Lights, Camera, Grizzly
Last October, as guide Charles Allen led Cabela's Outfitter Journal host James Gianladis and cameraman Kerry Seay on a grizzly hunt along Alaska's Tsiu River, the group was charged by a bear. Allen tells the story: We had spotted a good boar and were working within range. There was heavy rain and winds of 25 to 30 knots, but Jim made a perfect heart shot with his .375 at 55 yards. The bear went down, got up, Jim shot again, and it went down for good. "There's two more,-¿ said my assistant guide, James Minifie. And 90 yards away was a very agitated sow and cub. The sow was bouncing up and down. She probably couldn't make us out as humans through the storm. I gathered everyone up and we began to move away, off the rise we were on. But she spotted us and immediately began charging. You can see me on the film, yelling "Hey bear!-¿ and waving my hands. I was hoping she'd identify me as human, because these are hunted bears and generally very wary. But at that moment, she locked onto my eyes in a way no bear ever had. I knew she was coming, so I shouldered my .404. She was a blur coming up that rise. There was no doubt in my mind that she was going to kill or seriously maim me and then work her way through all four of us. I shot just as she came up on her hind legs to begin her launch into me, and hit just left of dead center. That rolled her over backward, and she came up facing the other way. She was pretty broken up. She only made it 20 yards before she died. We marked it off, and I shot her at 12 feet. She had a 23-inch skull and was about 9 feet squared. She was 15, which is very old for a bear up here. That .404 is a pre-1964 Model 70 in .375 that was necked up to a .404. I'm shooting 400-grain Sierra soft points-"a lot of recoil. I was going to leave it up here over the winter. But now I'm taking it home to practice. When you get a reminder like this that your life depends on your shooting, it kind of motivates you. -"as told to Bill Heavey. Field & Stream Online Editors
Sneak Attack
At age 66, fishing guide Sam Crutchfield had been wading Florida’s Lake Istokpoga in Highland County without incident all his life. But on April 24, out flyfishing for panfish with a friend, he encountered one of the meanest things in the water. Crutchfield tells the story: We were wading and taking turns pulling the little flats boat. Neither of us had had a bite in three hours. I was in a spot just over my waist, and my partner had the boat about 300 yards away. I’d just made a cast when something slammed into me. I never saw him, just felt his teeth dig into my hip and I knew exactly what he was. The force of the hit knocked me hard, almost off my feet, and I thought for sure I was going under. A gator doesn’t kill by biting, you know. He drags you down, does his death roll, drowns you, and then stashes his prey someplace where it won’t float up until it’s nice and rotten. I didn’t have time to think. I punched down with my right fist as hard as I could. I think I got him near the eye. He let go, and I started yelling and struggling toward the boat. My partner thought I’d just caught a big fish, so he kept fishing. This was the most terrifying part—I was in up to my chest, and I was sure that gator was coming back to finish me off. It felt like years getting to the boat. From the bite marks, they think the gator was 10 to 12 feet. The Fish and Game guys couldn’t trap him because when they looked, they found 100 gators in that range. Which tells you why there weren’t any fish. I had a huge bruise, and they put me on heavy-duty antibiotics for a few weeks. I still wade-fish, but I keep the boat a little closer.
—As told to Bill Heavey Field & Stream Online Editors
One Lucky Dolphin
Only Larry Csonka could come out of a life-and-death situation with enough energy left to sign autographs. On the football field, Larry Csonka withstood years of pounding to help carry the Miami Dolphins to three consecutive Super Bowls. But last September, the Bering Sea accomplished what none of his gridiron foes could. As a boat carrying the NFL Hall of Famer attempted to gain harbor in Alaska’s West Aleutians, gale-driven 20-foot seas pounded the champion fullback and his crew into puking, semiconscious hulks. Csonka, 58, has a lively second career as the host of OLN’s North to Alaska. Over the Labor Day weekend, he and his team were in the village of Nikolski on Umnak Island, rushing before the onslaught of the seasonal storms to film a reindeer hunt at the island’s north end, reachable only by boat. Csonka’s crew—including executive producer Audrey Bradshaw, soundman Rich Larsen, cameraman John Dietrich, hunting guide Tom McCay, and Dwight Johnson, captain of the 27-foot Augusta D—estimated that they had a seven-hour window for the hunt before the storm would hit. After an uneventful three-hour boat ride to the reindeer grounds, a number of delays closed that window pretty quickly. Csonka’s decision to go for a larger reindeer meant a longer hike to get to it, and after packing out the meat, Csonka and McCay decided that McCay should go back for the antlers. It was getting dark by the time they were back on the boat. “It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback,” Csonka says, “but the mistake was that we didn’t drop anchor in behind the mountains where we were. That predicated itself on another mistake, which was that we