For those who hunt, they understand that hunting is a matter of life or death for the quarry we pursue. However, the hunter is rarely on the receiving end of a life-threatening risk. On Monday, September 1, 2014, Labor Day, I experienced a hunt where my life was truly endangered.
I hunted alone that morning with my Brittanies, Sunny and Misty. I had asked a few friends to come along, but—for one reason or another—none of them could make it. I do not mind hunting alone with my dogs as I truly enjoy their company. We had a great morning of finding birds in The Outhouse Covert, but Misty was a bit keyed up and bumped many blue grouse without giving me any great shots. I jokingly named this special covert, “The Outhouse” because that is where you go to shoot like crap. Admittedly, my shooting that morning lived up to this covert’s name.
For our last hunt, I decided to hunt Grouseketeer Ridge, which has been my best blue grouse covert since 2006. In my experience, this covert really shines between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. as the birds are actively moving about and feeding during this time frame. Over the years I have hunted this covert, I have never experienced anything that I would consider as dangerous or life-threatening. In fact, the thought had never even crossed my mind before this morning.
The dogs and I headed up the old logging road to where I have found grouse repeatedly over the years. As if on cue, a large covey of ruffed grouse started flushing off the downhill side of the logging road. The dogs and I pursued. I missed one bird that flew behind a tree and shot at another one that I thought I might have hit. As we went downhill, however, I spotted the grouse sitting in the tree and realized that I had missed. I will not shoot a sitting grouse, but I’m not above pitching sticks to get the bird to fly. This is a tough shot for one who is both the thrower and the shooter.
I picked up a stick and threw it into the tree and the next thing I knew, I heard this loud buzzing cloud all around my head and upper body. I instantly realized that I was being attacked by a swarm of hornets and they repeatedly stung me on my neck, head, face and back. I ran back uphill as fast as I could, screaming in pain and panic. I must have been stung 10 to 20 times. As I reached a little switchback that leads up to the main logging road, one final hornet stung me on my arm and I quickly brushed it away. To my relief, the rest of the swarm was gone.
While I was still in pain from the stings, I did not think that I would have any allergic reaction as I have been stung by hornets before with no complications. So I decided to shake it off and keep hunting. The dogs and I walked another fifty yards up the logging road and Misty suddenly became birdy near the uphill embankment—again at another place where the dogs have regularly found birds over the years. There was no question in my mind that Misty was working a bird and I readied myself for the shot as she climbed up the steep embankment.
Shortly thereafter, Misty flushed the blue grouse across the logging road in my direction. I missed the crossing shot, but caught the bird as it dove down the hill. I hiked downhill and Sunny—who is now 12—located the bird under a thick tree and made a nice, but slow, retrieve.
By the time I made it back up to the logging road, my feet began to itch uncontrollably. I quickly realized that I was having an allergic reaction to the hornet stings. I stopped and took a few pictures of the bird hoping this unpleasant itch would go away. Soon, however, my hands started to itch and then my whole body started to itch with a vengeance.
At that point, I realized that I was in trouble and I started to panic. Fortunately, I had cell service and I called my wife, Kristin and informed her, “I just got stung by 20 hornets. . . . I’m having an allergic reaction. . . . I need you to get me some Benadryl. . . . I’m coming home right now.” I was having a hard time speaking because I was hyperventilating.
The dogs and I hustled back to the Honda CRV. In that 100 yard walk, my symptoms went from bad to worse and I began to feel lightheaded and experienced chest pains. I called Kristin again and asked her to start driving toward me with some Benadryl. My speech was even more strained during this second call. I shakily loaded the dogs and started driving down the steep canyon road.
In my dire circumstances, I offered up a quick, simple prayer: “Please help me Heavenly Father, don’t let me die now! Please help me to drive safely and get some help. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
I managed to stay conscious and keep the car on the road, although with some difficulty. Fortunately, there were no other cars on the lonely canyon road. To my consternation, I felt and watched my face swelling in the rear view mirror as I traveled.
I soon hit pavement and drove another two to three miles down the road when a first response medic passed me with his sirens on. Somehow, I knew that Kristin had called 911 and that he had come to help me. I pulled over and he asked me, “Are you the guy who got stung by the hornets?”
“I am. Man, am I glad to see you!” I responded.
He asked me to pull my car over to get out of the way of oncoming traffic and had me sit on the ground while he checked my vitals. As he did so, I started to blackout and I said, “I’m not feeling so good. I need to lay down,” which he encouraged me to do.
My wife Kristin and our oldest daughter, Emma, soon showed up and, when Kristin saw me laying helpless on the shoulder of the road, she cried. She handed me a bottle of Benadryl and I lifted my head, took a swig, and laid back down. The medic also gave me some oxygen through a nose tube.
The medic then checked my blood pressure and found it was extremely low. I told the medic that I thought I could sit up again and he said, “Stay put. I don’t think you are doing as well as you think you are doing. You are going into anaphylactic shock.” Looking back, I can see that the timing of his arrival in comparison to my worsening condition could not have been more providential.
An ambulance soon showed up with two other paramedics and they gave me a shot of Benadryl and a shot of Epinephrine. One paramedic commented that I was exhibiting the text book signs for an allergic reaction to hornet stings just like he learned about in school. They encouraged me ride in the ambulance to the hospital, which I agreed. Kristin and Emma then took my car and the dogs home and told me they would meet me at the hospital.
The ambulance drive was surreal as I watched out the back window the beautiful country surroundings we passed through. I thought to myself: I never expected to see the view out of the back of an ambulance!
As we traveled, one of the paramedics commented that he was worried about me when he saw the swelling in my face. He told me about one of his wife’s family members who recently died from an allergic reaction to a hornet sting he received in the mountains and the fact that he was too far away from medical help to save him. This unfortunate individual did not even know he was allergic before this fateful day. To my relief, the paramedic told me that the Benadryl and Epinephrine were working and the swelling in my face had already subsided. Likewise, the itching was gone. I somehow knew I was going to be okay.
My stay at the emergency room was short-lived and my wife and kids soon came to the hospital to take me home. My kids had made me some get-well cards, which were touching. I was truly relieved to see them all. More than once, I stated out loud how grateful I was to be alive.
I’m a firm believer in the Boy Scout Motto: “Be prepared.” I am happy to report that from now on, I will carry Benadryl and EpiPens with me when I am hunting. Likewise, there’s much to be said about hunting with a good hunting companion who can help you when you are in a bind. Also, I now see the importance of letting your spouse know exactly where you are hunting in case you run into trouble.
In addition to these safeguards—and even more important—I can honestly attest after this harrowing experience that I will never forget the power of prayer. I have no doubts that God heard and answered my prayers. Throughout this whole ordeal, I know I had heavenly help from the other side.