Fred Eichler's Narrow Escapes
April 21, 2016
The sow charged us with amazing speed, her ears laid back and mouth wide open. We all froze in fear. The Alaskan brown bear was just doing her job, trying to protect cubs she thought were in danger, but it was quite the harrowing experience for myself and the three others floating down a small river.
We had just rounded a bend in the shallows when we spotted the large brown with her cubs. The sow bolted for cover, but the cubs remained on the bank (my guess is they had never seen her run from anything). Unfortunately for us, the river's current continued to carry our raft closer to the young bears. The sow must have figured we were a danger, and busted into the water — a full-on charge.
Fortunately, our guide had already pulled out a .500 Smith & Wesson. He quickly fired in front of the sow, which was only eight to 10 feet away. The muzzle blast combined with the massive spray of river water caused her to turn at the last second, saving us from a mauling...or worse.
The ordeal was over in seconds, and we were lucky the bear spooked at the shot. Once you look at the footage, I think you will agree it qualifies as a close call. I've had my share of treacherous moments afield, and hopefully learning from these experiences will help keep you safe the next time you're chasing dangerous game.
I was having a great alligator hunt with my friend Wright at Gator Country Trappers and Outfitters in Florida. After killing three gators between the two of us, our outfitter Al had received a call that a gator was on one of his lines and asked if I wanted to help. When we arrived at the lake, Al reached down and grabbed the line and handed it to me to start pulling it in. I pulled and Al expertly noosed the slithering beast, held it down and taped the mouth shut.
We caught two that morning and had just taken them out of the truck when Al and his partner cautioned me to be careful as alligators have powerful tails and these two were still alive. My big 10½-footer was lying on the ground next to the live alligators.
As I took a final look at the gator I harvested, there was a flash of movement. In an instant, the alligator was clamped onto my knee and shaking. I heard a loud shriek close by and to this day, I'm not sure who made the noise. Fortunately, the gator didn't have me long. It either released me to get a better grip or just didn't like the taste of my knee and let go.
Everyone rushed towards me, and when I dropped my Carhartts to survey the damage, it didn't look good. I was fine for the first five minutes or so, but when the shock of getting bitten and the pain in my knee set in, I started to feel dizzy and sat down. My buddies said I passed out for a few minutes.
Paramedics temporarily patched me up and as soon as I was at the hospital they put me in the operating room. The gator had torn skin, muscle, a tendon and some ligaments — pretty impressive for just having my leg for a few seconds.
The tape had somehow rubbed through on the bottom of the gator's jaws, but It was my fault for being too close. I carry a unique scar now that always reminds me of that day.
I own Fulldraw Outfitters in southern Colorado and guide clients for antelope, elk, mule deer, bear, mountain lion and turkey. My favorite times are at night around the dinner table. That is when all the stories of successful hunts, misses, close calls and the happenings of the day are shared. One night a client of mine had a good one for the table.
Even though he was hunting mountain lions, I could tell from the first day he was scared of them. He asked questions like, "Have you ever been attacked?" and "What do I need to know so I don't get hurt?" I was honest and explained lions rarely attack people and that he had nothing to worry about.
A few days later, I turned my hounds out on a fresh track. Not too long after, we were sneaking up to a big Ponderosa pine with a mountain lion in it. Because of all the large limbs, we had to get about 10 yards from the base of the tree.
My client made a great shot with his bow but when he did the cat leapt backwards towards us out of the tree. I grabbed him by the shoulders and jerked him back and we both fell into the snow. The lion hit the ground snarling at our feet. Fortunately, the cat ran and expired 50 yards from us. Had we stayed where we were, that cat would have landed on our heads.
That's No Bull
Years ago, I was setting up treestands for some elk hunters. The season had already started, and with the unusually hot fall elk were hitting water holes in the middle of the day. Usually when working on treestands in remote areas I have another guide with me. It makes everything go quicker, plus if something happens someone is there to help you out. This time, however, all my guides were busy with clients so I went out by myself.
I had an unfilled tag for elk and bear in my pocket and figured if I spotted something I would try and get some meat for the freezer. On the way to the second water hole, I heard splashing down below me. I couldn't see the water but assumed it was some elk cooling off and getting a drink.
I laid down the treestand, grabbed my recurve bow and started sneaking down a small trail towards the water. As I rounded a curve in the trail, so did a huge wet black bear. Black bears are rarely aggressive and usually bolt when they see or smell a person. But instead of running in fear, this boar puffed up, turned his body and started walking towards me. At about 10 yards, the bear stopped.
I don't like frontal shots but at this point I really didn't have a choice. My arrow hit the bear in the chest and I high-tailed it. Later, I came back with a friend and we trailed the big bear a short distance to where he died. His skull netted an impressive 20 5/16 and at 10 yards, he was about as "close" as I like them.
On an grizzly hunt in Alaska, our party was separated into two boats: one for me, my guide and a cameraman and one for another client the outfitter had in camp with his guide. Things started going south pretty quick on first day when one boat broke down in a remote area. The next day we decided my crew would take the boat for half a day and then we would come back and switch. The very next morning the second boat broke down 20 miles from camp, so we decided to drift downstream.
On our way, we rounded a bend in the river and the current took us into a sweeper (an object in the water, usually a tree). The current usually sweeps things underneath it. A lot of people in Alaska and on other rivers have lost their lives to sweepers. In our case, the current took the boat sideways into the tree. The force of the river shoved our boat under the half-submerged tree.
My cameraman jumped to safety, our guide went under with the boat and held on until it resurfaced and I was swept off the front of the boat. The water was close to 15 feet deep and my waders, heavy jacket and gloves made swimming impossible. I sunk like a stone. The current took me into another log under the water and I was able to use it to pull myself up. My closest call yet, I was sure I was going to drown. If it wasn't for the tree that had fallen into the water I used to pull myself up with, I would have.
Our guide didn't have a cell phone that worked, a satellite phone or a radio, so we spent a cold miserable night on the side of the river. We were lucky and found the next morning by a couple of moose hunters. As I was being flown out a few days later, I snapped a photo from the plane of our capsized boat. I ended up having to go to the hospital because of a lung infection due to all the water that I had swallowed.
I've had many other close calls that include a charging leopard, a plane crash and armed rebels in Africa, just to name a few. But, I'll bore you with those some other time. Always be careful, but live life. It's better to wear out than rust out.