A Routine Ride
JOHN J. MCCOY JR.
Letterkenny Army Depot, Pennsylvania
Success was finally at hand as the 700-pound elk laid at my feet. This magnificent creature was the culmination of hours upon hours of physical preparation, mental concentration and pure luck. I had achieved a lifelong dream — taking an elk with archery tackle.
With some help from my hunting partner, we quartered the elk into several 100-pound bags of precious meat and more than 300 inches of antler. The pack-out was grueling to say the least — taking six trips to deliver it all to our ATVs. Adrenaline still coursed through my body as I loaded the cargo securely to the machine. All that was left was an easy 4-mile ride along the ridge of the mountain and down the steep slope to the truck.
I was steadfast in my focus. Getting the meat to the freezer was the only thing on my mind. I began the descent down the rocky mountain slope to the tree line like I’d done many times before. This trip, however, would be different.
In my rush to get to the truck without spoiling the meat, I failed to do some critical thinking — risk management! The ATV was way too heavy with its meat-laden front and antler/head/cape-weighted rear. On top of that, I had all my gear on my back too.
It was a rock the size of a softball that did me in. On the steep slope, I hit the rock, causing the ATV’s tires to turn quickly to my left. In slow motion I could feel the machine’s rear start to lift and shift sideways. A rollover was imminent. I braced for the crash, thinking I could defend myself by using my legs to keep from being crushed by the ATV or impaled by the antlers.
On the first roll, I was able to use the ATV’s momentum to prevent being crushed. On the second and third rolls, though, I was just a passenger on a death plunge down a rocky mountain. Fortunately — somehow, someway — after several rolls, the ATV hit the only pine tree within 100 yards.
I remember the silence as I laid on the ground. I was alone, as my hunting partner had stayed back a bit due to the heavy dust stirred up from the trail. I waited for the pain to overtake my body, but it never came. I don't know how, but, miraculously, I was in one piece and relatively unharmed. I’m convinced the only thing that saved me was some divine intervention!
I was lucky that day. Adrenaline, pride and overconfidence almost got me killed. The ATV was extremely overloaded and much too heavy on the front for me to control. Although I had spent months in preparation to achieve my goal, I didn’t take time to consider safety. I should have assessed the hazards and made smart decisions to protect myself on a routine ride that was anything but routine. Had I performed even the quickest risk assessment, I would have realized I was setting up myself for failure.
Nowadays, I am much smarter in my approach to dangerous tasks. Almost dying does that to you. When I look at the 6-by-6-foot bull in my living room, I not only see the trophy of a lifetime; I see how quickly we can become blind to risk. It’s a lesson I'll never forget.
To find out your ATV’s maximum allowable load rating, check out the owner’s manual. Also, always wear a helmet and other personal protective equipment as required by Army Regulation 385-10.