Becoming a Master Hunter
Did we have a great summer or what? If it got too hot to fish you could always go swimming, goggle at the girls on the beach, play in the water, or just lie in the shade. The wildlife got into summer in a big way, finally catching up on the weight they lost over a long and cold winter and a wet spring. I, on the other hand, put on weight over the long cold winter and apparently it decided to stay throughout the summer and into fall. The wild fruit has been a bumper crop this year, helping the bears and coons fatten their babies.
Of course, our cherries ripened first and just like long lost relatives who discovered you moved to God’s country, the critters all decided to visit us until the food ran out. A young sow and her cute cub showed up the night before the cherries were ready to pick. They climbed up the first tree and pigged out, breaking a limb or two. The next night they showed up and devastated the second tree. So, I hot wired both trees. That’s right, I connected a livestock fence charger across to both trees. Momma bear was not impressed. She crawled most of the way over the wire, then it lit up her butt. She shot to the top of that cherry tree, pushed her cub out on a small limb at the very top and would not come down. I found them there at 4:30 in the morning. Even our old dog, Tess, did not faze them. In fact, I think Tess was just encouraging them to hang in there and bring a little excitement into her otherwise dull life.
This bear incident would have made a great movie. Walt Disney would have loved to have filmed this just to prove to the world how much bears and humans are alike. First, she threatened me with some bear profanity and I returned with some of my own and at one point when I was referring to her family heritage she covered the cub’s ears. Finally, after using all the words of discouragement I could think of, I unhooked the wire and took it down from the tree. She didn’t care and wasn’t budging. So, I hosed her down. I stood there with the garden hose turned on high and she let out a squall of bear profanity so loud the cub covered his own ears.
That’s when she decided to empty out all the cherries she had eaten for the last two days. It looked like about five gallons of cherry pie filling. We backed out of the garden and waited. Then around 10:30 she had had enough so she came down to the lowest limb and stopped. Then she did something a human would do. She slid one hind leg slowly down the tree, feeling with her foot for the hot wire. Not finding it she went back up on top of that limb and crawled out head first until the limb bent down close enough to the ground, then jumped off. The cub followed and they headed for the nearest woods as fast as they could.
They were back the next day, but gave a wide birth to the garden and this time she and the cub were only eating serviceberries. Cherries just didn’t seem that appealing anymore.
Now, I know that the Northwest Indians believe the bear is their brother and is almost human, but they observe bears in a different light than we do. Lovie and I have been observing bears doing their thing for a long time now and, yes, some of the things they do are quite humanistic. For instance, serviceberry bushes are about the size of a man’s arm and grow up to twenty feet tall. They are too small for a grown bear to climb, so our little momma bear stood on her hind feet and reached as high as she could and pulled the limbs all the way down to the ground, eating berries as she went. Then she sat down on the limb so she and the cub could clean off the rest of the berries. At first I thought this was a novel accident until I watched her do this to all the berry bushes in that group. Pull them down and sit on ‘em until she and the cub could clean all the berries off each limb. One funny thing happened during this procedure as she stepped off of a limb before the cub was done eating. Unfortunately, it was standing astraddle of the limb and was shot up into the top of the stand of serviceberry bushes where it began to eat as though that was a normal reaction.
As a youngster we read the story of Johnny Appleseed, the young man who went through the woods planting apple seeds to assure that future generations would have apples. But, here in the Northwest it is the bear that scatters the apple seeds. Each fall, with a belly full of apples, he deposits seed everywhere he relieves his bowels. That’s why you’ll find apple trees in the oddest and sometimes most remote places throughout the woods. It’s a good thing all the seeds don’t sprout because if they did, you couldn’t see the forest for the apple trees.
Sportsmen throughout the world have hunted bears for trophies and early settlers hunted bears for food, rendering the fat out for cooking. It’s not unlike the fat on hogs, except bear fat is considered the best for baking pie crust. As a young man growing up in the South I read everything I could about bear hunting in the outdoor magazines and was excited to hunt for my first bear when I arrived in Idaho.
