Petzal: Pick Your Hunting Partners Carefully

In a book on primitive man that I re-read from time to time, it says that a single man alone in the wilderness is lucky if he survives more than a year. Without help around, something will do him in. (On the other hand, five people can last for 30 years.) This same rule was echoed by a guide who operated out of Anchorage: "Don't ever hunt alone in this state."

A decade and a half ago I was hunting caribou in northern Quebec with a young guide whose name I've forgotten, but who was only 19 and tough. I had shot a caribou and we were on our way back to the boat, him carrying a tumpline pack that probably weighed 150 pounds. Not far from the boat he stepped into a bog hole and immediately sank up to his neck. That was as far down as he went, but he was in big trouble. I eased out on the bog on my belly, and we wrestled him out of the pack. Without that nailing him in place he was able to wiggle free of his boots, and then between the two of us, we got him clear of the mud. But if it had been just him, alone?

The other incident came to me via a Montana outfitter. A friend of his, a cowboy of extraordinary skill, ran a trapline during the winter. One day, for reasons that will never be known, he lost his seat in the saddle. One foot hooked in a stirrup, and his horse walked 25 miles back to his ranch, dragging him slowly to death. If there had been someone else around, he might have escaped with nothing more than some bruises and a good headache.

Pick your friends carefully if you go into real wilderness, and take them along.