I guess if I am going to do some writing about hunting that I may as well start at the beginning...
I was 6 years old, the ground beneath my butt was cold. I was sitting alone on the bank of the Snake River in Idaho. If I recall correctly, I was actually just above the high water mark. There was a man yelling on the other side of the river. Being young, it was hard to make out what he had said at first, so he repeated himself... "What was that? An hour? At least?" I am not sure if I was shivering because I was cold, or because I was scared. It is hard enough to get a 6 year old to stay put for any length of time, let alone when they are all alone, cold, and scared.
I had begged my Uncle Mike, who has been my hunting buddy and mentor my entire life, to take me hunting. He spends most of his hunting time each year chasing birds, waterfowl and turkeys primarily. When I was somewhere between 4 and 5 years old I would hide in the juniper bushes at my grandparent's house (now my house, some 25 years later). I would hide there and be as quiet and still as I could, trying to show my Uncle how well I could hide so that he would someday take me hunting with him.
My enthusiasm eventually earned me a spot carrying decoys, and at one point even sitting inside of a huge oversized goose shell, in order to add some movement to our spread. The whole time I was worried he or his hunting buddies would mistake me for a goose. We only experimented with this once. The enthusiasm also earned me opportunities to play the role of dog handler. There was one hunt early in my career where I was walking my Uncle's dog Bear, a lab-springer mix. Mike jumped some ducks and Bear took off running full speed at the sound of the shots, leash still in my hand. I ate dirt. Years later, I got through hunter education, and what seemed like an eternity of waiting before I was able to carry a firearm into the field in pursuit of game at the ripe old age of 12.
The mishaps and setbacks of the first trip or any of the trips we took as I grew older did nothing to dampen my resolve to be a hunter. Problems and challenges only added to the adventure. That first trip though, stands out in my mind as far as predicaments are concerned. Our day had been okay, I think 7 or 8 mallards in total between my Uncle and his longtime hunting partner Roger. It was mid-December and we were hunting in an area of the Snake River that my Uncle has always referred to as the Prehistoric Area. He said that this title was due to the way that the frost and ice covered trees would look in the fog during winter. As a kid, whenever we were on The Snake, I always imagined George Washington crossing the Delaware River filled with ice during the early days of The American Revolution. This area of The Snake covers a few miles of river where we still hunt to this day. We haven't hunted much from the boat in a few years, but we used to use it a lot to get to a particular spot called the Keyhole, which is where we were hunting that day. The area has a little island just upstream from where we set up. We parked the boat upstream just beyond that island, out of sight from our setup.
The water level of The Snake here is subject to CJ Strike Dam. In the morning, water is let out of the reservoir and the river level rises, in the afternoon after they have stopped releasing water, the level of the river goes down. The water was so low that morning that once the boat was pulled up to the shore its rope to tie the boat up was not long enough to reach any sturdy trees. Instead of dragging the boat farther up the shore Mike and Roger decided to check on the boat periodically as the water level was rising, to make sure it was okay, pull it up farther if need be, and tie it up if the water rose high enough to allow for it. I can only imagine the profanity that must have been unleashed when my Uncle got to where the boat was supposed to be. The damn thing was gone. The weather that day had been threatening to storm, and there was a fair amount of wind. The boat hadn't floated downstream hardly at all. Mike's suspicion was that a big wind gust had pushed it almost directly to the other side. At the time though, why didn't matter much, what mattered was getting the boat, ourselves, and all our gear back to the truck safely. Roger had gone upstream to try to hunt there, and he was unaware of the situation, so this burden ended up falling on my Uncle.
While contemplating what to do, my Uncle noticed some hunters on the other side of the river, he managed to recruit one of them to help. This hunter unfortunately had a hell of a time getting the boat started. It seemed like forever before we heard the start of the engine, but the sound of it was a relief. The guy was bringing our boat back. We were going to be fine. When the helpful hunter, who incidentally only had one arm, got to our side my Uncle promptly offered to give him a ride back. What my Uncle didn't realize was that when the other hunter was having a hard time starting the engine, that it may have been due to the fact that the tie down rope had become tangled in the propeller. Leaving me on the side where we were hunting, my Uncle returned the hunter to his side, and when he got across, the engine failed again. Mike soon realized that the propeller had become tangled in the rope and the severity of the issue set in. What was supposed to be a quick trip, across and right back would not be so. After working for a while trying to mitigate the situation my Uncle resolved to take the boat back to the truck and drive around to pick up Roger and me. Roger was still unaware of what was going on. My Uncle shouted across the river to me that he estimated all of this to take him at least an hour.
So, there I was, alone, a bit worried that my Uncle would not get back before dark, hoping that maybe Roger would show up and I wouldn't be alone the whole time my Uncle was gone. The truth is that this situation wouldn't have been a big deal a few years later. But I was 6, I was little. It was December, and it was cold. For some reason, I was worried about coyotes, I think it was because that was the only predator that I knew was in the area. Every dog bark I heard while my Uncle was gone, to my mind was a coyote. I guess it is a good thing I did not know that there are mountain lions up and down that area of The Snake too. My Uncle had told me not to move, but to stay put and wait. So I did what I was told. It was probably only 45 minutes later that I heard some rustling in the sage brush upstream from me, seconds later out came Bear, my Uncle's dog. She bounded my way, excited to see me, and Mike followed shortly after.
No coyotes. No hypothermia. We found Roger a while later, told him the story, and then started for home. We stopped to get a quick bite at the gas station, Mike and Roger grabbed me a chocolate milk and some doughnuts. Of course, what can go wrong, will go wrong. On the way home the truck got a flat tire. Uncle Mike and Roger had to fix it in the snow and the dark... I got home much later than had been advertised, my Uncle instructed me not to inform my mother of what happened to the boat. My mother says that I couldn't contain my excitement and told her the whole story straight away, though I thought that I hadn't told her until a few years later. Either way, she let me continue hunting with my Uncle despite what had happened. If I still wanted to go hunting after having been left alone like that my first time out, I think she had her doubts about being able to stop me.
My Uncle has carried extra rope on the boat ever since. As I became an adult, I have invested quite a bit of time, money and training into contingency planning for our hunts. This hunt is just one example that things can go wrong and it is best to be, at least somewhat prepared for it. I said earlier that as a kid, the challenges and setbacks added to the adventure. Being an adult it is often very difficult to even pretend to have that attitude, just ask my wife about our recent vacation. That said, this hunt started a lifetime of adventures; chasing ducks, calling turkeys, training dogs and conversing with bears. Despite the things that went wrong, the lesson is that lifelong memories aren't always made when or because everything goes "right".
Stay tuned. Good luck. Be Safe