Expect the Unexpected

An emergency arises while guiding in northern New Mexico.

Oct 8 2016

Dave Dole

First posted May 23 2017 Last updated May 25 2017

I got a call from a good buddy of mine, Dominic Chavez, to see if I was available to go guide elk for New Mexico Hunting Adventures up in northern New Mexico. I just so happened to be available to help, so I packed up all my stuff and headed north a few weeks later.

I got to base camp and got things set up and came up with a few areas to go scout. The alarm clock came awfully early it seemed at 4am, but I was excited since the rut had still yet to come. I threw all my gear into my truck, to include my camera gear and headed for the woods.

Just as the light was starting to crest the mountain I saw an elk cross the road. So I pulled over and waited to see what other elk may just be lurking in the shadows and in the draws. Sure enough there was more elk hidden in the shadows along with several bulls singing their love tunes. I found right where I needed to be come opening morning. So with my go to spot located I headed back to camp.

Later that night I met my two hunters, two fine Oklahoma Gentleman who happened to be a father and son in-law hunting pair that would soon experience a hunt of a lifetime. For this story I will use the names Ben and Chris, which are not their real names. We sat down talked about tomorrows hunt a little bit, and then headed off to the range to confirm the zeros on the muzzleloaders. Both guns were on and it was time to go get some food. Over dinner we talked a little more about tomorrows hunt and that we needed to get up earlier than normal to ensure we got to the spot first since we are hunting public land.

I don't think I slept much the night before the hunt. I couldn't stop thinking about how I was surrounded by 3 bulls and their harems and that I had failed to turn on the microphone on my DSLR as I recorded them. When 3:30 rolled around I was ready to get out of my trailer to hit the road with the guys.

We all loaded up the truck shortly after 4 in the morning and arrived at the intended kick off point before anyone else; about an hour before the sun started to rise. About 10 minutes after the sun started to rise we heard the most wonderful sound an elk hunter can hear, a bull elk bugling in the distance. The bulls had moved over a few draws from where I saw them yesterday morning so we were off and to the races to go intercept them.

Crossing through the draws we kicked up several cows, but no bulls seem to be hidden in the scrub oaks with them. As we made our way over to where we needed to go the bulls continued to bugle to help direct us. Once we arrived to the location we noticed that there was about 400 head of elk with roughly 8 bulls trying to round up their harems. It was an elk hunters dream experience to see this situation unfold. Unfortunately the bulls were a bit far out and Chris had a clean miss on a good bull. As most avid hunters know though, when hunting with a muzzleloader the elk don't react the same when the shot rings out and I knew the elk would be back.

We headed back out for the afternoon hunt but decided to attack the area we were from a different side. We got to our overlook point and waited to hear that ever so comforting sound of a bull bugling in the distance letting us know it was time to start making our move. Not long after waiting the bulls started to talk to one another. We waited for the bulls to start moving down towards us before we made our move.

It seemed like the bulls were not going to come down the mountain within shooting light so we decided to make our move up to them. We slowly poked our way up the mountain in terrain where the ground was mostly open with trees placed sporadically. We used these trees to conceal our movement as we made our move on the elk. As we neared the end of the open terrain and where the thick forest began I noticed two cow elk. They were exactly 100 yards from our position, completely unaware of our presence and the bulls were screaming all around us. I told Chris to get his gun ready and Ben to be ready for a follow up shot because the next time this bull decides he wants to bugle I am going to cut him off with a challenge bugle. Sure enough the bull sings his tune and is soon cut off by yours truly. This bull now knew that another "bull" wanted some action and wanted to steal his cows. The bull started to make his way towards us as Chris spotted his tines through the trees. I told Chris to get ready cause he is about to walk out. The bull started yet another one of his tunes when I cut him off again with a challenge bugle. It was not several seconds before the bull showed himself completely broadside at 96 yards. Chris asked if he should take him, of which I replied, "Dump him". That's exactly what Chris did. The shot rang out and the bull dropped like a sack of potatoes.

After several minutes we walked up to check the bull and take pictures. After the pictures were done we started on quartering and hanging up the meat. Meanwhile as we are quartering this elk out the remaining bulls will not stop bugling. Those sweet tunes let me know the rut was on! What an awesome time to be in the woods.

After a few hours and teaching Chris how to quarter an elk we were headed back down the mountain. This is where the story takes a turn for the worse and an experience I will never forget. As we were walking down the mountain Ben starts to experience tightness in his chest. We rest for several minutes before he says he is good to continue. So we continue down the mountain again. We don't get much further before Ben wants to stop again. So we stop to rest again and as I am having a conversation with Ben his internal defibrillator shocks him. To explain what it looked like I would have to say it looked like he was lifted off the ground and his gear exploded off his body in every direction. At first I wasn't sure what the hell just happened!!!

