To Shoot Another Day

Al Hingst decided to return to Africa and go on safari with a rifle after floating over parts of Kenya in a hot air balloon. This eland was taken in Zimbabwe.

It was one of those moments when pure terror leaps into your life. Everything seems to be normal and calm when out of a clear blue sky, hell suddenly opens it jaws and seizes you.

Al Hingst was after spring turkey in Nebraska. He was behind cover, calling in a tom turkey and getting ready for his shot as the bird moved closer. Behind him was another hunter, but Hingst had no idea he was there. More importantly, the other hunter had no idea Hingst was there.

Hingst, 58, of Lincoln, Neb., has been in the trucking business for 40 years. He began work as a night dispatcher in Freemont, Neb., working his way through college. Hingst went to work with Little Audrey Transportation and on to Crete Carrier after graduation. He left in 1985 and became a trucking company owner, buying Jacobson Transportation.

“The company was tankers and I added vans, but then I found I couldn’t run both. So I sold the tankers and the company name, kept the vans and started JTI using the old company initials,” says Hingst. “Although when people ask, I’ll sometimes tell them it stands for ‘Just Try It.'” In 1997 he sold the company to U.S. Xpress and took an executive vice-president’s job with the company recruiting owner-operators.

So many trucking veterans who also hunt learned from their fathers. But Hingst’s father didn’t hunt. “He was a farmer, and then we moved to town. He started a furniture business,” Hingst says. “It was his bowling partner that got me into hunting. He gave me a gun, a break-open single shot .410 shotgun, and I went pheasant hunting with him.”

Hingst first went hunting elk in 1969 and has never stopped.

“I went with a contractor leased to Crete. I didn’t know a thing about elk hunting, but I remember that first time like it was yesterday. He’d bought a new pickup just for the trip, and I had to drive 40 miles to meet him. But the pickup had transmission trouble so we took his wife’s car, a big Chrysler New Yorker, with a two-wheel trailer behind. We got up around Eagle, Colo., and we went sliding off into a ditch.

“The New Yorker had landed on its nose with the doors up so we could climb out. He knew two truckers in Denver, so at 3 a.m. we called them. Then we climbed back in and slept standing up.”

The Denver truckers eventually arrived in a Dodge Powerwagon with a winch and pulled the New Yorker and it’s trailer out of the ditch. Hingst and his owner-operator buddy went on to camp and hunted several days through a blizzard.

A few years later, Hingst bought and fixed up a Toyota Land Cruiser to take on his own hunting excursions. But it wasn’t immune to run-ins with snowy mountain roads. “I was going up a logging road up a mountain pass when the edge of the road gave away, and the right front wheel went down in a hole and the left wheel went right up in the air,” Hingst says. “I was scared to death. I told my buddy, ‘We’ve got to get out and tie us to a tree or we’re going to roll right back down the mountain.’ We managed to get out and tie it off. I had a chain saw, and we cut down some trees and filled in the hole and winched ourselves out.”

But the threat of sliding down a mountain didn’t stop Hingst from heading back into the high country looking for elk. Nor did it stop him taking up a shotgun in the spring and looking for turkey on land in the northwest Nebraska Pine Ridge High Country where Crete employees went to hunt privately.

In the spring of 1982, Hingst had his eye on a tom turkey on the private preserve. “He was coming in, and I was about ready to take him,” Hingst says. “I was behind a bush, and then next thing I know I felt like someone had run over me with a truck or attacked me from behind with a sledgehammer.

“I’d been behind a bush, and the next thing I was 10 feet on the other side of it looking back. I still didn’t have any idea what had happened.”

But Hingst’s world had gone crazy, and his life hung by a thread. Standing close behind, a young hunter had shot him at close range.

“This young guy had been trespassing. He had heard my call and maybe seen the tom, and he’d mistaken me for the bird and fired,” Hingst says. “But fortunately when he raised up and saw what he’d done, he came running down the hill to me. Thank God he did; if he hadn’t I’d be dead.

“He just stood there; then he said, ‘What do I do?” I knew what had happened by then. There was blood everywhere. I knew I’d been hit internally, but I didn’t know how badly. My jacket was soaked, and I tore the sleeve and I could see an artery had been blown open by the shot. ‘We need a tourniquet, or I’ll bleed to death. Give me your belt.’ He calmed down enough to help, and we stopped the bleeding as best we could. ‘You have to get me back to the farmhouse,’ I told him, and we made it back, I don’t know how. There was a game warden at the house, but the young man who shot me kept going and brought me in. He did the right thing.”

Hingst was taken to a small local hospital where doctors told him they could not save his arm. “All the guys with me chipped in $100 to pay for a special plane to fly me to Lincoln. That’s the sort of guys you want to hunt with,” he says.

