School of Hard Knocks

Valedictorian of this prestigious Louisiana university, contributor Terry Jones has learned his lessons in this field.

A few months ago, Louisiana Sportsman readers were shocked and saddened to learn contributing writer Humberto Fontova suffered serious injuries in a freak bicycling accident.

As we wish him a speedy recovery, we should also be resolved to be more careful out there. “There but for the grace of God …”More than once, I’ve had my own painful (and embarrassing) mishap. Usually, it’s my own fault, but those experiences have taught me a lot about the do’s and don’ts of playing in the outdoors.

First, let me say that I am fairly intelligent and reasonably coordinated, with a healthy dose of common sense. However, strange accidents just seem to happen to me. So much so that Carol, my wife of 28 years, has stopped asking if I had any luck when I come in from a day in the field.

Now she looks at me half-smirking and asks, “Well, did you have any ‘Terry moments’ today?” “Terry moments” is her term for the odd occurrences that have taught me so much about surviving my hobbies.

One of my most bizarre “Terry moments” occurred while looking for arrowheads around Clear Lake during a drawdown. It was a blistering hot August day, and I was walking around the dry, cracked lake bed of Chivery Bay. After awhile, the going became more difficult, and I began breaking through the crust. Suddenly, it was difficult to pick my feet up out of the muck. And then it happened. I couldn’t move! I was stuck tighter than Anna Nicole’s jeans.

The more I struggled, the deeper I sank. I tried reaching down with my hands and digging out around my rubber boots, but the suction held me like a vise. After a lengthy struggle, I was soaking wet with sweat and nearing heat exhaustion. There I was, stuck fast in a lake bed under a blazing sun with no water, no cell phone, and no one within yelling distance.

I finally decided if I could slip out of the boots, maybe I could dig them up. After much effort, I managed to get my feet out, but then I lost my balance and thrust my right arm into the muck up to the elbow trying to catch myself. Thoroughly covered in mud, I went to work on the boots, but they still wouldn’t budge.

Completely exhausted and disgusted, I eventually just left them there and walked the mile back to the truck in my sock feet. I’ve always thought that in the distant future, archaeologists are going to find those two rubber boots and wonder what kind of giant bird snatched that poor guy off the lake bed.

I learned that day not to push my luck. Sometimes when the going gets tough, it’s just time to quit.

Statistically, the most dangerous part of hunting is driving to the woods. But I never studied statistics. With me just getting out of the driveway can be a challenge.

This past deer season I was loading my four wheeler into the truck bed before daylight. As I goosed it a bit to get all the way in, the ramp went flying out from under it. The back wheels dropped off the tailgate, and I began going over backwards. I thought what a shock it’s going to be to Carol to find me lying in the driveway squished under several hundred pounds of Honda.

Luckily, the ATV hung up on the tailgate, and my only injuries were some scrapes and bruises sustained as I tumbled to the driveway. That morning I learned to always double check that the ramp’s safety cables are firmly attached to the tailgate.

I’ve even injured myself after the hunt was over. Years ago when I was a student at Louisiana Tech, my brother Danny and I often went to the nearby Jackson-Bienville WMA to bow hunt. One day while walking back to the truck, I was taking practice shots at leaves and dirt clods with a field tip.

I had been working on relaxing my grip and was holding the bow with just my thumb and first two fingers. It was at full draw that I learned there is a fine line between a relaxed grip and no grip at all.

“Whack!” The old Fred Bear recurve slipped from my hand and smacked me right in the face. Stunned, I finally came to my senses and found to my relief nothing was broken or bleeding. Fortunately, no one was there to see it, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone.

However, when I met Danny, he immediately pointed to my head and asked, “What in the world happened to you?” Reaching up I discovered the large goose egg on my forehead, and had to explain everything. It made Danny’s day.

And of course, I’ve nearly killed myself during the hunt itself. I’ve become especially leery of tree stands.

