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Sticky situation illustrates need to always be prepared

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

In previous columns I have advised keeping a cell phone in your pocket and telling others where you were going to hunt in case of an emergency. And I’ve also written about falling on a stick and ending up in the emergency room.
Well, I have a different story that happened just a few weeks back that makes this all the more important. I hope my bad luck can drive home to you how important it is to be prepared.
I was hunting prairie grouse in the badlands of South Dakota. It had not rained there for what looked like 10 years. It was super dry and all of the places where water normally was, it looked Sahara Desert bone dry.
I crossed dry river beds, gulches, waterways, streams and every other things that water travels in and never stuck anything but burrs and stickers to my boots and pants. It was about noon on the last day of hunting. I had dropped off my two hunting partners about 1.5 miles away and was going to drive the truck around to the other end of the cover and pick them up.
I was going to just wander around the area of the truck to see if I could flush up a sharp tail grouse as I was for the most part just waiting for them to arrive. As it so happened after I crossed a cattle gate, I flushed a grouse and killed the bird that fell across a very small dried out river bed into a small patch of willow trees.
It was only about 4 feet deep and 12 feet across and the mud was so dried and cracked that you could have dropped the tires of a small car in the cracks. It looked just like everything else I had traversed for more than 30 miles in the past four days.
As I stepped down this gentle bank, I took a few steps and the next thing I knew I had fallen through the top dried crust and was arm pit deep in a substance that could only be equated to a giant bucket of sheet rock cement used to tape the seams of sheetrock in new and remodeled homes.
As I was falling, in my haste, I tried to save my new Browning Sweet 16 shotgun from certain death and gave it a shot toss toward the bank on the other side.  I could no longer reach it.
It became clear to me when my feet could not touch bottom that I could be in serious trouble. I could not move my feet, and it felt like I was stuck tightly in the mud with a pair of chest waders full of water. As I tried to pull myself out, the crust just keep breaking off and each effort left me sinking ever further into what was later discovered to be cactus flats sediment clay.
I managed to get up into a place where my chest was kind of lying on top. Seconds later that gave way and now I am neck deep with no real idea how it was going to turn out. My gun was out of reach so shooting my gun to signal for help was no longer an option.
I stretched out my arms as far as I could and managed to grab a crack in the mud that held my grip. I pulled in a slow steady way and my feet, legs and hips were slowly released from the vacuum grip of the wet clay.
When I finally made it to the bank, I sat there for about 10 minutes replaying what had just happened.
If I had not managed to successfully make my escape, the only thing my hunting partners would have found would have been my gun. I turned into an air-dried rock mummy when the clay dried in about four minutes into solid concrete that when dry could be used for bridge pilings.
After a few calming beers and several smokes, I finally had my wits back about me. I reluctantly went back to the spot of my sinking, and the only indication I had ever been there was a spot about 2 feet wide and 6 feet long with a sheen of gray clay that had already started to crack and dry. In an hour there would have been no sign at all. It still looked like every other dry creek bed I had crossed.
The moral of the story is an important one.  Tell someone where you are going and when you will be home. My phone in this situation was in my back pants pocket and I could not have reached it on a bet. This will never happen again and from now on will ride in my upper vest pocket.
Hunting and recreational shooting are very safe outdoor adventures, but this by no means take no precautions. I have hunted often since this event but with a great deal more caution. You should, too.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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