Not Looking To Die

Deputy Sheriff and NAH Life Member Bill Sansom was not looking to die when he responded to a pre-dawn neighborhood disturbance at a trailer court just outside his hometown of St. Regis, Montana.

Someone had slashed tires on several vehicles belonging to loggers wanting to get back to work after the Christmas holiday weekend. After Bill restrained the angry mob, he followed barefoot tracks in the snow from each disabled vehicle to a small camper trailer. The 26-year-old deputy sheriff stepped up on the three-step porch and knocked on the door. His knock was answered by a hail of bullets.

The first .44 Rem. Mag. 240-grain jacketed hollow point tore through Bill’s abdomen, shattered his right hip joint, and careened down his leg, lodging in his knee. A second bullet took out Bill’s left lung and dislocated his shoulder. As the young deputy lay broken and stunned in the snow, his assailant made the mistake of stepping out onto the small porch. Bill managed to free his gun hand pinned underneath him, and return fire as yet a third bullet ricocheted off the frozen ground between his splayed legs and ripped through his left thigh, cutting his femoral artery.

It was over in a heartbeat. In the frigid December dawn, deputy sheriff Bill Sansom lay in a widening pool of his own blood. His assailant lay dead on the trailer house porch.

After two weeks in intensive care on life support, multiple reconstructive surgeries and months of agonizing rehab, Bill was wheeled into a waiting Sheriff’s patrol car and sent home to heal. Forced to retire due to his wounds, Bill slowly began the rehabilitation that would enable him to not only get on with his life, but to pursue his latent passion for writing.

Bill wrote for weekly newspapers, letters to editors, school sports columns. He started several novels and, in 1991, Bugle Magazine, the journal of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, published his first story, “Last Trip To Hideout Fold.” Many articles and stories later Bill became an award winning and nationally respected author of outdoor and hunting stories.

Bill believes all of those stories emanated from the recovery and rehabilitation of his body, mind and emotions that came as a result of his return to the outdoor life, particularly hunting, a therapy nurtured by his family and doctors.

In 1998, Bugle Magazine, published Bill’s written account of the shooting incident, and titled it “Not Looking to Die.” Now that story is the centerpiece chapter of a new 192-page book that includes 24 Chapters of Sansom’s more popular stories published in national hunting magazines, where Sansom developed a following of loyal fans who not only read about hunting elk, whitetail deer, bear, mountain lion and mule deer, but also the adventures and misadventures of the various individuals who took to the woods with Bill in quest of these species.

Dan Crockett, Editor of Bugle Magazine, wrote in a testimonial for Sansom’s book: “These are hunting stories, and good ones. But they’re also about life and death, truth and beauty, family and friends, honor and shame, striving and falling short. They venture into the gray shadows beyond black and white, places where success can be measured in far more than packages of meat and inches of horn.”

M.R. James, founder of Bowhunter Magazine, wrote: “Bill Sansom is much more than a good hunter who shares well-told outdoor adventures through his writing; he’s a gifted writer who just happens to be a good hunter and outdoorsman.”

In “Not Looking To Die,” Sansom literally recounts his life and experiences in the outdoors, from the early years growing up in the rugged, forested Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana where he learned from his father not only how to hunt, but why and how he should respect the land and its wildlife.

In particular, three chapters in this collection emphasize how that ethic was drilled into him by his father. In “Immigrant Elk of the Bitterroot Mountains,” “Ol’ Wisdom” (a bull elk he and his father came to revere) and “Last Rites For Ranch Hill,” he tells of the joy and the bittersweet memories of bad and good times gone, but never forgotten.

Other stories recount the development of character in Sansom himself, and those he hunted with, including a heart- tugging recollection of a number of hunter friends who helped a young Marine, diagnosed with terminal cancer during his duty in Afghanistan and sent home to die, realize his last wish to shoot a 6x6 bull elk, before he died. Titled “Esprit De Corps,” this chapter touches an incredible depth of emotions that hunters share in quests that don’t always turn out the way they would like them to.

Throughout the book, Sansom emphasizes the strength of family and the role of his father, himself and others in passing on the traditions of hunting from one generation to the next. In chapters titled “The Lessons Best Learned” and “Growing a Hunter,” he literally bares his heart in the pursuit of this theme.

A Foreword to Sansom’s book by author Don Burgess, former hunting editor for Bugle Magazine, speaks to the power in Sansom’s writing: “Brought up far from the ivory towers of academia, not schooled beyond high school,” Burgess wrote, “Bill developed—by sheer native enthusiasm and talent and desire—the ability to write stories that grab readers and carry them off like an eagle snatching a jackrabbit.”

Editor’s Note:
“Not Looking To Die,” published in softcover, contains 192 pages filled with many photographs, and 24 chapters spanning a lifetime in the outdoors. I have personally had the pleasure of working with Bill through the years, and if you’ve been paying attention, you might recall reading a bunch of his work in past issues of North American Hunter. And if you want to chat with Bill, he’s a very regular visitor to the North American Hunter forums.

For the perfect campfire read that will stir past memories and those emotions often felt only in the field, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Bill’s book. I’ve read it cover-to-cover, twice.
-Luke Hartle
Senior Editor and TV Host, North American Hunter

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