Lost in the Woods

By Richie Ellison

I love to get outdoors, hiking and exploring being my favorite things to do. The woods are beautiful and there is no way to better spend a day. I recommend taking along a GPS unit, or at least a compass, and using them. In the fall I had an experience that perfectly demonstrates the aforementioned precautions.

For the opening week of deer season I went to hunt my wife's family farm in Perdido, Alabama. The morning was uneventful, so I decided to do some exploring in the woods. The land is less than 100 acres and most of it farmed. The woods aren't very large and, sure, I didn't have a compass, but how much could Hurricane Ivan have damaged the landscape? An expert woodsman like myself could navigate a demolished Southern swamp with no problem.

Shortly after stomping my way into the forest I realized the trail was not where I remembered. As a matter of fact, I didn't see so much as a hint of a trail. It was about 9:00 AM and the familiar Southern rain looked imminent. Against my better judgment, I headed deeper into the swamp. After all, I needed to fill my tag.

After walking for a good while, I came to a fence that I didn't think should be there. The other side was an unfamiliar clear cut; so I decided that I should cross and get my bearings in the wide-open space in front of me. Once in the clearing, I had a problem. It was entirely too thick to see anything. Mostly it was reeds and sawgrass, all of it as tall as I am.

I decided that I needed to stay calm and backtrack to the fence. What I didn't see was the mud puddle in front of me. I sank up to my chest. As I trudged along, feeling slightly less optimistic than an hour ago, I could see steam leaving my body. The expert outdoorsman that I am, I realized I was in some real danger.

At this point I had settled into a low-grade state of panic. It was beginning to rain. Rosslyn had granted me permission to hunt all weekend. Nobody would miss me for at least two days, if even then.

I scaled 20 feet up a fallen tree in my panicked state. "Please God, show me a way out." If you've ever hunted river swamp, you probably know this feeling well. I felt pretty hopeless, so I decided to pick a direction, right or wrong, and walk. I did have the wherewithal to unload my rifle since I wasn't thinking clearly anymore.

I walked 50 yards or so and jumped a massive buck! I would have dropped him, but better judgment had unloaded my rifle! Another 150 yards of tearing shirt and flesh and I came to a dead end; a creek too wide to cross. I turned around and started back; leaking confidence and blood along the way.

I came to another clearing an hour or so later. I was exhausted, cold, and dehydrated. Again, against better judgment, I decided to walk through the clearing. Unfortunately, it was all one big mud bowl and with every step I sank knee deep; my boots filling with water.

Out of sheer desperation I had an idea. I loaded my rifle, fired a shot into a stump and immediately after I released a very manly cry of "Help!" To my surprise, a man answered my cry. I traipsed across the marsh as quickly as I could toward the voice. I came to a creek that was chin deep and frigid. I crossed it without hesitation. I made it!

Even today, I have no idea where I came out, but apparently it was a hunting lodge. There were several men laughing at me, standing around a truck. I was offered a ride out and quickly accepted. While the buddies rode in a heated cab, I sat in the bed with eight of the nastiest hound dogs I have ever met. They all seemed to stare at me with a look that said, "Lost huh?" It took 15 minutes shivering in the back of the truck to be returned to my starting point. I thanked the men one last time, as they rode away laughing.

To add insult to the injury, I told Rosslyn what happened when I got home. She had some very useful insight. "I bet what happened honey, is you went the wrong way." Thanks for that useful little nugget, dear!

Author's note: This story was first published for the University of South Alabama's paper, The Vanguard, around 2004.

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Copyright 2017 by Richie Ellison. All rights reserved.