Eric Mongar is a Montana hunter education instructor who started teaching in 1989. Despite knowing how to be safe in the field, he still made a very dangerous mistake. Learn how he made it out safely with his story below.
During the 2015 rifle season, my hunting partner and I hunted here and there, and I came to notice no matter where I headed off to hunt, my partner was there in sight. I have never been lost, knock on my hollow head, so I like to make my own trail—for goodness sake, we have radios for safety and I have done my share of rescues, so I thought to myself “go get lost!”
Well, day after day, the same thing—no deer—and on our last day of the week’s hunt I asked my partner why he doesn’t get any further away than where he could see me. He replied, “I have been turned around once, and you always seem to know where the truck is, so I stay where I can see you!”
I laughed and said, “okay, I can work with that.”
So I dropped him off at his house with plans to head out again on Monday, after the weekend. I drop him off and head down to my camper down the next block. I was sitting there, and I said to myself, “self, you should get up early Saturday morning and go hunting your way.”
I had the best sleep all week. I got up at 4 a.m., made coffee, and out the door I went. It’s a 50-mile drive to the spot. It had been snowing since I went to bed, and that is a good thing—you know what I mean, good tracks in fresh snow make it easier to track the deer you want to harvest.
I told my wife where I was going and she was staying at the camper with the home base radio on in case I needed something. So I put the truck in four-wheel drive and chained up all four tires. Up the road I go—blazing a trail is another good sign, no other hunters up this high yet, maybe they are thinking the snow pushed the deer to lower valleys. They could be right, but this felt right also.
I got to the top and parked; it looked like about a half-mile hike to the peak with about eight inches of fresh powder snow covering a rocky terrain. I sat in my truck waiting for the sun to rise enough so I wouldn’t have to use a head lamp to see with—for me that’s a good safe time for me to hunt, because orange is very bright at this time of morning.
I headed down the road about 500 yards and turned straight up the mountain. Steep is a poor word for how steep this was and the loose square rocks under eight inches of snow was very slick, but I kept moving. I came to a game trail going horizontal to the peak and it looked like a freeway at rush hour in Seattle, so I followed slowly south along the mountain.
I came to an old barbed wire fence, four stands with no posts in sight, lying on the ground at the same point where another game trail headed up, and so did I, stepping over the barbed wire. I know I am on state land, so how old is this fence, I wondered.
I got to the bottom of a rim rock like a castle wall, towering sixty feet above me, and deer tracks—only one set. Now moving west up and around the rim rock, my heart is beating hard, only one track and it’s heading up, just like granddad said. It’s steep and slow going, but I got on top—I do not like heights where I can fall, so on top of the excitement I had the fear of sliding off the rim rock. I climbed about 20 feet above the rim rock and was taking a break behind this snow-covered bush. I was mouth breathing to be quiet and looking up at the peak, thinking I was only halfway there.
Once I relaxed, I looked up for my next place to move and hide, and I see what I think are antlers—yes, antlers! They must be sheds because they are very close to me, I thought, and then they moved—yes, the antlers started to move up, and I was freaking inside. Granddad was spot on!
So I slid my rifle out and up to my shoulder and I quickly looked through the scope, and I cannot see anything; he is too close for the scope. Good gookamoo, what can I do?
The antlers are still moving up and it’s a whole mule deer head, right there. As our eyes met, I pushed my rifle forward, hitting him in the chest, and I pulled the trigger—there was no sound from the rifle but I felt the recoil. The buck jumped to my left, then to his right for one step, and his face and antlers crashed into the ground. He plowed a path parallel down the hill along my track coming up. His antlers got snagged in a bush and he flipped over and came to rest against the bush, about 10 feet above the rim rock edge.
I sat there shaking like a leaf, trying to hang on in a 30 mile per hour wind in the WSS valley floor. He was right there, I tell you, my rifle made contact! Good gookamoo, he could have killed me. As it sank in, I came to realize I had caught him in bed. I quickly looked at my cell phone and it read 9 a.m. on the dot. Holy Toledo, I snuck up on him in bed!
Once I regained my composure, I worked my way down to him and I made sure he was dead and then I tagged him. So I opened him up to start the cooling process and I grabbed my camera and took a few shots.
I field dressed the buck and tied a rope to his antlers, and used the rope to guide him around the rim rock and down to the truck. Well, the buck had other plans for us—I slipped on a loose rock and he dragged me down the hill at what felt like warp speed.
We came to a sudden stop and my glasses and hat were gone, I had places on my face that felt warm—you know, the kind of warm when blood is leaking out; yes, that is the feeling!
My left arm was stretched down with the deer tied to my wrist and my right hand was holding onto the last strand of barbed wire fence that I had stepped over on my way up. Good gookamoo, we went under the fence.
I planted my feet and slid my right hand out of the glove, leaving it on the barbed wire, and then I pulled out my knife and cut the rope, releasing the buck, and boy, did it make it to the road, all on its own. I removed my left glove and turned around to find my hat and glasses; once I recovered them, I felt the warm spots with my bare hand and, yup, I was bleeding, and had no hunting partner to help and my wife would not be able to get someone there if it’s bad.
So I sat there, calming myself and using my knowledge to figure out that that none of the scratches were life-threatening. I collected my gloves and worked my way down the mountain to the buck that is right beside the road, ready to load himself. I called my wife and I told her I had scratched my face but I was okay.
I drove the truck down and slid the buck into the truck, and back to WSS I headed. By now it’s 11 a.m. I woke my hunting partner up and told him I had a deer to hang in his garage. After we hung, skin, and wrapped the deer, I headed to the clinic.
At the clinic they gave me a tetanus booster shot and wanted to stitch up the scratch—okay, gash—along my chin bone. I asked them if they can stitch it up without shaving my beard and the doctor said no. I asked them not to stitch it then, for two reasons; one, I still needed to help my hunting partner get his deer, because, you know, he does not like to hunt alone. So I can hike with him, but not without my beard to keep my face warm! And the second, and most important, reason is it will always be a reminder to me to never hunt alone.
The ER released me and I headed to the camper. I opened the door and my wife came unglued, telling me I needed to go to the clinic. I said, “Been there, done that!” She laughed, and said, “Where was Don?”
I explained to her all that had happened and she agreed it was a good hunt but asked me not to hunt alone again. I agreed. I took Sunday off to recover a bit and eat the tenderloins from my deer with my wife and Don. We made plans to get his deer, and Monday morning Don and I headed to the river. He wanted a white tail since I got a mule deer; see, we share our harvest. We arrived at the river early and sat on the edge of a bluff and this nice three-point white tailed buck walked out of the brush and Don harvested him without any event.
This year we won and nature lost, but every year is different. A year later, I am all healed up and my wife loves my scarred, bearded face.
Lesson learned: do not hunt alone.
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