Close Call: Surviving a 600-ft Fall Down a Mountain

Sam Euker, 25, was elk hunting near Dillon, Mont., last October when he lost his footing and tumbled 600 feet down the side of a mountain. He tells the story here.

It was the first day of the Montana elk season. My friend Paul Lacey and I hiked 5 miles together before lunch, then decided to split up. I dropped down into the valley, where I’d heard bugling earlier, and was rewarded with a shot at a big bull around 2 p.m. I circled down the ridge and found my 5-pointer on a steep slope—it was a tough spot to dress him out, so it was two hours before I tied the antlers to my pack and set off to find Paul.

By then, I was worn out and thirsty, having drunk my two bottles of water earlier in the day. But I was eager to tell Paul about my elk and made a plan to march straight up the slope, rather than follow the long looping path I’d taken down.

I started strong but then I began to feel dizzy. I stopped every five minutes to catch my breath. I was close to the top of the ridge when I stepped on a large rock and slipped. I fell onto my stomach and started rolling fast over loose rocks and boulders toward a 10-foot drop. I tried to slow myself down before I flew off, hit the ground, and blacked out. When I came to, my body was still tumbling downhill. The last thing I saw before I blacked out again was my rifle flying through the air above me.

I came to about 20 yards away from my elk. I tried to stand up and knew instantly that my ankle was broken. I felt blood running down my face and neck. I was in pretty big trouble. Somehow, I’d lost or broken everything but my cellphone—and I had service. I called Paul, who was at my side in 15 minutes. He freaked out when he saw that parts of my skull were exposed, but quickly called 911 and built a fire.

At 2 a.m., the local search-and-rescue squad found us. They put me in a sleeping bag and bandaged my head and ankle. At first light, they moved me to level ground, and a few hours later a helicopter flew me to Idaho Falls for treatment.

My stitches have healed, but rehabbing my ankle has been a long process. I never should have attempted that climb. I could have easily gone the long way and would have been in no danger. —As told to Jed Portman

From the August 2012 issue of Field & Stream

Photo by Beaverhead Search and Rescue, Dillon, Mont.