Thursday, May 02, 2013

Loaded for Bear

Drawing from the Memory Bank: Year 1975:

It was early spring and the mountain air was sharp and fragrant with the rising sap from birch, oozing resin of fir, spruce and pine. Our small house was backed into the downslope of the last stony thrust of the Rocky Mountains. A flat area had been bulldozed where we parked the truck and built a small barn. The main door opened onto this area. The only window on this side was a small one which allowed you to see who was on the front porch. This floor held living room, kitchen, bath and the bedroom our sons, aged two and nine, shared. Our bedroom was downstairs.

The western view was breathtaking, a stretch of meadow, the Columbia River and beyond that the perpetually snow-capped Purcell Mountains. We lived surrounded by miles of unbroken wilderness.

Friends had come for dinner, the evening drew to a close. I tucked the boys in and retired to bed. About 2:00 A.M. I was awakened by our huge mastiff dog barking and pawing at the bedroom window. He raced around the house baying, and I had the sickening thought that maybe coyotes had gotten into the barn with the livestock. I threw on my robe and stumbled up the stairs.

I was a few feet from the front door when I heard the creaking. I stood transfixed as the solid door visibly bulged inward. Something very large was pushing on the door. I turned on the porch light and looked out the window. A huge black bear was standing on his hind feet, his shoulder pressed to the door, pushing with all his might.

My first thought was for the boys. If the bear got inside the boys were only steps away. I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a skillet. I drew back and hit the door as hard as I could with the bottom of the skillet.

The bear said, "Oof!" and jumped backwards off the the porch. The dog grabbed a mouthful of bear end and began shaking. It wasn't much of a match, but it took the bear by surprise. He took off up the hill, the dog right behind him.

The bear came back the next night, but by then I'd borrowed an ancient long gun from a neighbour. When I fired it, the recoil knocked me down. The RCMP came out and laughed at me and my borrowed gun. “If you hit him with that you'll just make him mad,” the officer said. “You need get a better gun than that.”

I drove the 40 miles to town to buy a gun. The gun shop owner wouldn't sell me one. "Here's what you need," he said. From under the counter he pulled a slingshot. I am not lying. He wanted me to go after a huge bear with a slingshot. "This is a hunting sling," he said. (It was an aluminum gizmo with an extension that slipped over your forearm.)

"All you want to do is sting him,” he said. “Make him associate your place with pain. Get some rocks about the size of a big marble and smack him as hard as possible in the ribs with rocks as fast as you can reload."

So, that night I had two dozen quarter-sized rocks lined up on the window sill and my sling at the ready. When the dog began screaming, "BEAR! BEAR!" I ran upstairs, slammed the skillet on the door and while the dog and the bear circled each other 15 feet away I hit the bear in the ribs with three or four rocks in quick succession. He jumped, said, ooofff, and then hightailed it up the slope, dog on his heels.

The bear woke our nearest neighbour about midnight a few nights later. John raised sheep. He heard frantic bleating, grabbed his gun and ran to his flock. There was our bear, playing racquet ball with John's sheep, slamming them against the side of the barn, one by one. By the time John shot him the bear had killed 80 sheep.

Most of the time the bears (and cougars) came and went without incident, but this was the exception I'll always remember, and gives me the right to brag that I've hunted bear with a slingshot and lived to tell the tale.

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