Bowhunter in Idaho Breaks Leg in Wilderness, Crawls for Days to Survive


When John Sain broke his leg in the middle of a vast and remote wilderness near McCall, Idaho, he thought it was the end. Sain had been backpacking through the Salmon-Challist National Forest in search of elk. It was supposed to be a short trip, but an incident last Wednesday stranded the hunter in the wilderness for four days—which he survived by crawling more than three miles to a nearby trail.

“I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it out,” Sain told KTVB, adding that he contemplated suicide and had written farewell letters to his family.

Sain had been tracking an elk deep into the forest when a misstep caught his foot between two fallen logs. The hunter tripped and fell forward, snapping his right leg almost in half. It was a nightmare scenario, and had Sain been any less prepared, it may have very well resulted in his death. Instead, the experienced hunter fashioned a splint out of sticks and ripped up clothing, and considered his choices. With no cell phone service, the only chance he had was reaching nearby Jackson Creek Trail and finding help. It was not an easy decision—Sain knew that he would have to crawl every inch across the wilderness if he wanted to make it.

For two and a half days, that was exactly what he did. Sain dropped everything except for a small survival kit, a water purifier, a pistol, and some food. By day, he crawled as far as he could. By night, he warmed himself by a fire and ate the food he had rationed out. Finding water was more difficult due to his lack of mobility, and Sain focused on reaching the trail as fast as possible. By the time he arrived, Sain was extremely dehydrated, exhausted, and in agonizing pain from his broken leg.

The hunter scrawled “Help” in the dirt and waited on the trail for someone to pass by. When the hours ticked away and the trail remained deserted, Sain said he was at his breaking point.

“Well, when you’re laying there and your foot is back here, you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re not going to make it. That’s just the bottom line,” he told KABC.

Wracked by pain and thirst, the hunter said his mind drifted more and more to the gun he had kept on his hip. In the end it was someone else’s misfortune that saved Sain’s life. Two motorcyclists had gotten lost in the forest and took the trail by mistake, eventually finding Sain. Rescue workers soon arrived to stabilize the hunter and used chainsaws to clear out a patch of forest so a helicopter could airlift him to a nearby hospital.

“It was hard just knowing that he’s out in the hills just trying to stay alive,” said his wife Jennifer Sain. “It still doesn’t seem real to me.”

Sain’s family flew out from California to visit him in the hospital, where Sain is recovering from surgery. The hunter is expected to make a full recovery, and he says he will continue hunting despite this terrifying experience. Next time, Sain added that he will bring along a GPS locator—just in case.

You can see a bedside interview with Sain below:

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