The arm was saved, and Hingst made it out alive after “26 inches of my intestines that had been blown up had been sewn back together.” He spent seven days in the hospital and seven days recuperating and was back at work two weeks after the accident. “The doctors told me that if I hadn’t been in shape, I would have died. I used to do a lot of racquetball and weight lifting, and it seems that saved me.”

The accident didn’t slow down Hingst’s hunting. Not only did he go back to shooting turkey and elk, he ventured farther afield to find game after he recovered.

“About seven years ago I went to Kenya with a partner. I went on a picture-taking safari, floating over the land in a hot air balloon and making photographs,” Hingst says. “Three years after that I had to go back; it was a place I couldn’t get out of my mind. I went to Zimbabwe with an old elk-hunting buddy. We started out after the most dangerous thing we could find, Cape Buffalo. You go after them, and they’re mean and they want to kill you; it’s the only way they know how to survive.

“I got a really good animal with a 42-inch horn spread. My buddy shot one, but he didn’t bring it down and it turned on him and came after him. The guides had to put it down before it got to him because it wasn’t going to stop.”

Hingst kept the safari going, taking an eland, kudu, wildebeest, warthog, zebra and impala.*

“I suppose someone will ask, ‘With all this hunting does he ever work?’ But I work hard. I only hunt for a week most years,” he says. “It’s about managing your time. I know owner-operators, and the best of them can do this. If they love hunting, they organize their work lives to make time for it. They’ll run hard three or four weeks at a time and then go home, and they’ll be working for that hunting time, planning when to take it and knowing that they’ve paid for it ahead of time. A company driver can do the same thing.

“Time off, time to go hunting, is not something that just comes along when you can’t find a load. Today a successful driver plans, and that’s how I find my time to hunt.”

This year’s elk hunt for Hingst was something special. He wasn’t planning to go.

“Then I got a call from a friend I’d been hunting with for 17 years,” Hingst says. “He’s 74 and he wanted to go one last time. The last seven or eight years I’ve gone solo, but this was a real old friend.”

They decided to go on a guided hunt, riding on horseback. But Hingst’s friend started having trouble breathing at about 10,000 feet. “He used his head; he knew he had to go back. He didn’t fight it,” Hingst says. “That was sad. But he wouldn’t let me go back with him.”

Hingst stayed on the hunt for a few days but didn’t kill anything, though he had the chance.

“Some elk cows walked across in front of me, and I could have taken them easily enough, but I didn’t want to. I just sat and watched them and thought about how lucky I was to be up there, so close to nature, with silence and wild animals around me,” he says. “I nearly died hunting, and here I am still here. When something like that happens to you, it changes you, and you treasure every minute, every hour of your life. It’s a good way to live.”

*Find out more about these game animals at this site


OFF-DUTY DESTINATIONS:
Go on a Mission

You must remember the Alamo.

While this most famous of American icons stays lodged in our memories, many of what we might call her sisters lie all but forgotten by most of us. The Alamo is an old Spanish mission, one of many built from California to Florida during the early years of this country.

A visit can give you something rare – that spine-tingling sense that you are standing on the exact spot where some of America’s earliest history took place and the chance to look around, touch it and try to imagine being part of it.

The Spanish crown and Franciscan priests founded a series of missions and forts in Florida after 1573, mainly along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. By 1650 there were 50 of them. When my son was only six or seven years old, my wife and I took him to St. Augustine, Fla., site of the earliest Spanish settlement in today’s America, a fort and fortified town built in 1565 (and now the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States). We imagined sailing ships in the bay, pirate raids, settlers and garrisons trading with the local Indians, and the blast of cannon and the smell of gunpowder as England’s swashbuckling hero Sir Francis Drake sacked and burned the town. When my son found a small gold coin under an old pile of cannonballs (okay, so it wasn’t gold, and we put it there) he was ecstatically part of our history, imagining he held in his hands something once in the pocket of some fabulous figure from America’s first days.

Little evidence remains of most of these missions and forts. If you are driving in Florida, try this site on the Net and find some places where you can dig around for traces of the first Spanish settlers in America.

Spanish Franciscan missionaries and their missions played an important role in establishing European settlement in what are now our Southwestern states. After the Spaniards colonized Mexico, they wanted to protect those colonies with a fortified northern barrier and also to convert native people to Christianity. A key part of their strategy was to build a system of contained and self-sufficient communities throughout California and the Southwest.

The first Southwestern missions were established by friars accompanying a military expedition in 1598. During the next 100 years Franciscan priests backed by the Roman Catholic church founded more than 40 more missions. By 1680 missions had been established among most of the Indians in Spain’s New Mexico colony.

The first Franciscan mission in California, Mission San Diego de Alcal, was set up by Father Jun