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A Cold Night In The Woods

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A Cold Night In The Woods

Here's a story from Rom Schumlick, honorable mention in the 2012 Global Rescue Story Contest - "A Cold Night In The Woods" Enjoy!

A Cold Night In The Woods
by Ron Schumlick

My story is true, and it starts on a cold day in November, 2011 when I took Jim, a client of mine, into a remote part of my whitetail hunting area that is only accessible in the latter part of November. Due to the muskeg and creeks you have to cross to get into this area, I seldom see another hunter. My whitetail/black bear hunting area is in Saskatchewan, some three hours north of Saskatoon.

Jim is ex-military. He lives in Alabama and has come hunting with us for the past seven years or more. Like most of our hunters, Jim likes to get back into the "boonies." He would stand on his head to get a big buck, or as he puts it, a "big'un." He has hunted various parts of the US and Alberta but he still returns to hunt with us.

On our way to the stand that day in 2011, I told Jim about a giant buck I'd seen on a trail cam near the stand we were heading toward that morning. We were going into the area on quads (four wheelers). We like to use two quads in case one breaks down. During the trip, Jim got a bit of a chill so he asked if I could light his heater in the blind before I left. "You don't have any matches? I asked. That is one of the items we put on our Things-to-Bring list. When he said he didn't, I gave him my Bic lighter and told him to keep it in case he needed it.

His ground blind tent was tucked under a huge spruce tree and camouflaged with spruce limbs. It overlooked a draw connecting two large areas full of bushes that showed lots of deer traffic. After making sure Jim was settled, and after hiding his quad, I headed for the open muskeg and back toward the lodge.

Sunrise that morning was beautiful and the warmth from the rising sun was nothing short of wonderful. That, plus the silence and tranquility of the north, made me realize how lucky I was to be doing what I did for a living. Muskeg in my part of the world is always a little warmer than the air, which causes a low fog to form across it. The fog was spectacular-looking that morning against the rising sun.

I have a habit of always looking around carefully when I'm traveling through the woods since you never know what you might see. At one point, I noticed a set of ears sticking out of the fog and slightly above the low-lying willow bushes off to my right. Thinking it might be a young deer, I stood up on the running boards of my quad to get a better look. That's when I realized what I was looking at was a large timber wolf that was feasting on a deer kill. He glared back at me with his amber, almost-red eyes as if to say "This is mine." I didn't want to disturb him because Jim's blind was only two miles away as the crow flies. If I disturbed the wolf, I reasoned, it might end up hunting close to the blind and scaring any deer off.

I headed back to the lodge for some hot lunch and to do some chores around camp. We have to haul in water and wood for the lodge. We use the latter for heat since we don't have the convenience of natural gas. Our lodge is new and boosts 14 bedrooms along with six shower/bathrooms.

Darkness falls early in the north, so I try to pick hunters up by around 5 pm. It was about an hour's ride by four wheeler to pick Jim up and I wanted to clean some trails and check trail cams on the way, so I decided to leave at 3 pm. Before I left, I hooked a seven-foot trailer behind my ATV in case Jim had been lucky and there was a buck to put in it.

It had snowed overnight, so the four wheeler had to work a little harder than usual to pull the trailer through some of the deep drifts. A few of the stands hadn't been used yet, so there wasn't a broken trail to follow. Soon, I could smell the faint odor of burning rubber. I knew the belt on my four wheeler was feeling the stress, so I decided to forget checking stands and head directly to pick up Jim. Darkness fell quickly. As I came on to the muskeg, all I could do was follow my tracks from the morning. Then, suddenly, not far from where the wolf had his kill, it happened: bang, bang, bang! My belt broke.

After coming to a sudden halt, I hopped off my four wheeler to assess the damage. I knew I had a spare belt in my carry case and also some tools. A four wheeler isn't like a snow machine, however, that is constructed so you can lift the hood and expose the belt. There are many screws that have to be removed on an ATV before the cowl can be lifted off, which is necessary if you are going to change the belt. I took out my tool pack to find a spark plug wrench, star screw driver, pliers, starting rope and gas line anti freeze. Upon examining the cowl cover that had to be removed, I found ice had built up on the screws so thick they were nowhere to be found.

The wind was starting to pick up by then, sweeping fog in across the muskeg. The odd snow flake was falling, too, reducing visibility even more. What do I do? Should I try to walk to Jim's blind in the dark? It was about two miles away through the bush, or four miles if I followed the four wheeler trail. The walk back to camp was six miles, too far in the dark. Just sit and think. Stay cool, I told myself. Don't panic. Pretty soon, one of the other guides will figure out something is wrong and come to your rescue. They should be back at the lodge soon after picking up their hunters. I knew Jim would be all right in the tent with a heater and flashlight. In fact, he had occasionally suggested that he could stay in the tent overnight to get a very early start.

It is terribly dark in the north country when there is no moon or stars in the sky. It is not a wise idea to start walking in conditions like that. The last time I was stranded and walked 12 kilometers to camp, my wife scolded me for that. It was best I build a fire and stay put. Yup, you guessed it. No Bic lighter. I had left that for Jim and, during chores at camp, had not picked up another one, never expecting I would need a lighter that night.