I bought my first ladder stand about 25 years ago, and was excitedly putting it together in the living room one night. When I found there was one bolt missing, I looked in our junk drawer for another but couldn’t find one. Not to worry, I thought, I’ll just attach the step with a large nail and bend it back. Carol looked at me in disbelief and asked, “You think that’s a smart thing to do?”

“It’s just until I can get another bolt,” I assured her.

On opening day, I leaned my new stand against a tree and climbed up to attach it. I had entirely forgotten about the nail — until I reached the fourth step. Suddenly, the nail straightened, the step came off, and I fell through the stand and got hung up. Then the stand slowly began falling backward to the ground.

It’s amazing the mental clarity one has in that nanosecond between realizing you’ve really screwed up and the moment of impact. “That wasn’t very smart” flashed through my mind first, followed by “I wonder how bad this is going to hurt.”

Chiropractors and codeine helped me recover from the wrenched neck. But I did learn there are rare occasions when one should listen to the wife.

Two years later, same leaning stand (with a new bolt), same area. This time, I got it successfully placed against a beech tree next to a dry creek bed. After an hour or so, I shifted my weight, the stand twisted suddenly, and over the side I went.

Going down, I didn’t wonder how bad it was going to hurt — I knew. However, I did worry about the loaded 30-06 coming down with me. I hit the bottom of the creek like a head-shot fox squirrel. The rifle crashed right beside me with the muzzle in my face.

I learned two things that day. Safety harnesses do little good unless you actually wear them, and the quality control on Remington 700 safeties must be pretty high.

Even fishing has given me trouble over the years. About 20 years ago I had an old ’67 Chevy pickup and a worn-out Terry bass boat. The truck came from an Army auction and was pretty well used up. Among its eccentric qualities was a reluctance to crank while on an incline.

While launching at a public ramp in the Saline-Larto complex, I decided to leave the truck in neutral with the emergency brake on so I wouldn’t have to kill the motor. While unhooking the boat, there was a loud “Pop!” and the truck started rolling backwards. I dug in my heels to stop it but was steadily pushed back to the water.

In the next 10 feet, I learned that 200 pounds of muscle and sinew are no match for a ’67 Chevy’s inertia.

Jumping aside, I watched in horror as my truck rolled into the water and fell off the end of the ramp. Luckily, the bayou was very low. The water came up into the cab but never reached the engine, which was still clattering right along. The truck stayed there until a guy with a winch finally came along and pulled me out.

A couple of years ago, I bought a new Bass Tracker. Eager to get it on the water, I met up with my cousin Clay Scoggin at the St. Maurice ramp on Red River for some fishing and crow hunting. I proudly zoomed down the river, explaining to Clay all the boat’s features.

We got out on a sand bar to try some crows but had no luck. When we got back to the boat, our jaws dropped. The Tracker was filling with water and settling at the stern. Clay looked at me in amazement and asked the inevitable.

“Did you put the plug in?”

“Yes, I put the plug in! Dang it! A brand new boat, and it’s got a split hull!”

I jumped in, turned on the bilge pump, and reached over the stern to pull out the plug. Then I cranked up and made a few rounds to drain out as much water as possible before picking up Clay and roaring back to the landing.

Loading up, I was still ranting about my defective new boat. A couple of guys launching next to us couldn’t help but hear, and one asked, “Did you put the plug in?”

“Yes, I put the plug in!”

“Did you put it in the right hole?”

“Right hole?”

That’s when I learned that my Bass Tracker has three holes in the stern, but only one is for the drain plug. I had successfully plugged up the live well.

One year later, same boat. I had been catfishing behind a rock jetty in the Mississippi River near Lake Yucatan, and decided to move to another spot. My 40-horse Mercury usually cranks right up, but this time it stubbornly refused to start.

After an hour, I figured this was a mechanical problem beyond my ability to fix and decided to use the trolling motor to head back to the Yucatan. But even on high, the 36-pound thrust was not enough to get up the Big Muddy’s current past the jetty to the bayou. I finally was forced to fall back behind the rocks and wait until somebody came along to give me a tow.

