Always know what’s under the snow

Rescue from frigid waters Brothers learn valuable lesson when venturing out on ice: know the depth of the water

TURIN, Alta. — One day before Calvin Holthe’s 14th birthday, his older brother, Curtis, gave him the most valuable gift anyone can receive.

His life.

As the boys, now 15 and 16 years old, reflect on events of Nov. 6, 2011, they know Calvin could have drowned while the two were retrieving a duck they’d shot on a brief afternoon hunting trip.

That he didn’t is a miracle the boys’ father, Clancy, is grateful for every day.

“I still get a little teary when I think about it,” Clancy conceded.

The two boys are avid hunters and they had a goose licence they were itching to use on that -9 C autumn day. A neighbour’s field about eight kilometres from their own farmhouse near Turin had become a gathering spot for snow geese.

“The field was just white with them,” said Calvin, recounting the tale.

Despite plentiful targets, the boys missed their first two opportunities. They had better luck with a duck that had been paddling in the pond’s small patch of open water.

Both boys knew the ice was unlikely to hold them. It hadn’t yet been cold enough that winter. But they wanted to retrieve the duck, the only bird bagged that day.

“We didn’t think it would be that deep, so I went and put my chest waders on,” said Calvin. Carrying his gun, he walked onto the pond while Curtis, having warned him the ice was too thin, waited on shore.

The ice gave in. But rather than the waist high depth he was expecting, Calvin plunged into about two metres of water.

His chest waders began to fill.

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“All I could think of was holy crap. That was the only thing I could think of,” said Curtis, as he watched it happen.

He ran to the rescue and also fell in.

After some struggling, Curtis managed to pull both himself and Calvin out of the water.

The whole incident took as little as 10 minutes. Back at the farm, Clancy had a typical father’s reaction.

“First of all, I was pretty upset with them. ‘What are you doing out there, what are you doing something like that for?’ And then they left the gun out there too, and I said, ‘what the heck did you leave the gun out there for?’ ”

But once he’d surveyed the situation, gravity set in.

“I got quiet afterwards. I said it was pretty darned stupid and left it at that.”

The boys haven’t repeated their mistake.

“I should have hit them the first time,” said Calvin, tongue in cheek, about his feathered quarry.

But on a more serious note, he did take home a lesson from it.

“I’m not too scared of ice. I’ll go on ice again but I’ll really want to make sure how deep it is,” he said.

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“Always hunt with a buddy. And tell your parents where you’re going and stuff. And where you’re going to be. And know how deep the water is.”

Clancy said he knew the boys were going hunting but wasn’t sure where. He was busy that day repairing the manure spreader and wouldn’t have looked for the boys for at least two hours.

“It was deep. That would have been it for both of them. They’re lucky they got out,” Clancy said.

Both boys belong to two 4-H clubs and Calvin used the incident as a topic for a 4-H speech.

“Boy, that was stupid,” the speech begins.

After the initial adrenaline rush was over, Calvin began worrying about the gun, which had sunk to the bottom of the pond. The weapon once belonged to his grandfather.

“Nov. 6 was my grandfather’s birthday and so I called him and said ‘happy birthday. You know that gun you gave me? I lost it in a pond.’ He said ‘I’m glad you’re alive.’ He was really upset. He said it was just a gun.”

The shotgun was eventually retrieved and after some cleanup, it will probably be put away, said Clancy. The boys have plans to get new guns that will improve their luck when hunting.

“They do a lot more missing than hunting, actually. They go out missing coyotes,” Clancy said.

The boys take the remark in stride but the final lines of Calvin’s 4-H speech show he knows the real score.

“For my birthday, my parents gave me a camouflage jacket and pants. I also got new winter boots. My best present, though, was from Curtis. He gave me my life.”

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