AT SUNUP on November 20, Shawn Langstaff began walking across a frozen lake in South Dakota’s Waubay Wildlife Refuge toward an island where big bucks were rumored to hang out. About 50 yards from shore, he fell through the ice. Langstaff tells the story:

I went down and the water was way over my head–I didn’t touch bottom. I came up and tried to climb back onto the ice, but it kept breaking off. After a few minutes, everything got real heavy. I slid my rifle onto the ice and let my pack and coat drop off. Undoing my belt, I let the water pull my waders away. Then I put a round in my rifle, pulled the trigger, and started yelling. But it was windy, and I figured nobody could hear me.

I decided to try getting to the island, so I started pulling myself on the ice and letting my weight break it. Sometimes I’d hit it with my elbow. My hands and sides were all cut up, but I was too numb to feel any of it. I did this for a good half hour and got about 20 yards, until I was worn out.

I swam back to my rifle and got one more shot off. By then I could feel my lungs shutting down. I think I blacked out once because I woke up underwater. I pretty much made my peace right then.

A couple of minutes later, four guys appeared. That was the scariest point because they were so close to me but couldn’t help. One started walking into the lake, but his friend pulled him back–he didn’t want the same thing to happen to him. I’d been in the water almost an hour, and I said I was going into shock. They tied their deer drags together, attached a log, and slid it out to me. I put my arm around it, and they pulled me out. On shore, I lost consciousness.

The doctors at the hospital said I shouldn’t be alive. People keep asking if I’m going ice fishing this year. You know the answer. I’m just one of those guys, you fall off a horse, you get back on.