A Guiding Hand by Ken Hamilton, 10/11/06


My friend, Gerry, and I just got back from a wild chuckar hunt in the Owyhee mountains in Idaho, just west of Boise.  It was an eventful trip.  We started hunting in the mountains west of Murphy, Idaho and east of Reynolds, Idaho.  We jumped three and I got a double.  Gerry shot the third one.  He was about to shoot my first one but shifted targets when it started falling.  We saw them from the road and went in after them. 

The rest of our chuckars were taken from the Idaho Game Birds and Sporting Clays Hunting Club.  The owner released 20 chuckar and then we went in with his dogs to find them.  We got 19 of the 20.  We also hunted quail on a ranch but they were hard to get a shot at.  There were many hawks around the quail stayed close to the trees along a creek.  They would flush out the other side.  We shot five California Quail but only found two of them. 

The next morning though, Gerry’s neighbor called and asked us if we wanted a third quail that had just flown into his window and broke his neck.  I cooked the three chuckars and three quails using the recipe we learned about in South Texas around the camp fire one evening when we were sharing recipes.  You know, the one where you put cream cheese, jalapeños, onion, and then wrap with bacon.  It was a pork loin recipe and similar to how we often prepare dove.  They were great.

In the mornings and evenings, sitting on my friends patio, his wife puts out bird seed and California Quail from all over the neighborhood along with wild ducks would come in to feed about 20 yards from us.  I saw a male and female Wood Duck, the first I have ever seen in the wild.  It was a hoot watching the quail run along his fence and down from his neighbor’s hillside to get at the birdseed.  One morning when backing out of his driveway, there were two quail drinking water from the sprinkler systems along the curb in the street and quail running around in about four of his neighbors’ front yards.

Idaho is a hunter’s paradise with 75% Government land, hunting on which is free.  Even the rancher didn’t charge us to hunt quail on his private land.  The hunting club charges $9.00 per Chuckar that they put out.  The price includes the guide, dogs, lunch, and the use of their to clean the birds.  Not a bad deal.

One day we tried to find the road to an old abandoned silver mine in the ghost town of Silver City.  We couldn’t find it and decided to return to Boise.  On the way back, Gerry told me he was going to take a shorter route on a road called Silver City Road on Reynolds’ Mountain that showed to lead out of the Owyhee’s to the town of Murphy outside of Nampa and Boise.  He took a right at a ‘Y’ in the road, thinking it was the correct road, and we were committed as there was no way to turn around.  The road was extremely rocky and washed out causing him to have to go into low 4-wheel drive to make it up the grades. 

He had to pick his way through the washed out parts of the road while missing small boulders.  I had to get out every few minutes to guide him around and over these huge rocks.  The road got narrower to the point that the branches of the trees on both sides of the now ‘trail’ were hitting about two feet into the windshield on both sides and then dragging down the side of his wife’s Explorer.  We finally got down to a little better road that we then followed for miles thinking it would lead us out.  We found out at dark that it was turning back into the mountains through a valley. where the road was getting narrow again.

We had passed a road earlier that had recently had rocks poured into it by a dump truck.  Gerry thought this might be the best way out so we turned around.  When we got to the road,  Gerry told me he would do whatever I had a peace about, as we had both been praying about our situation.  I was afraid the road might get narrow as the others had and if we couldn’t turn around, we would be in more trouble.  So I got out and started up it on foot (as best I could with my bad leg and poor knees).  After going about 50 yards or so, it was as if the Holy Spirit was telling me “not to go up this road but to turn around and go back the way we came in,  as it was a known to us”  (I thought).  So, Gerry agreed to return the way we had come, even though the road was so narrow and treacherous.  At least we had negotiated the road coming down and thought we could remember the best way going back to get over the huge rocks.

Right off the bat, we had trouble getting up a very gravelly grade with huge rocks that he had to negotiate around.  I fortunately had a flashlight with me and was able to show him the path to follow but he had to floor it in low 4-wheel drive and barely made it up.  He almost slid back a view times into a tree that was off the road on a drop off.

Once we got past this first hurdle, we discovered that there were multiple roads branching off the road we were following and we didn’t remember which branch we had come in on.  So, I had to look for our tire tracks in the dirt at every road.  My flashlight was getting dim due to old batteries so eventually all we had was the Explorer’s headlights. 

We were supposed to be at his home at 8:30 PM for dinner and we had no cell signal to call his wife.  It was now about 11:30 PM and there was no moon.  Fortunately, Gerry had read that it was better to fill small water bottles half full and freeze then in lieu of buying ice all the time, so he had done that.  We had run out of water by now as we were pretty exhausted and had drunk a lot of water due to our anxiety.  We started drinking the water that still had ice (this is a great thing to do for possible survival needs and I will always do it in the future when in vast strange territory away from civilization). 

We finally decided to hold hands and pray.  I was certain we were going to run out of gas and have to spend the night before continuing to try and get out the next morning (perhaps having to walk out).  I prayed for Angels to surround us and protect us.  Gerry was more aggressive and simply prayed “Lord, show us the way out.”  We then picked a road but we weren’t sure if it would lead us to the narrow steep road we had come down, as there were no tire tracks due to the rockiness of the road.  In about 15 minutes, we came to a spot on top of a mountain that we both thought looked familiar.  I had read a washed out sign next to some wind instruments coming in and there it was again.  We knew it might be just another wind instrument site as we were sure they were set up throughout the Owyhee’s.  However, when I got out and looked closely, it was for sure the same sign, so we thought we knew where we were. 

We checked our cell phones and I had no service on my Verizon phone but Gerry had full service on his Cingular phone.  It was now midnight.  Gerry called his wife to let her know we were okay and that we were going to try driving out.  We marked our direction very carefully so we could turn around and go back to a spot where we were sure she could send a rescue team in to get us out the next day.  We also could spend the night there.  We finally got down to a good gravel road and then I drove us the rest of the way home after calling Wanda at 2:00 AM Texas time to let her know we were okay (I always call Wanda every night before going to bed when I am traveling and I knew she was probably worried).  Gerry was exhausted and I wasn’t far behind him.  We got to his house at 2:00 AM.

So, the story has three messages.  When going into strange territory, it is best to have a GPS with a starting waypoint marked so you can follow the trail it makes on the screen back out the way you came in (in this case, we got out without having to go over the treacherous road again so God’s way was actually better).  The second message is – pray (which we Christians always tend to wait to do until all else has failed).  We still don’t know how we got out from deep within those mountains.  We just know God took us out and on a better road than we would have taken if we had a GPS.  It was as if He lifted us up and placed us at the familiar landmark so we could get the rest of the way out.  Only, He didn’t do it so supernaturally.  He just gave us a peace about which road to drive out on and we were clueless where it was leading us.  The third message is to use frozen bottle water instead of ice so it can be consumed easier than trying to drink from a cooler, especially if you have to walk out, as you can carry bottles easier than a cooler.

I have been hunting, hiking and camping for over 50 years and this is my first experience at being totally disoriented.  I won’t admit we were lost, but I will admit we didn’t know how to get home.  Looking back it was a great adventure that taught me a lot plus it is also a great testimony.

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