I recently came across an article written by Chuck Adams titled Eight Ways to Die in Elk Country. It was his clever spin on the TV series 1000 Ways to Die, which details the strange ways people punch their final timecard.
I spend about two weeks every year hunting elk in Nevada’s backcountry and can see all the possible, albeit unfortunate, ways one could die out there. Then I got to thinking, “hmmm…I spend way more time hunting chukar,” and I’d be lying if I said the thought of dying out there never crossed my mind. My imagination began to whirl and squeak as I thought about all the crazy ways that I could die out there.
This may sound morbid, but I had a conversation with my wife the other day regarding my death. I romantically detailed how after hunting chukar all day, I arrived back at the truck (a very old man at this stage) with my old bird dog and while sitting in the front seat of my truck, both me and my dog kick the bucket together. Now, I thought it was a fitting ending, however, my wife simply stated, “You’re just gonna leave me to find you?” My reply was simple: “You could just leave me out there.”
FREEZING TO DEATH
Nevada weather is notorious for changing rapidly, especially when you don’t want it to. My friend Scott and I ventured deep into the Nevada desert during December, a few years ago. We knew the forecast called for snow/rain. I naively believed that we would be O.K. Everything started off easy. Scott had a new puppy he brought along and before we knew it, that dog topped a ridge and vanished. He had no GPS collar and I was still a dog-less hunter, so I was zero help. Concern set in and we both blindly set off looking for his puppy. Soon we covered a lot of ground, but neither of us had taken note of the direction of the truck. We stood there, completely turned around. However, across the canyon we saw his dog coming back to us. Thankfully! That is when the weather essentially shit all over us. The wet snow was falling so quickly we couldn’t see in front of us. My denim jeans and not-so-DWR soft shell were soaked and I was freezing. To make matters worse, we had no idea what direction the truck was and stupidly began walking in the direction we “thought” it was. I had never experienced actual panic before, but I was now. I kept telling myself this was not how I wanted to die. As the snow began to lessen its intensity, we stopped and really tried to assess how to get ourselves out of this mess. We realized had walked in the wrong direction.
Due to the fact I am writing this, you know I survived. That one single experience had an indelible impact on me. I learned preparedness the hard way. I now always carry my First Lite rain jacket, FL Brooks Down puffy, fire starting material, a water filter, a SOL emergency bivvy in my DECKED system and know my orientation. I might get lost, but I sure as hell won’t freeze to death. Hopefully.
CAUGHT IN A FIRE
Nevada has wildfires. It’s sad, but a fact. These wildfires can pop up at any moment, given the right set of circumstances. I can’t think of a worse way to go, burning alive. Nothing about that says painless or quick.
Now this isn’t technically chukar country, but I was still bird hunting. Last year, Matt and I had hiked into the Ruby Mountains to hunt for Himalayan Snowcock. As we ascended, smoke from a wildfire hung in the canyon. Unbeknownst to us, a grass fire had started near the mouth of Lamoille Canyon, apparently as a result of a police chase. The suspects were wanted in some sort of kidnapping and their vehicle had caught the brush on fire. I know…crazy, right? We noted the smoke, yet with spotty cell reception, we were not privy to the details. Alaskan Terry was. He had arrived later in the evening and decided to stay in his truck to monitor the fire in the event he needed to quickly run up the mountain to rescue us. Luckily the fire was contained by authorities.
Sadly, Lamoille Canyon did end up burning later that season and several hikers and campers had to be escorted to safety.
Monitor weather reports and if you find yourself in a situation where a wildfire ignites near you, know your escape routes. Wildfires can move quickly. And always remember to carry extra water and a shovel as it’s happened before: hot tail pipes have been known to spark a fire. If this happens to you, you will have the tools to address it quickly.
I’m happy to say that I have never run into a mountain lion while chukar hunting. I know people who have. The closest I have been was a few miles from my spot as I caught it in the headlights of my truck. It was a brief moment, but enough for me to know what I saw.
That being said, every time I move underneath a large boulder or near a cave in the rocks, I’m on high alert. I figured its best to aware of my impending death from a cougar attack!
There was recently a big story in the news about a runner who was attacked by a mountain lion. This guy did what many of us think we would do given the same set of circumstances…he choked that cat to death. That cat picked the wrong dude on the wrong day.
The reality is that mountain lions are just trying to survive, and quick moving “things” are potential prey. When you are out in the middle of nowhere, that’s generally where these cats like to be. If you are hunting with your dog it can also be a potential food source for a cougar.
Bottom line…. pay attention to your surroundings and check behind you every once in a while.
I will be the first to admit that I fall on my ass almost every single time I hunt. Not the graceful fall of a professional stuntman, but an ugly tumble-slide, ankle twisting pile of meat. I try to be graceful, but I don’t think that is an appropriate word to describe me…ever.
I carry an over/under which does provide me with a small degree of assurance that as long as the breech is open, I’m far less likely to have a discharge if I drop the gun while falling. However, as many of you know falling happens at inopportune times, like when you are closing in on your dog on point.
This year I had one of those moments. I was walking along a steep slope, filthy with rimrock, and I lost my footing. The breech was closed and I slammed the gun down as I fell, hard, on the rocks. All I could think was “SHIT.” Luckily the safety stayed engaged and the gun did not discharge.
This is my single biggest fear when hunting. Probably because if this happened I would be labeled as “That Guy”. You will always find me with a tourniquet, some clotting powder and gauze in my MyMedic first aid kit.
KISSED BY A SERPENT
I’m not scared of snakes but every time I see one my initial thought is “Shit!” as I violently jump in the opposite direction. I have encountered them, infrequently, but I’m always on high alert.
A few years back I was hunting with my buddy. We were on our way back to the truck and I stepped down off a rock. The distinct buzz of a rattlesnakes’ tail erupted next to my foot! I don’t think my feet touched the ground for another ten feet as my two-hundred-pound frame executed an Olympic-level high jump.
Now safely out of the danger zone, my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see the snake. I walked back over to the rock discovered that it had a slight undercut at the base. That was where the snake was, tucked underneath. Now, this is where my brain finally showed some common sense. The snake was tucked so far under the rock I would have to compromise safety to see it. I decided “Screw this” and let it be.
Due to the infrequent nature of seeing a snake, every time I encounter one, I leave it be. I have heard differing points of view on whether to kill the snake to prevent another person or dog from getting hurt. My feeling is that I have ventured into their home. They aren’t actively seeking me out. Encounters are unfortunate and but I feel that my approach of “Leave them alone and they leave me alone” has resulted in my infrequent encounters with them considering how much time I spend in their home.
Every year, I take my dog through rattlesnake aversion training. Also, educate yourself on how to treat rattlesnake bites if you plan on spending time in the hills.
In reality all of these scenarios can be prevented and/or avoided with proper preparation and planning. My DECKED system helps me stay organized and prepared. I am able to store all the needed equipment for emergencies inside the drawers. I leave most all of it in there throughout the year and have experienced many times when something stored inside has come in handy.
When venturing out into the chukar hills remember to always stay calm in an emergency. Losing your head will only make your situation much worse. So have fun and enjoy your ability to chase chukar in the beautiful country they inhabit.