This Ain't Hollywood!
A chance encounter with a woman in Saskatchewan last year got me thinking about the trouble that the uninitiated sometimes get into. In the wilderness, beauty abounds. But make no mistake about it, there’s plenty of ways to get into trouble. Those experienced in venturing into the wilderness know that they must keep their wits about them. You’ve got to keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings. Make a mistake out here and chances are that there will be some kind of consequences to pay. And sometimes even small mistakes can demand serious payment.
That woman I mentioned earlier? Let me tell you her story. But before I do, just in case she’s reading this, let me say that I am truly sorry about your troubles and am sure you now realize what I’m about to say.
When I met this woman, she was walking her dog. The dog, a cute Scottish Terrier, ran over to me so I started scratching his ears. As the woman approached, I told her she had a really neat little dog. She replied, “Thanks. I used to have two of them.” I could sense something was wrong, so I asked what happened. Here is the story she told me.
She, her husband and three other couples flew into an outpost camp. The type of camp where they fly you in, drop you off and return at a prearranged date to pick you up. It’s all ‘do it yourself’ as far as the cooking, fishing, etc. She had asked the outfitter about taking her two dogs in with them and he had ok’d it. Bad idea in my book.
During the day, the four men would get in their boats and leave the women in camp to do whatever women do. So, the women are in the cabin and one of her dogs starts scratching on the door. Figuring they have business to do, she goes out with her dogs. As soon as they got out, the dogs picked up a scent trail and ran off into the bush. The woman told me it wasn’t a minute before she heard a loud roar and here comes her two little dogs, running for all they’re worth, straight back to her, with a big black bear right on their tails. They were pretty close when the bear swats one dog, rolling it, and then pounces on it, killing it immediately. The other dog wheels around and starts barking at the bear, which leaves its first victim and chases the second dog off into the bush. The woman figures that’s the last she’ll ever see of that dog too, but he scratched on the cabin door some four hours later and was visibly shaken.
This poor woman was pretty distraught when I met her. The incident had happened only two days before. I never mentioned what was on my mind at the time. The woman felt bad enough as it was. But I’m now going to relate what she now knows is the real truth. This ain’t Hollywood and it’s not what you see in Disney movies. The wilderness is the real deal. As real as it gets.
First off, the wilderness is no place for a dog that wasn’t raised out there. Even dogs that are raised in a wilderness setting find plenty of ways to get into serious trouble. So, little Toto, who’s been a pampered housedog all his life, has little chance of survival if he gets loose and wanders off. Also, this woman was very lucky the bear got her dog before it got back to her. I’ve heard several stories about dogs bringing bears back into camp and it was the owner who got mauled or worse. It could have easily been a case of a husband returning to camp only to find his wife reduced to her component parts.
Actually, bears are not the worst thing a dog could run into. Usually, a black bear will run off at the sound of a barking dog. Of course, there are exceptions. Like an extremely hungry bear, or as I suspect was the case in this woman’s incident, a sow with cubs. No, I actually think the wolf represents a bigger threat to a domestic dog. Understand this, wolves hate dogs. Pure and simple.
Take a dog into the wilderness and if wolves hear it barking they’ll come looking for it and their intentions are not good. An outfitter in northern Ontario who had lost several dogs to wolves explained it to me. Keep in mind that these were experienced wilderness type dogs too.
Wolves travel in packs. When they come looking for a dog, they will send out one member of the pack, usually a female, to lure the dog into the bush. Once the dog follows, it is surrounded. I don’t care if it’s the biggest, meanest dog on the planet, once it is surrounded by a pack of wolves, its remaining time can be measured in seconds.
There’s many ways to get into trouble in the bush and a book could be written on all the ways to get into a bad situation. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of them first hand. But if one takes a minute to analyze the situation first, most can be avoided. Like wet rocks. Sounds innocent enough. But try standing on wet rocks and fishing from shore and you could slip and fall into the lake. I saw this happen to a guy who was warned by his guide not to stand on the wet rocks but he chose to ignore the warning. He paid for that mistake with a dunking in an ice cold lake, and wouldn’t you know it, he couldn’t swim. He could easily have drowned. Or cooking shore lunch. Start a cooking fire on wet rocks and everyone nearby could end up with a shower of burning embers and imbedded with rock shards. Steam builds up in wet rocks and they can explode. I saw the aftermath of this one when a group hobbled back into camp with various injuries. One woman suffered a gash over one eye from a hot rock shard and was bleeding pretty good. Had the hot rock sliver struck her a couple of inches lower, she would have lost an eye.
Another situation that seems to come up a lot is running out of gas. When you’re up in the wilderness you better keep a sharp eye on your gas situation, or you could end up staying out there a lot longer than you planned. Same goes for the weather. Storms can blow in quickly and leave you sitting it out in less than ideal conditions. Mary and I have been through both of these and it wasn’t much fun. And these both present a good case for keeping a survival kit in the boat and letting others know where you are going. The kit doesn’t have to be big and elaborate, but a few small essentials can make things much easier. A first aid kit is mandatory in our boat too. It doesn’t take much thought to figure out what to put in these kits. Think about the possibilities of what might happen and pack them accordingly.
We all love the outdoors and a trip into the wilderness can provide memories that will last a lifetime. But use your head. Think about things for a moment before you act. Hey, things can happen that are out of your control, but with some forethought, these can be held to a minimum and you can make those memories good ones.
Take good care!