By that time, the wind had picked up considerably so I unhooked the trailer and flipped it over to make myself a shelter. Next, I had to make a fire. I had gas and a spark plug, so took the spark plug out of the four wheeler. Nearby, with the help of a headlamp, I found a willow bush and gathered a bunch of twigs. I dipped a dry twig into the gas tank and held it against the end of the spark plug. When I turned the motor over, a spark jumped across the gap in the spark plug. Instantly, I had a giant match sufficient to set the nest of dry twigs alight. I had to hurry to get more sticks before they burned up. Soon, I had a warm fire going.

I sat quietly by it and started reminiscing about the days I would sit by a fire with my dad on the farm. It was very peaceful sitting there by the fire, and I almost dozed off once only to imagine hearing my dad's voice say, "Don't fall asleep or you'll freeze!" That jerked me to attention immediately.

At that point, I thought I heard dogs barking and fighting. But when I strained to hear what was going on over the wind, I realized the barking was not being done by dogs. It was the wolves fighting over the deer they had been feasting on earlier that day. How far away were they? They sounded closer each time I heard them. In Saskatchewan, guides are not allowed to carry weapons because the guys behind the desks who make the rules say we don't need to carry a weapon in our area.

The time seemed to drag after that. I knew my son, Mark, and the other guides would be back at the lodge soon. They and especially my wife would be missing me. She liked to serve meals hot, and I was usually back at camp before the other guides .

I began to check my watch more frequently. Soon, it was 10 pm. At one point, I thought I heard a four wheeler, but it must have been only the wind. The wind had picked up so strongly by then I could no longer hear the wolves at all. I kept low behind the trailer and used my stock pile of wood sparingly since I didn't relish walking too far from the fire with wolves close by. I'd never had a problem with wolves but I have heard some stories of wolf attacks.

I kept peeking over the wall of the trailer hoping to see lights of rescue. Suddenly, as if the heavens opened, a light appeared, then another, and here came two quads as we say "hell bent for election." I don't know what that's supposed to mean but I think it means FAST. No sooner had I seen the lights than I heard my son's voice, "You ok, dad?? The trailer on its side gave him the impression something had gone bad. "I'm ok", I replied. "I'm sure glad to see you and Ed, though." "We'd better get Jim."

Mark said, "Ed and you can double. Let's go get Jim."

I promptly jumped on with Ed and we followed Mark. I knew Jim had a four wheeler by his stand and I thought I should bring it back to camp. Jim didn't like to drive in the dark. He could double with Mark. We soon arrived at Jim's tent blind and he came out quite relaxed and said something to the effect, "You forgot me." With that, he gave me the finger (the bird, we call it) and hopped on the back of Mark's four wheeler. That hurt. We tell our hunters that we might be late sometimes if we're tracking a deer or helping another guide or whatever. Just don't panic because we will pick you up eventually.

The ride back to camp seemed long. Mark was in the lead with Jim on the back. I was in the middle and Ed was picking up the rear as we passed my broken-down quad. At that point, I think Jim realized what happened because he gave me a thumbs-up sign. When we pulled into camp, Jim went directly into the house. Ed and I put the four wheelers away, then came in to the house to a huge applause from the other hunters and guides and from my wife who were all worried about us. The applause sure made me feel good.

After a hot shower, Jim joined us for dinner where he learned the whole story and came to understand why I was late to pick him up. The next day Mark and I took Jim back to the same stand with more tools and a torch to unthaw the cowl. While I drove Jim to his tent blind, Mark stayed behind to work on the four wheeler. He had it mostly repaired by the time I returned.

The time by then was 2 pm. I heard Jim shoot so I headed back to get him, hoping he had taken a good buck. When I reached Jim's tent, he was walking around it a little frustrated but happy. "I shot the wrong one", he said. Oh, man, I thought, this is going from bad to worse. "Let's go look", I said.

As we walked down the draw, Jim explained where the big one had emerged. He then went on to explain how the big buck had chased another smaller buck off. Then, momentarily, both deer returned, the big buck chasing the smaller one, he said. By mistake, Jim said he wound up shooting the smaller one.

When we arrived at the deer he had shot, I looked at it and thought to myself, "I'd shoot that deer in a heartbeat." I'm not a trophy hunter, however, so I decided to withhold judgment until Mark took a look. He is a better judge of deer than I am. It took some lifting and considerable grunting for Jim and me to load the buck into the ATV trailer. Our deer reach weights of 300 pounds and more. The deer loaded, the two of us headed back to pick up Mark. The expression that came onto Mark's face said it all: Jim's deer was a "big'un."

Back to camp finally, we took pictures and skinned out the buck while Mark scored him. Mark is a certified Buckmasters scorer. By then, some of the other hunters had arrived, and they were anxious to hear what it scored. Jim paced nervously outside the skinning shack waiting for Mark to finish adding up the score of all the points and spread. That done, Mark turned to Jim and the rest of us and asked, "what do you think he scored??" Then, with a smirk that only his father can recognize, he said, "I'm a little disappointed at the spread. It looks bigger than it measures."

At that, Jim's smile vanished. "Shit, I shot the wrong one", he complained.

"Yeah", Mark said. "This one only scored 204 3/8."

We were all happy for Jim to hear how high his buck had scored. The news and our reaction to it left him looking like he had just won the lottery.

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