Ben sat on the ground and rested as we came up with a plan. It was approximately 9:30pm and cell service was spotty at best, and to make matters worse was the fact my cell phone was dead. Ben did have a DeLorme, which is a personal locator beacon that he was at first debating on using. After several minutes went by the plan was for me to go back to camp and load up an ATV to come back and get the guys. So off I went into the darkness to make my way back to the truck to get back to camp.

I arrived back at my truck and headed down the long bumpy road back to camp. I plugged my phone in, which is an iPhone so that means it doesn't turn on immediately, and started to haul ass back to camp. I think it is true that if you drive fast enough you "glide" across the bumps. Don't ask me how fast I was driving on a VERY bumpy road. Eventually the phone came up and I was able to get a hold of the outfitter to give him a heads up with the scenario at hand. Since I woke him up in the dead of his sleep, and signal was in and out, he had a little bit of a hard time putting together what all was happening.

I finally get to camp and meet up with the outfitter. I explained to him what was going on and that I was going to load an ATV to go get my hunter who is on the ground. He asks my opinion if he needs to call an ambulance of which I reply "his internal defibrillator went off so I think that might be a good idea." So he made the 911 call and I left to go load the ATV. Once the ATV was loaded I went back up to talk with the outfitter one last time before I leave. The plan when I left camp was to have the ambulance meet me on the paved road since the road up to where we hunt is marginal at best for something like an ambulance.

Meanwhile on the mountain both my hunters remain. Ben is on the ground and has a space blanket on that Chris had. At some point Ben needed to use the bathroom and when he got up his defibrillator went off again. At this point Ben decided to hit the rescue button on his DeLorme. This device uses satellite signal to communicate the position of the hunter, and to use "text messages" to communicate with the hunter.

I made my way back up to where I thought I needed to unload the ATV. I parked in the middle of the road and got the ATV out. Unbeknownst to me I offloaded about a ½ mile short of where I intended to go in. I cut through the first fence and headed to where my hunters where. Once I ran into a second fence I realized that I had dropped in too soon and that my drive to them was going to be a little bit longer than intended! I cut through the second fence and roughly ten minutes later I reached my hunters.

We loaded us all up on the ATV and Ben seemed to be doing better but he was physically spent so we sandwiched him between Chris and myself on the ATV. I knew all I had to do was get to the bottom of the hill and take a hard left and once I did that it was several hundred yards and I would be on the road. However when we were going down the mountain the bumps were hard for Ben to handle so I had to take a different angle and I drifted off to the right more than I realized. So when I reached the bottom of the hill my "hard left" was not hard enough and I ended up going around the back side of the knob I was supposed to be in front of. For several minutes we drove before I decided I needed to check my GPS because we should have been at the road. When I looked at the GPS it stated we were paralleling the road I needed. This is where I was fighting inside myself because I knew for a fact that I had taken that "hard left" and my equipment was lying to me. That's where my military training kicked in and I had to tell myself to trust in my equipment.

I looked back at Chris and Ben and told them to hold on because we were taking another hard left, which meant we were going up and over the hill. We drove up to the top of the hill where I was greeted by the bright lights of a known point! At that moment I knew we were heading in the right direction and the road wasn't far. To get to the road though we had to go down the hill we were on and back up another hill on the other side. So down we went and up the other side.

Once we reached the top of the other hill on the other side the scene was very bright! There were red and blue lights flashing EVERYWHERE and bobbing flashlights in the brush. The rescue team was there! I stepped off the ATV and when I did I saw the helicopter in the air above us about a mile out. I told Ben "your ride is here" of which he replied, "Which ride?" I said "the helicopter over your right shoulder."

Shortly after Ben was airlifted out. In the end Ben ended up having a heart rate of 240 and that's why his defibrillator went off twice. Chris ended up getting his first ever elk. It was a night I will never forget and I am sure a night Ben and Chris will never forget.

There are some lessons learned off of this experience. The first aid kit I had was built more for puncture wounds. I had tourniquets, large Band-Aids, gauze, and various other things. I did not have a space blanket and normally I do. Also if you ever have to dial 911 with your cell phone and you have no signal, try! There is a national mandate that if you dial 911 that call will go out on any available network carrier in the area. Also only one other person knew exactly where I was hunting. He was the one who helped lead the rescue party into where I was. Lastly, there was a mistake with where the helicopter was sent originally. It was routed an hour and half away from where we were. I don't know if that was a human error writing numbers down, reading number or error on the equipment side. You mistake one number in GPS coordinates and it can be a huge error. At a min the helicopter was asked for and the bird did not touch down on the mountain until 2:30am. Don't expect it to be there super fast.