My buddy Steve and I had just bagged our limit of ducks and were collecting decoys when his boat started drifting away from the bank of the remote Montana reservoir we were hunting.
If we didn’t retrieve the boat, we’d have to spend the day and maybe the night on the frozen, lonely shore. If we jumped in the icy water to grab the boat, we risked drowning or hypothermia.
Immediately, the frigid water filled my waders. I kicked to the boat, and the only good news about the freezing temperatures is that the air was so cold that my wet gloves froze to the boat’s gunnel, providing an unexpectedly reliable grip. I managed to kick the boat back to shore, where Steve bundled ducks, our decoys, and me in the craft and rushed to the boat ramp.
It took an hour before I could feel my fingers, and years to forgive Steve for not properly tying off his boat. But the first thing I thought about that November day wasn’t frostbite, or publically shaming Steve. It was that this experience would make a great “This Happened to Me.”
TRAGEDY, IN FIVE PANELS
THTM, as the Outdoor Life franchise is known here in the office, is one of the staples of this magazine. It’s been recounting outdoor disasters of one variety or another in these pages for 73 years. You’ll find the most recent iteration on p. 88 of the October 2013 issue, and like so many others in this long-lived series, it involves a harrowing encounter with an animal. A bear attacks an unsuspecting hunter. There’s a narrow escape, and the piece ends with the rattled hunter looking nervously over his shoulder as he limps to safety.
Such graphic tales of true-life survival have anchored this magazine since 1940, and the illustrations–rendered in alarming colors–distill disaster in a few hyperbolic panels. Just as its authors have survived cougar attacks, snakebites, encounters with sharks and pirates, boat malfunctions, and legions of froth-mouthed bears, the feature has survived a world war, the Nixon administration, bell-bottom jeans, Nintendo, and the digital age. The best testament to its enduring vitality is that it’s the first thing my kids turn to when a crisp OL arrives in the mailbox.
Now you can get a larger dose of THTM in one place. A book containing 100 of our all-time favorite tales is being published this fall by Weldon Owen. It also contains a history of the franchise, as well as short safety tips to prevent you from becoming the author of our next THTM.
This Happened to Me is available at bookstores and OutdoorLife.com/HappenedToMe, just in time for the holiday gift-giving season. Maybe I’ll wrap one up for Steve.