I went ice fishing on Leech Lake last weekend. That's neither unique nor remarkable, for hundreds of other people did the same. But had anyone else among those hundreds gone through the ice in a vehicle?
It happened two years ago to me and a friend on Leech Lake, near the very spot we fished Saturday. We hadn't been back since.
But return we did, as we knew we must. It's a choice anyone who has been in an accident in the outdoors eventually must make. Do I go back again?
If you've broken through the ice while on foot or in a vehicle you'll never again proceed with the same assurance. It doesn't matter if you know the ice is three feet thick. I've been in some tough spots in my sporting days, including a small plane that had to make an emergency landing and a canoe that capsized in rapids, but neither of those mishaps shook me quite like that break through the ice. If you've been there you know what I mean.
Many of you have been there, for few of us make it through an entire hunting and fishing career without experiencing an accident or close call of one kind or another. Maybe you fell from a tree while hanging a deer stand, or got lost in unfamiliar woods as night closed in, or surprised a bear with cubs, or had a bullet whiz over your head during deer season, or got stranded in a duck boat in a salt marsh as the tide went out.
The list of potentially perilous situations is endless. Each month "This Happened To Me," a popular segment of Outdoor Life magazine, portrays a life threatening situation that some unlucky outdoorsman managed to get himself into. For more than 40 years that segment has had a steady stream of contributions, so it appears outdoorsmen will never cease getting into trouble.
If you've fallen from a tree stand and didn't suffer permanent injury will you climb back into another tree stand? If a bullet from your gun wounded a hunting buddy will you hunt again? If you've capsized in a boat in rough waters will you get back into a boat again when the wind is up?
Those questions must be answered individually, because close calls affect each person differently. If my friend who was with me that day on Leech Lake said she will never again drive on ice it would be understandable.
But many of us do choose to do it again. "Safety first" is hammered into our heads from the start, but though we all believe we're safe, savvy and prepared outdoorsmen, accidents happen. I hope I never again find myself in a sinking vehicle, but situations like that arrive unexpectedly, despite our best intentions, often through no fault of our own.
I drove back out on Leech Lake last Saturday, maybe passed over the exact spot where I broke through the ice two years ago. It wasn't easy, but I had to do it. Unthinkable as it would be to go through the ice again -- I cannot expect to survive a second time -- the alternative is just as unthinkable: Stay off the ice when I know the fish are biting.
So I went forth with caution while in the back of my mind the questions lurked: Could it happen again? What might happen next?
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