stayed too late in a place where we couldn’t see into the bay, where 14- to 16-foot waves were building. By the time we poked our nose out, it was dark and the storm was on us. Then we couldn’t get back into the mousehole we’d crawled out of.” They had no choice but to go into the teeth of the gale. Three hours later, and just 3 miles from safe haven back in Nikolski, the Augusta D’s bow began submarining, meaning she’d crash down the back of a wave but couldn’t ride up the next. A couple of rogue 20-footers spun the boat broadside in what Csonka describes as “whirligigs.” Johnson had to let the storm take control of the boat in an effort to avoid capsizing. The long-range radio antenna had been lost, so they couldn’t contact the Coast Guard 600 miles away in Kodiak. The Augusta D required just a touch more bad luck for everybody in it to die. After letting the storm turn the boat, Johnson ordered his seasick passengers to put on heavy-neoprene survival suits. The Augusta D’s only lifeline was the short-range antenna, which could reach the lodge in Nikolski. Its manager began relaying the boat’s GPS reading every 15 minutes to the Coast Guard. A rescue team set out from Kodiak, but it was a 10-hour flight. Csonka and his mates had to fend for themselves for the night. By the next morning, the storm had subsided to 10-foot swells, calm enough for a basket to be lowered from a helicopter to rescue them. A Coast Guard chopper arrived after 9 A.M. The diver landed on the boat and had the crew bundled off within 45 minutes. Mindful of the Hall of Famer they had on board, the Coast Guard team presented Csonka with a football. The metaphor was unavoidable: Csonka had, yet again, run the gauntlet. It was the game ball. He signed it then and there: Thanks for pulling my ass out of the sea. Larry Csonka. #39. Field & Stream Online Editors
Cat Attack
Last April, Nevada turkey hunters Tom Bird, 54, and his son, Ryan, 35, were nodding off after four hours without a bird, when a 125-pound mountain lion passed within arm’s length, pounced on their decoys, then charged the hunters. Tom tells the story: We were hunting on Mason Valley Wildlife Refuge, and we’d set up side-by-side against this huge cottonwood tree. It’s real brushy country. The only opening was ahead of us, where the turkeys crossed. We had decoys out and were wearing Scent-Lok, which is what we always hunt in. Ryan had a turkey tag, but I didn’t. Funny thing was that I actually had a lion tag in my pocket. I’d been hunting them hard this year but hadn’t gotten one. By 10 A.M. we were dozing off when Ryan saw movement. And I did, too. It was the flicker of an ear, 3 feet off Ryan’s left shoulder. This lion launched into a dead run and got to the dekes, 30 feet away, in two leaps. I don’t think I even got the gun up to my shoulder. I fired, trying to scare it. As soon as I did, it turned and charged straight at us. You can’t believe how fast that cat moved. I fired again—I still probably didn’t have the gun up to my shoulder. I’ve run it through my mind a hundred times, but the whole thing was over in four seconds. I was looking right in his eyes, and I’m convinced he would have made short work of us. That second shot caught him in the left side of his throat and dropped him like a rock 8 feet away. Now, we think we might have stumbled on a better way to hunt lions. We’ll use a blind, Scent-Lok, and some predator calls. But I tell you what: We’re gonna sit back-to-back from now on. —As told to Bill Heavey Field & Stream Online Editors
Dead on the Water
Three and a half miles  off Juno Beach, Fla., Rich Jarrach and his friends Jason Hearst, Sean Moller, and David Vega were chasing kingfish when a leak in the live-well intake line shorted all the electronics on board, then sank the boat in 30-knot winds. Jarrach tells the story: We’d been fishing for an hour when the sardines in the live well started to die. It sounded like there was a problem with the pump, so we decided to head in. But then the motor stalled. I opened the hatch to the battery compartment and there was about 10 inches of water in there. Then I checked the center console and the water was waist-high. The bilge wasn’t working. No VHF radio. Nothing. I called my brother on my cell, and then I lost service. We were dead on the water. We drifted east, and the seas went from 3- to 5-foot whitecaps to 7- to 9-foot pounders. We couldn’t bail quickly enough. After an hour, we were leaning heavily to one side when a big wave came and boom—the boat flipped. I climbed onto the motor, and Jay was clinging to the bow like Spiderman. Dave’s life preserver had blown overboard earlier, so he grabbed a bumper. Sean was hanging on to the hull, but he kept sliding off. For about an hour and a half, we got crushed by waves, and we puked a lot of seawater. My hands were bleeding from the prop, but I couldn’t even worry about sharks. Finally, between the troughs, I saw a tuna tower and a man waving. By then, we’d drifted 7 miles offshore into 300 feet of water. If that captain hadn’t spotted us, we would’ve just kept going. It’s funny—his boat was called the Shamrock. —As told to Catherine DiBenedetto Field & Stream Online Editors
Midnight Rescue
