Many years ago when I was in my 20's I had the opportunity to take my brother-in-law Bud on his first deer hunting trip. Bud was 13 and after passing his hunter safety course he was ready to go.
I decided we would go to a place I knew about 45 miles SE of Pocatello,Idaho. The area was between high desert sagebrush and steep mountain timber with lots of small canyons and juniper trees. Should be a perfect spot for a beginner to get his first deer. I parked the pickup,got out my rifle and a couple of extra rounds then slipped on a light windbreaker type jacket. Bud did the same but I had him put a warmer jacket on. My plan was to set him stationary on a point and then I would swing through the brush pushing one to him.
The spot I had picked was only about 3/4 of a mile from the pickup. An easy pack out should he down one. Bud did everything I asked to the letter. I guess he was afraid if he didn't I would call it off. We walked out to the point which ran basically SSE. I set bud so he was facing SW and could see a couple of small canyons easily. At the time we could take a buck or doe, his choice. I told Bud I would be dropping off the bench directly behind him then descend about 150 feet or so then work to my right pushing the deer to him.
The temperature was about 40 degrees, partially sunny with a gentle breeze. But as I turned around to leave Bud I noticed a very dark ominous cloud line several miles away that went from the sky right down to the ground. I watched the cloud line for a few minutes and decided it was stationary and besides how could I call this hunt off? It was Buds first hunt and I was sure we wouldn't be here more than a couple of hours at most. So, I pushed off.
I was raised in SE Montana and knew better than to ignore what I was seeing. Cold fronts like this can move very rapidly and drop temperatures quick. I hadn't gone more than 100 feet when I heard 4 quick shots a pause then the 5th shot. Well, this will work. I returned to Bud and he had done as I instructed. He waited there. He told me a doe had jumped out from behind a juniper tree then ran down hill. He fired as she ran but wasn't sure if he had hit his target or not. I made sure Bud's rifle was empty then told him to return to the pickup and wait for me there. I would walk down into the canyon to check for sign that he had missed or finish what he had started. He was to wait in the pickup until my return.
Bud went walking towards the pickup and I went down into the canyon. I'd been down there about 20 minutes looking things over when the cold front rolled over me like a freight train. Within minutes the temperature dropped and it started snowing hard. I looked around to try to get a quick fix on my position but within a few minutes it was whiteout conditions. I made a quick assessment of what I had. Light jacket, no food or water,half a pack of cigs and half a book of matches. I knew the pickup was only about 3/4 mile away, how hard could it be, right?
I started in the direction of the truck crossing some small canyons thinking I was doing pretty good until I found my own tracks in the snow. Talk about wake up call. By now I had unloaded my rifle carrying it by the sling. My fingers were so cold I had to try to keep them in my pockets. I was starting to shake uncontrollably after a few more minutes. I decided that if I didn't get a fire built soon I would freeze.
I stopped and gathered some small pieces of wood and brush. No gloves, hands are really cold now. When I tried to light a match my hands were so cold that I couldn't feel a thing. I could see my fingers and hands moving but no feeling. Shaking very badly now also.
Suddenly a man steps out from behind a juniper tree I was trying to hide behind and asked me if I was cold. He was dressed in blue jeans and a long sleeve red plaid shirt. My first thought was that guy must be nuts, he must be colder than I am. I said" Sh#@, I'm freezing, help me build a fire". The man walked over to where I was trying to build a fire, rearranged the wood slightly then lit a fire with the last match. As he worked I noticed that he did not shiver or even react to the cold. He had no snow on his clothing like I did, Nor wore a hat. He carefully added wood as needed and built a very fine warming fire. We shared the fire about 10 minutes or so then he stood up and said he has to go. As quietly as he arrived he was gone.
I thought about it a few minutes then decided that there must be a road very near by. The weather laid down by now so I thought I'll just step around this tree and follow the other mans tracts back to the pickup. No tracks anywhere. No roads anywhere. The weather had cleared enough that I was able to climb to the bench area that we came in on and shortly found my way back to the pickup. Bud was patiently waiting for me but said he was worried because of the storm and I'd been gone about three hours. No need to worry Bud, the mountain spirits were taking good care of me.
This is a true story. Some time later I received three versions of what might have happened with the fire. It was explained to me by some medical friends that when we get really cold we can start to see things. I've seen this in action on two different SAR operations. A woman ran from us because she thought we were bad guys and on another mission a small boy hid from us because he thought we were monsters. The second explanation came from some who said that it was my guardian spirit and the third explanation came from some Native American friends that it was a mountain spirit. In any case it was clear I made some gross basic mistakes.
1) Listen to your inner voice. I saw that the weather was going bad but ignored it to show Bud a good time.
2) You can't take off what you didn't bring. I should of had some gloves and other preps with me even though we were so close the the pickup.
3) A quick azimuth back to the pickup would have saved a lot of time and worry.
4) Learn to recognize hypothermia and it's progression. Know when to stop and build a warming fire before it's too late.
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