The Pack River bottom is covered in berry bushes and when fall came so did the bears. Each evening we could hear the bears pulling down berry bushes as our home was just a short distance from the river. One evening I found myself hidden behind an old stump overlooking a bend in the river. No sooner had I got set down when out of the brush across the meadow stepped a black bear. I rested my rifle on the stump and waited. The bear was strolling straight to me. When he got to within a hundred yards he stepped up on a log, exposing his chest, which would have been a perfect kill shot. But I was raised up to take a neck shot on elk, deer and antelope so you wouldn’t ruin any meat.
Just at that time the bear turned his head and looked across the river and I took the neck shot. The bear jumped as high as any high jumper and came down over the ten foot bank and into the river. I ran as fast as I could to get to him, afraid he would escape out the other side of the river. In the mean time the bear was thrashing wildly in the water. By the time I arrived on the spot where the bear went over the river bank the splashing had stopped. There, ten foot below me, floating in the river, was my first bear. With help from all the neighbors and our pickup we finally had the bear hanging from the rafters in our barn. By the time the hide was skinned down to the bear’s head it was mentioned by several onlookers how much the bear’s carcass looked like that of a human. It was at this time our neighbor, Jim, pointed out that there were no sign of a bullet wound. This statement opened up the opportunity for me to brag on my shooting ability.
“My dear fellow, one does not waste precious meat where I come from. First one learns to shoot. For instance, I shot this bear right behind the ear in the neck,” I said, “not wasting an ounce of meat.”
“Show me,” he said.
We skinned the hide down over the bear’s head and found no bullet wound in the neck or head. After closer examination we found a small nick in the skin just under the jaw where the bullet had broke the hide. Apparently, the bear’s reaction to the impact of the bullet shocked him into jumping up and landing upside down in the river, which caused him to panic and to breathe in too much water and drown. I have made a lot of great shots in my hunting career but to scare a bear to death with one shot is one for the record books!
ON THE DARK SIDE: A Note About the Future
As I sat there by the phone waiting for the next telemarketers to call , I got an actual phone call. It was from my personal surgeon—I say personal because he has cut on me so many times we trade recipes, Anyway, he said I should stop by his office and pick up my folder on my way to see a doctor named Holbrook at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane. Said he wanted him to check over some of my x-rays
This new doc received the x-rays first while I waited in the outer office, and when he asked to see me I walked in to a huge, well-decorated office. He was sitting behind a large, polished oak desk and standing on either side of him were two large gentlemen who looked a lot like federal agents. “These are my associates,” he said, with a wave of his hand. “Now, let’s get right to it. You have a large cancer deposit in your stomach; I can cut that out, put you on chemo over in Coeur d’Alene so you wont have to drive so far for your treatments. And If everything goes well you’ll have six months to live. Be in Spokane the night before in a cheap motel nearby and have nothing to eat, drink or be merry from the night before. My secretary will schedule your operation and give you some paperwork to fill out. Oh, and I will give you some pills that will help you with your appetite.”
“Appetite,” I said. “Are you crazy? There’s nothing wrong with my appetite. I eat like a pig and have put on several pounds this month and as for as this cancer goes, this is the first time I have heard about it.”
He was quietly looking over his glasses at me and finally said, “Would you excuse me for a minute, I’d like a word with my associates.” When I returned he had reread my files and re-discovered I had a large growth in my stomach. He didn’t want to lose the money on the operation so they scheduled me for an operation and took the growth out. It was scar tissue created by a military hospital in Houston; that’s where they let kids practice on you until they get their doctorate.
Cancer, the word no one wants to hear but are looking for it everywhere. Is this a cancer on my breast? There’s a lump there. No, wait that is my breast. I just know I have cancer my grandmother had it, and when the word comes that you do have cancer... you panic. “Oh, God, I’m going to die.”
Well, that was a while back and now I have cancer throughout my body. They have done just about everything they can do for and to me. So for the next few months I will relate to you what happens in chemo and other cancer treatments, until they through dirt in my face. Dying isn’t funny, but getting there has its moments.