Luke Clayton: Close calls while in the wilderness

Outdoors columnist recounts some perilous encounters with nature

Luke Clayton
Daily Light contributor
Luke has had his share of ‘close calls’ in his years spent in the outdoors but an up close and personal encounter with a big Momma bear is near the top of the list.
Luke Clayton

I bet most of you that have spent a lifetime in the outdoors can recall some ‘close calls’, times in the woods or on the water that cause you to shutter when reminiscing about the past events. I certainly can! One would think that most of these events were caused by wild animals, ie. cougars, bear, wild boar. Some were but some of the scariest things that happened to me had nothing to do with critters with fangs and claws.

A few years ago I was up in Canada, just a few miles for the Northwest Territories on a fly-in fishing trip. A group of friends and I drove 5 hours north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and boarded a float plane and went ‘way north’ to a distant fishing camp. There was one way in and one way out and that was via float plane that was scheduled weeks in advance. Before leaving home, I noticed a little red bump on my forearm but gave it little thought. A few days into the trip, up in the remote wilds of Canada, that bump turned into a full fledged infection. A shot of antibiotic would have taken care of my problem but that would require a flight out of the wilderness back to civilization. I kept fishing and decided to wait until I got back home to go to the doctor. A bad decision! I managed to fish every day but by the time I got back home and to my doctor, the infection was causing me some serious problems. The doctor’s best guess was that a tiny recluse spider had caused my problem. The outdoors is full of things that can cause harm and not all of them down walk on four legs and have big teeth!

For several years, I guided archery elk and bear hunting in the mountains of northern Colorado. Coming in close contact with bear was pretty common and you never knew when a bear would show up, often at very close range. One sunny morning after guiding for a couple of weeks, I decided to take a little siesta while my client set over an elk wallow waiting for a bow shot at an elk. I pulled my cap down over my eyes and ‘rested’ for a few minutes. I was in a grove of oak trees and I was awakened by the rustling of leaves. There, about 10 feet from we was a little cub bear and a few yards to my right was his twin! NOT GOOD! Where was mamma? Then, from behind me, I heard a loud huffing I twisted my head around to look and there she was. I was between her and her babies, a very bad place to be! I can still remember those bared teeth and the evil look she was giving me. She was leaning forward and I just knew at any moment she was about to pounce on me. I do remember the width of those front legs. They were as wide at the elbow as they were at the claws! I don’t understand bear talk but she made a series of short, guttural grunts and both those cubs galloped past me and left the scene behind Mamma.

Another year, I had a full grown male mountain lion stalking my hunter at an elk wallow. It would take this entire column to describe this event but I’ll just say that nothing I have encountered in the outdoors comes close to the sight of a lion that has no fear of man and refuses to leave his hunting grounds. My client and I backed out of that situation with the lion glaring. I still feel very fortunate as to the outcome of this too close encounter.

And then there was the time I found myself waist deep in quicksand. I was duck hunting in some old gravel pits close to my house, early in the duck season. It was a very dry year and the water level had receded on the pit I was hunting. There was just a little water on the deep end that was attracting ducks like a magnet. The majority of the pit was covered with a dry, crusty mud that appeared to be very solid. I shot a brace of mallards and both fell on the shore across the crusted mud. I grabbed my shotgun in case more ducks might fly by while I was retrieving these two and then took a couple steps out on what I thought was dry ground. I instantly sank to my knees and then my waist. What looked like dry ground was actually a crusty trap and every move I made caused me to sink deeper! I was wearing chest waders (I have never worn chest waders since) and it was impossible to drag the boots out of the mud. I had a brand new Browning pump shotgun that I was very proud of and instinctively I pushed it forward, slapped it down into the mud to no avail. I unbuckled the chest waders and continued to pull myself the few feet to the bank and solid ground. I was truly as scared as I’ve ever been during this fluke situation. I finally managed to use my new shotgun to drag myself to safety. As far as I know, those chest waders are still there, four feet deep in that old gravel pit!

I was once guiding a couple of elk hunter and we were up on top of a mountain in some heavy aspen timber about 3 miles from camp. I used an electric hunting buggy (converted golf cart) to travel the steep road from camp to the area we were hunting. The buggy had mechanical brakes that worked well on dry ground. About an hour before dark, we watched a fast approaching storm move in over the mountain. In a matter of minutes, the wind was blowing a gale and aspen trees were popping and falling all around us. Lightning was flashing and thunder booming. I reluctantly made the call to get the heck out of there before an aspen fell on us. That drive down that slick mountain road back to camp ranks right up there with close calls. I had the option to stay put and possible get us hammered by a falling aspen of head down a treacherously steep, very slick road in a downpour with lightning popping. I did thank the good Lord for watching over us when we safely arrived at camp!

Make plans to join Luke and friends in Greenville at the Winter Outdoor Ron De Voux in Greenville March 6. For more information, contact Randy Koon 903-456-3048. Contact Luke via