Always be prepared in the woods

The day was hot. My girlfriend and I had been camped across from the mouth of one of my favorite tributaries of the Eleven Point.

For three days we were there and not a soul had been seen.

Even though this story is about a time years ago, I still remember it like yesterday.

Floating season ends around Labor Day weekend and this was well after Labor Day, but still the temp each day had reached up to 98 degrees.

Far from a road or put-in we were in heaven with no care in the world. We were on a five-day river trip on the Eleven Point River in the Ozarks of Missouri.

Aside from spending our days soaking up the sun and laying around on the hot gravel and sand, we would explore with our empty canoe.

Sometimes leaving behind our base camp and exploring all day and coming back in the afternoon while bringing back with us items of trash general related to flooding.

Squirrel season was in and we had enjoyed several meals of fresh fried squirrel and fried potatoes, white bread and gravy.

The setup was perfect and occurred by pure luck. Across the river was a couple hickory trees that were being bombarded by every fox squirrel and grey squirrel in the wilderness.

Five people could fill their limit each day and never leave the campfire ring at the water’s edge.

When shotgunning tree-top squirrels from across the river, I prefer to use my long gun 12-gauge loaded with 2-3/4 inch long brass #6.

Richard Whiteside

I can clobber a squirrel with that round through that gun from 75 yards away. I leave my .640 Hastings turkey choke in just for that purpose.

One day I woke up early and filled my limit of squirrel before breakfast. Paddled over and collected them from the base of the big hickories along the Eleven Point for breakfast.

With my long gun leaning up against the sampling sycamore growing up out of the gravel, I drug my lawn chair out next to the water and drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up I could hear a jet boat coming up through the tumbling shoal at the lower end of the big eddy coming up river.

Thinking nothing of it, I just remained crashed out in my lawn chair. I recognized the father and son driving the boat from over the years being on the creek but did not recognize the other couple.

As they approached it seemed like he was letting off the throttle to pull onto our sliver of gravel bar. The couple that was riding up front did not see the silent lip motion the gentleman operating the boat gave me as they pulled up.

With his lips I could see him say he was sorry as he dumped them off on our gravel bar.

Leaving the couple on our gravel bar, the father and son pushed off and headed back down river.

I got up and approached the couple and very fast I saw that they were on some kind of drug such, like for heroin or meth.

They were talking out the side of their head and I felt a very uneasy feeling about the whole situation.

Trying to piece together what their intentions were, I could hear the jet boat down river below the tumbling shoal shut down and fire back up to come back up through the tumbling shoal.

I asked them if they were local and they said yes. I asked them if they lived on J Highway and they asked where J Highway was.

I knew then that they were, in fact, not local otherwise they would have known where J Highway was.

I politely told them that out of 45 miles of river, that making the decision to choose our sliver of gravel to squat on was slightly disrespectful considering that they could have gone anywhere but here.

They were standing at the entrance of our tent, all methed out.

I then asked them if they had more people because I could hear the jet boat coming back up.

Two trips would be required to shuttle their group up to the gravel bar we were on.

So I told him, “I believe if I was going to come up river to party on a gravel bar all day that I would find one where nobody was camping on.”

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I asked him if his vehicle was two miles down river at the put-in, and he said it was.

That is where our vehicle was also parked.

I then pointed at my canoe and camp and told him if I was able to carry 900 pounds of gear upriver two miles then surely you can walk empty-handed.

What I did not want was to spend the day in the wilderness with a crowd of drunk meth and heroin users. For the life of me I could not find where anything good could possibly come of that thought.

The couple was twitching and talking out the side of their head. In the lady’s hand was a breakfast burrito from a convenience store and a cigarette, and in the other was a container of some sort.

He had a shoulder bag around one shoulder with a skull and crossbones neckless and rings, and “666” tattoos all over him.

I have spent my whole life camping in the Ozarks and this was one time that I felt I really needed to be on my toes.

Where we were there is zero cell service. You can scream as load as you want and nobody will hear you.

With all the experience I had over the years, I felt red flags going off on my radar that usually don’t go off.

I told him that upriver two shoals was another decent gravel bar and that I thought it would be best if they walked on up there.

I did not want the rest if their part to all arrive. That would have made it more difficult to persuade them to all go. We would be way outnumbered.

The entire time my long 12-gauge was out of site, tucked up in the sycamore sapling a few feet from where I was standing.

My goal was to remove the threat from our vicinity and so far my tactics were working.

They began to walk past our tent along the water’s edge and as they reached the tip of the gravel bar, the boat rounded the bend with the other man in their party.

I was on the lower end of the gravel bar and they were on the upper end. I could hear the couple mouthing to the other gentleman but couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Mandy was in the tent and could hear what they were saying and she leaned out and said, “I think you need to get your gun.”

I looked and could see they were focused on us and began to walk our direction, so I took two steps and leaned over into the sapling and grabbed my turkey gun.

Took two steps back and faced away from them. I stood in clear view of them facing away and across the river.

They could clearly see my big 12-gauge resting on my shoulder in my hand as I looked across the river up into the big hickory tree.

I just stood there. Never moving or making any gesture at all. I just stood there.

Within a half a minute I heard the boat fire up and they all got in it and headed back down the river.

And just like that, we were without people and in solitude as if it never had even occurred.

This is a freak incident. Some of the best people I have ever met in my life have been on the water.

But I can tell you that it’s not the only incident where if I had not had a gun, who knows what would have happened.

That day on the Eleven Point could have been bad. One look at that big gun on my shoulder and they no longer had a desire to disturb us or harm us.

I don’t like thinking about it but that visible shotgun may have very well saved our lives.

I share this experience because I believe people should be made aware of what possible threats they may encounter.

If you spend enough time in the wilderness, eventually you will find yourself in a situation.

Be prepared.

(Richard Whiteside lives in Doniphan, Mo., and can be reached at His blog can be followed at

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