Last October, when 85-year-old Greg Tagarook failed to return from a caribou hunt outside Wainwright, Alaska, his 25-year-old grandnephew Benjamin and two friends tracked the elder 20 miles across the frozen tundra. Benjamin tells the story: I’d been listening to the dispatches of the search-and-rescue crews on my VHF radio all night. By midnight, they still hadn’t found him. So my younger cousin Jerry Ahmaogak and my friend AJ Driggs and I set out ourselves. We’d heard that someone had seen him earlier crossing a lagoon, so we went that way on our snowmachines, looking for his tracks. We found his machine tipped over about 14 miles from town, and we started following his footprints. He was headed straight to Wainwright, navigating by the stars. At first we could see his tracks easily because it was the first snow, but after 2 miles, his prints mixed with thousands of caribou tracks and it got much harder. One of us would stay at the last found footprint and the others would go find the next one. After a while, we could see that he’d started to crawl. Then the wind started blowing snow, and we couldn’t see a thing. When we found him at 4:30, he was almost dead, frozen. His entire face was white. We radioed our location to the rescue crew, put our parkas on him, and lay down next to him and on top. It was 10, 20 below. When the crew came after two hours, I got in a sleeping bag with him and they pulled us home. He was in the hospital for a week, but these days he’s back to normal. —As told to Catherine DiBenedetto Field & Stream Online Editors
Deep Trouble
After a long, hot Sunday of squirrel hunting along Tennessee’s Loosahatchie River last June, 50-year-old Anthony Hawes walked to the water’s edge to splash some water on his face. That’s when he almost died. I was standing by an old tree on the bank about 2,000 feet off the road. I stepped back to turn around and my foot sank into the mud. I tried to pull it out, but I started losing my balance, so I stepped back with the other foot. Then that one started sinking too, and I realized, I’m going down. After 15 minutes of struggling, I was up to my waist in this oily, silty mud. I felt like my shirt might be pulling me down more, so I yanked it off and threw it in front of me. It was in the mid-90s, and the sun was still beating down hard. The mosquitoes and horseflies started eating me alive, so I sort of lay back to get some mud on me for protection. But when I tried to raise back up, I went in even deeper. Soon it was all the way up to my neck, and I was holding onto a piece of that tree. I started praying. Four-wheelers were coming by, but they couldn’t see or hear me. At dark, a big water moccasin swam past and came out on the bank not 2 feet away, just staring at me. He finally left. It rained that night, and I was terrified because I knew that if the river rose I’d drown. By the next morning I was delirious. The sun was beating down on me, no food or water, no blood-pressure medication, heat exhaustion, and those flies eating on me every second. If there’s a living hell on this earth, I was in it. Finally that afternoon, God sent me an angel. He was a Cambodian man named Sowann Chea, who came down to fish with two friends. He asked me to pray with him, and I did, while one of his friends went to get help. In the end, it took 12 firemen to dig me out, using ladders and harnesses and all kinds of equipment. They finally carried me on a stretcher up to a truck. A news reporter lady there asked, “Mr. Hawes, are you okay?” I gave a thumbs-up, and that’s when everybody started clapping. —As told to Bill Heavey Field & Stream Online Editors
Dog vs. Dog
Last may, hunting guide Scott Richards and friend Bryon Dunlap were training their bear dogs in central Idaho when a pack of wolves attacked. Richards tells the story:
We were driving to the other side of the canyon, where the dogs had treed a bear. We could hear them barking 400 yards away, but by the time we got there, it was dead quiet. We turned off the truck and listened. There was a weird bark that didn’t sound like any of our dogs, then a yelp that I knew came from one of mine. Bryon jumped out and ran down one ridge, and I ran down the other. Through the timber I spotted a huge black wolf on top of my Blackey 12 feet away. I started screaming, and I grabbed a big stick and swung hard, but the tip hit a tree. When the wolf heard that crack, he dropped my dog and lunged at me. I turned to run uphill, so I couldn’t see what happened next, but I heard. Blackey started barking like crazy, and I realized, That dog is attacking the wolf. He was trying to save my life. This whole time, Bryon had three wolves on him and his two dogs, and he was fighting for his life with a stick. I ran back up to the truck to get my firearm and the tracking box. When I turned around Bryon was in my face, screaming, “We got wolves! We got wolves!” I tuned into the missing dogs: Lady, then Blackey, then Halley. If a dog is motionless for five minutes, the box beeps just once every four seconds. It was the same for each one. I looked up and said, “They’re all dead.” I just about lost it. The guilt I feel for leaving my dog, people can’t understand. I was still tuned into Halley, and suddenly the beeps came a little faster. I started running toward her; I thought the wolves would be dragging her off, but she was alive. Bryon wrapped her in his shirt, and we took her to the vet, who stitched her back together. She’s been sleeping in my house ever since, and she always will. —as told to Catherine Dibenedetto Field & Stream Online Editors