. The PH was empty and I was the buffs target of ill intent. In any case I was able to stick a solid through the buff’s spine before he squished me which effectively ended all hostilities.

Do NOT EVER count on somebody else to clean up your dirty work on DG. Shoot the largest rifle you can handle well when hunting thick skinned DG. The guy you thought you were counting on may just be out of bullets or worse he might be dead or maimed. You need to be able to handle yourself and any situation when hunting critters that can kill you back.

Hungry Seagull
April 14, 2009, 09:28 PM
I come down through Texas one night see a BIG storm up north yonder towards Kansas/Oklahoma way. In those parts you can see a good way. I disregarded that storm as I could not hear the thunder and parked in a rather low spot to keep the headlights from sweeping me. Unfortunatley the water from that storm eventually make it all the way down to me and half my wheels deep.

I got out of there but by then stuff was coming down there along with the water. Ugh.

Another problem is never make assumption to weather in the mountains.

Ive had break fast in shorts and tees, perfect sunny weather, by lunch breaking out chains in a howling whiteout fighting the summit and baking hot and dry by dinner time with freeze/rain that night all in 24 hours and about.. 200 miles from this side of the range, to the other side.

Back east on Mount Eagle and others in the area when it storms, stay put. Not as bit as the western storms but if that rain is a-coming you will hear a gigantic sort of hiss as the water climbs the western facing slopes first and breaks over the top to the eastern side. YOu want to be on the east face in the summer and on the west face in winter (Avalances)

However it's the high desert that got my number. My spouse made it from Death Valley all the way to Humdolt before retreating to the sleeper saying she cannot handle the wide open spaces visually. I brought us into Reno for some green forest and few day's rest. beautiful up there.

Except he 10 foot snowfall overnight.

I gotta tell you, the yankees back east mob the grocery store for 3 inches of wet snow but out west, you need one weeks worth of eating and hydrate ready at all times should be caught in place for days at a time.

There is one particular range I dont like to see again and that is down by Alamagordo way (Spelling?) I have not had any trouble down there *knocks on wood but always felt death in that area for some stupid reason.

April 14, 2009, 10:11 PM
There is one particular range I dont like to see again and that is down by Alamagordo way (Spelling?) I have not had any trouble down there *knocks on wood but always felt death in that area for some stupid reason.

Funny you mention that. Did you know that the desert just north of Alamagordo is called the "El Jornada del Muerte'". Translation "The range of death." It is also where the first Atom bomb was tested. And the southern edge of that range ends at Crow Flats where I had my little flooding incident.

Small world huh?;)

April 15, 2009, 02:55 AM
Nice stories, H. And very useful info.

April 15, 2009, 10:10 AM

Thanks I appreciate that.

April 15, 2009, 05:11 PM
Mine turned out to be less a hunting experience than a hiking experience...

We were in North Brazil, up in the hills of Roraima, scouting out some land that was for sale. A buddy and I were were looking to build a camp, and a big parcel of 15,000 hectares had just come on the market, but it was way back in past indian territory. So we decided to make it a day scouting trip, run in with the S-10, and be out the next day. We also planned on rolling it into a cayman/capivara hunt that evening. We took a couple shotguns, some water, and enough food for the day. It had just gone from rainy to dry season, so we figured we were safe.

It was about a 10 hour drive in to the Serra da Lua. About the time we got past the first ridge, I noticed that it was pretty wet. We had to cross a river, that was up to the floorboards of the S10. Instead of turning around, like we should have, we kept plowing forward. What we didn't know is that a bit north, across the Venezualan border, it was raining really heavy still, and the rivers were flooding. By the time we decided to turn around, the river had crested, and was now up well past the hood. We tried to go further north, but about 10kms in hit mud. Not just black mud, mind you, but rich, red, slick mud. To make matters worse, the banana farmers had been in with tractors, and the ruts were a good 2-3 feet deep. We tried to ride the top of those ruts for about a mile, and finally got good and stuck, buried all the way past the door.

We just left the truck, and started hiking. We had some water, but only farofa to eat (a dry, sawdust like substance from ground manioc, with bits of dried beef interspersed). We knew the farmer up at the land had a tractor, and that was the only way out of that mess. So we walked, 15, 20 kilometers until dark. Slept in hammocks that evening, and then kept walking. By this time, we were dehydrated, and almost out of farofa. The next morning, we just kept walking. We were both in Havaianas, cheap Brazilian sandals, shorts, and tshirts. The next way we walked another 12 hours, and around dark saw the oil light of the fazendeiro. On arriving, we were able to check out the farm, and then he fired up the tractor and we hopped on two half-broke raw-boned nags, to ride all the way back. By the time we got back to the truck, a day later, we were chaffed raw, cussing, and ready to call it quits. He pulled us out with the tractor, broke two ropes on the way, and just about drifted downriver when we tried to cross back over the river.

By the time we got back from that (so-called) "overnight" trip five days later than expected, we were gaunt, weak from dissentary, and completely dehydrated. The undercarriage of the S10 was screwed enough to total the truck.

Turns out, with all that, it wouldn't have been a bad experience, if we had some decent gear. Never again will I head out anywhere in the jungle/forest/outback without having at least four things: plenty of water (or a way to make clean water), and a way to carry it with you when you find it; good boots/walking gear (blisters and cracked feet are just straight brutal); fire (at least three ways to start it); some kind of energy source (power bars, salt crackers, hard bisquit, etc.). It doesn't matter if its "just a day trip". Lose your modern transportation, especially where civilization is sparse, and its back to the dark ages.

April 15, 2009, 05:49 PM

All of that can be carried in a mid sized camel back..
And you list and mine are very similar.

April 16, 2009, 02:23 PM

Thanks for sharing, I appreciate it.

One can never learn too much about the correct basic fundamentals, nor practice them too much.

There is a reason one learns correct basic fundamentals in anything, as not only does one need a solid foundation to built upon , they need a solid foundation to fall back on when everything goes to serious.


Art Eatman
April 16, 2009, 09:17 PM
I was lucky. My grandparents let me try camping all on my own long before I was old enough to join the Boy Sprouts. "Life is a learning experience." It was years later that I first heard the words, "Nature bats last," but I darned sure knew what was meant. :D She'd already batted plenty of knots on my young head.

So, I fell into the notion of asking myself before a jaunt, "What's likely to be the worst thing that can happen?" and gearing up accordingly.

Hungry Seagull
April 16, 2009, 09:22 PM
When a friend introduced me to flying, he made sure to ground me in little things such as weather and navigational things etc related to what was availible to us at the time in the late 80's

If we had to go down somewhere I already knew roughly where we are at. A few times he quietly pulled some drills to throw me off my numbers but I caught on because the second time around the compass I ask him what is he trying to do?

Going down in a mountain valley or in woods was a possibility. Nothing is assured until yer wheels are back down safe.

Dont get me started in trucking, Ive already used up a few of 9 lives fighting nature. Im glad to be home.

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