Survival: Close Encounters Of The Wrong Kind

One thing is for certain — if you hunt in the mountains long enough, you’ll have some good, bad and ugly things happen to you.

Over the past two decades of extensive bowhunting in high, wild places I’ve certainly had a potpourri of experiences. I’d like to relate the story of an adventure that I had in the wilderness of New Mexico.

I’ve spent an extensive amount of time in the mountains for 12-plus years. I was experienced, geared up and mentally and physically tough. It was nothing for me to take off into the wilderness by myself for a week or two at a time. I was young, gung-ho and lived my outdoor life from the “no pain, no gain” mentality. I was intimidated by nothing, and had developed a “10 feet tall and bulletproof” impression of myself. Cocky?… certainly … stupid?… definitely! Ever heard this saying? … “pride goes before a fall.”

Author looking over a topo map — a necessity on any mountain excursion.

September found me deep in the Gila Wilderness of southwestern New Mexico bowhunting elk. The weather was mild, the elk were rutting and I was hot-to-trot wanting to kill a big bull. Setting out early one morning for a one-half-day hunt, I had no idea what the day had in store.

Weather Change Rapidly
By mid-morning, I was about three miles from my base camp, and about 2,000 vertical feet below it. The sky was starting to look threatening so I figured I’d better head back since I’d neglected to put my rain jacket in my Badlands fanny pack. Also, I was really getting hungry and thirsty since I’d not brought any water or snacks either. Soon after I started toward my distant camp, the skies opened up and poured rain and sleet.

Huddling under the best cover I could find, I was soon soaked and cold. The air temperature had dropped probably 20 degrees, and even though it wasn’t really cold (probably low 50s), it seemed so because of my wet clothes, a brisk breeze, and my lack of recent caloric intake.

As I continued to climb, it soon became very apparent that I was in a bind. I was getting run-down fast, and it was still a long ways to camp. I didn’t have anything with me to start a fire with so I couldn’t stop and warm up. Also, I knew it would be dark in a couple of hours and I had to make camp. If I didn’t, things were going to go from bad to worse.

The author and his bivouac sleeping bag. Not being prepared nearly cost the author his life on a hunt in New Mexico.

Stumbling uphill a short distance at a time, I seemed to be in a dream world. I was so cold that I plainly remember when I reached a point where it didn’t seem cold anymore. I knew I was in serious trouble. Pulling from deep down inside, I was determined to not give up. I decided to walk until I fell over, or got to camp, whichever came first.

Life Or Death Condition
It was starting to get dark and for the first time in my life I stared death straight in the face. I positively knew that I could not survive through the night — I can’t explain the feeling. Still today, when I remember the reality of that moment, it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

I don’t remember a lot of the remaining minutes of the evening. Just as darkness settled in completely, I stumbled onto my tent. I was shaking so violently that I couldn’t light my backpacking stove. Stripping down, I climbed into my sleeping bag and lost consciousness. Sometime in the night I awoke, not as cold, yet still in a sad state of affairs. Crawling out of the tent I knew that my stomach was full of poison and that I was going to be sick. When done, I grabbed a water bottle, drank my fill, and fell back into the tent and into my bag.

I remember waking up to bright sunshine — it had never looked, or felt, better. I’d thought it impossible for super-Eddie to humbled, but he had. I was just glad to still be in the game called LIFE!

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One Response to “Survival: Close Encounters Of The Wrong Kind”

  1. Robert

    Glad to hear you survived….Personally, I’d prefer to carry extra gear “every” time I leave camp ,even for a short couple hour hike…Good weight, Bad weight…I’ll take extra…just a 1-2 lbs in that scenario..would have make a huge difference….