Sitting there cussing my luck, my eye happened to fall on the kill switch. Surely not, I thought. I reached down and it jiggled just a hair. VROOM! The motor cranked right up, and I was back in business.

I learned that day when all else fails, check the obvious.

One year later, same boat, same place. I had been fishing the Mississippi for several years, and learned you can get from Lake Yucatan to the river without too much trouble as long as the Vicksburg gauge is above 10 feet. It read about 12 feet this day as I headed down the bayou to the river.

When you reach the rock jetty at the mouth of the bayou during low water, you have to make a nearly blind 90-degree turn to the left to stay in a narrow channel and off a sand bar that develops there.

The current was very swift as I reached the jetty and passed two guys anchored near the bank catfishing. They looked at me like I was nuts, but said nothing as I eased past and made the turn.

Immediately, I saw things were not right. Instead of the narrow channel I expected, ripples indicated the entire area had silted in. The swift current made turning around impossible, so I was committed, and ran hard aground.

For 30 minutes I gunned the motor, spraying mud and water everywhere in a gigantic rooster tail, but the stern dragged in the mud, and I could not get back into the bayou. The current made it difficult to control the boat, and I just went around and around in a circle.

Finally, I shut down and managed to drift over the bar into deeper water. O.K., I thought, now I can get some speed and jump over the shallow shelf. That didn’t work either.

Needing to think, I pulled into the bank and got out to sit awhile. Then upriver I saw what looked like a gray wall sweeping toward me. It was an intense thunderstorm! With lightning crashing everywhere and rain falling in absolute torrents, I hunkered down on top of the river bank completely dejected as to what I could do short of floating down to Natchez and calling Carol (which, believe me, was not high on my list of options).

Finally, I thought perhaps transferring weight to the bow might lift the stern up enough to get over the bar. It worked, and I finally made it home.

I learned that day that while the Mississippi’s whirlpools and deep holes are what scare most people, it’s the 6-inch-deep water that will ruin your day.

Probably my scariest moment in a boat happened to be a day I took my daughter Laura deer hunting. To get to my box stand, we had to cross a slough in a johnboat I kept there. The boat had several inches of water in it, and Laura looked at it nervously, and asked, “Shouldn’t we empty it first?”

I considered it because the water sloshing back and forth did make the boat somewhat unsteady. But I finally said, “Naw! That’s too much trouble, and it’ll make too much noise. It’s only about 100 yards across. We’ll be O.K.”

And we were — on the trip over.

Before starting back, I thought again about emptying the boat. But we’d had no trouble getting across, so why bother? I sat at the bow sculling, while Laura sat on the middle seat.

We were bow heavy with all the water settling our way, but nothing to be concerned about. All was well until I shifted around to change paddling arms. Water came over the bow, and we nosedived like a submarine.

As the boat slid under the water, Laura instinctively stood up and began stammering, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

“Just hold on to me and stay calm!” I said, grabbing on to her. And then suddenly we settled on the bottom.

It was only about waist deep, so I told Laura to gently step out of the boat.

“I’m standing on the bottom,” she said calmly.

She had already abandoned ship on the way down, and had one foot in the boat and one foot out. My paddle and everything loose in the boat was gone, but we sloshed ashore and dragged the boat out.

I was dry, having worn my waders, but poor Laura was soaked to the waist, and stood there shivering in the cold November morning. She took it well, though, and said later all she could think of as we went down was the theme song from the movie “Titanic.”

I learned that day to listen to your instincts. If a little voice in the back of your head says empty the boat, then empty the boat.

And yes, my wife dubbed it a “Terry moment.”

About Terry L. Jones 101 Articles
A native of Winn Parish, Terry L. Jones has enjoyed hunting and fishing North Louisiana’s woods and water for 50 years. He lives in West Monroe with his wife, Carol.

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