Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woods? | Field & Stream

The Gun Nuts

Ranting and Ravings from Phil Bourjaily and David E. Petzal

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woods?

Photo by John Hafner

Lots of people, as it turns out. A native Montanan, with whom I was hunting and who had a sense of direction like a GPS, once told me: “I love these mountains [the Bangtails] but they scare the hell out of me.”

John Knowles, an African PH, said that it was not uncommon for clients to cancel in mid-safari because they became afraid of getting lost, or of the lions who groaned and roared in the night outside the camp boma (thorn fence). Knowles himself was petrified of elephants because he had come within inches of being killed by one.

There was the hunter I met in New Mexico who forced his horse to carry a Navy immersion suit so he wouldn’t freeze to death if he got turned around.

Ted Trueblood liked the wilderness because it enabled him to ponder the stars in the sky and contemplate his own complete insignificance.

A South African, whom I met in New Zealand, said the same thing: “The reason you hunt is not to shoot some poor animal. You do it so you can stand alone in the wild and realize how little your life matters.”

Once, I got in a conversation with a mountain climber about how he got in shape to make those summits. “I don’t climb anymore,” he said, “I started out a decade ago with half a dozen friends and every one of them has been killed. I took the hint.”

Fear is the Tabasco Sauce of life. That’s why we go to horror movies and Hillary Clinton rallies. But fear is also a sign of respect. You don’t have to be fighting to control your sphincters when you set off into nature, but if, in the back of your mind there is a very small alarm buzzer beeping away, that’s only good sense.

Most of the people I know who have gone afield and not come back have died because of incredible bad luck, or because of the Cascade of Errors, or because they gave up way too soon. The first is beyond your control. When your time is up, it’s up. The second can be prevented by not doing Dumb S**t. The third can be dealt with by refusing to quit no matter what.

The rest you have to keep in perspective. The odds on your getting lost in Africa provided you don’t wander off by yourself are nil. The odds on a lion actually jumping a thorn fence are zero. The odds on your getting killed if you climb mountains seriously are excellent. So are the odds on cashing in if you’re ignorant, unskilled, and rash. As John Wayne is supposed to have said, “Life’s tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.”

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