We searched for three hours before calling it for the night. Steve, Gene and Peter had to work in the morning. I’d be coming back in the morning to continue the search alone. If I couldn’t find it someone else would come with a hound and track it, but not until afternoon. Afternoon was not acceptable. I would find it, dammit. I would.
“What have I done?” Repeated many, many times during a very long night, as though I didn’t know. I knew what I’d done but I didn’t know how long I’d caused the bear to suffer. I went to bed at 1 am and dozed off and on for a couple of hours.
I headed back to Woodland to search for my bear. Distraught doesn’t describe my emotions. I’m not one to pray very often. Oh, I pray for other people but I don’t ask for myself often, and I don’t pray to an Americanized kind of god. “I need help. Guide me through me this and get me to my bear.”
And then I ask Mum for help. “I need help, Mum. Show me where the bear is.” She died 15 years ago but I know she’s with me for every step I take outdoors, every cast of my rod, every time I pull a trigger, every berry and mushroom I pick. I am my mother’s daughter. I park in a pullout on the dirt road, zip my light weight jacket to the top to help against the chilly morning air, and load my rifle. “Here we go…”
Standing at the bait bucket, I run through what happened the night before. Shot, bear rolled over bank, moved here and here and here, last heard it there. Nobody knows I’m out here right now. It’s early and nobody knows I’m out here alone, already searching. I’m concentrating on “alone.” This is all up to me now.
I’m walking through it. Shot, bear rolled over bank, moved here and here and here, last heard it there. I walk through it again, not finding any new blood spots in the daylight. Gene’s done a thorough job of finding every speck of blood there is. I have nothing new to go on. I’m in spots that make sense to me, poking the barrel of my loaded .308 into bushes and ferns, any covered spot a wounded bear might be hiding. “Please don’t be here,” I whisper at each spot, afraid of being attacked if I find him.
I’m getting no where in my search. Behind root masses of fallen trees, under blow downs, behind rocks. This is useless. I’m going back to the same places we searched the night before and I’ve already searched again this morning. I’m back to my useless “what have I done” mumbling. I’m so consumed by worrying about being attacked and what I’m going to tell people if I can’t find this bear that I’ve left my common sense and everything I know back at the bait bucket.
“Get yourself together,” I snap at myself out loud. Deep breath. “I can do this.” I head back to the bucket. I stare at the bucket while I get myself together. I’m not wasting time now.
It’s 7:16 am when I start my third pass, 11 hours and 57 minutes after I shot my bear. It’s cool but I’m running out of time if I’m going to save the meat.
What do I know? Okay…good place to start. What do I know?
Shot, bear rolled over bank, moved here and here and here, last heard it there. So I start “there” this time. I’m calm and I’ve forgotten that I’m cold. Yes, I might get hurt but no, I probably won’t. I push the thoughts of a wounded bear and getting myself hurt out of my mind. They’re distracting thoughts and I MUST concentrate on what I know.
What do I know? There’s a three foot wide trail behind the right side of the bait bucket. I stand in it, looking down the trail. It’s a clear trail. There are no raspberry bushes, ferns or blow downs. If I were a wounded bear I would probably take this easy trail.
What do I know? Bears and other animals head for a bog, mud or water when they are hurt. There’s a stream further back.
What do I know? I keep asking and answering this question. I didn’t hear the bear cross the stream. I follow the path to the edge of the stream and look up and down. It’s not there. There are no fresh tracks to the edge of the water and no tracks in the mud on the other side. This bear drags its left front paw or hops lightly on it. It would have left a track in the mud on the other side if it had crossed here.
I stare at the stream, clearing my mind while I back up 15 feet. I can go from spot to spot again…
“Turn around” popped into my mind. Thanks, Mum! And so I turn around.
My hand flew to my mouth. There he is! Oh my gawd. There he is, in a low spot only 10 feet from the stream. Mouth covered, I scream for split second. “AHHHHHHHH!” I jump up and down twice. “AHHHHHHHH!” I’m not screaming and jumping for joy. There’s no joy in any of this. I’m screaming and jumping in relief. It’s a completely overwhelming sense of relief I’ve felt twice before – the day Kristin and I didn’t die in child birth, and the day 15 month old Taylor didn’t die in a Boston emergency room.
Relief. I have not failed the bear or myself.
And then there’s silence. He’s not breathing. I watch for 30 seconds. He is not breathing. He is dead. I’ve found my bear.
I kneel beside him, stroking his fur. “I’m so sorry I’ve made you suffer. I’m sorry. Thank you.” Tears of relief stream down my face. I’m relieved in ways I cannot describe. With shaking hands I push the numbers on the keypad to tell Steve that it’s over.
“I found him.” He’s confused. He’s been at work and waiting for my phone call to say I’m going in to search. “I FOUND HIM!”
I had time to sit alone with the bear and think about what I’d experienced while I waited for Steve to get to me. I hadn’t made a perfect shot but it was, obviously, a kill shot. Meat on the table. I was alone when I made the decision to not shoot the bear I wanted so I could take this injured bear. We have good friends who will come out in the dark to help us find a wounded bear. I found the bear because I got my head straightened out, focused on what I know, and did what I had to do.
No joy. There’s no joy in killing an animal. He is not the first animal I’ve killed nor will he be the last.
There is pride on being able to make intelligent decisions and get the job done. It took me five years to get this bear.
I’ll spare you the details of intestines and blood but I do want to tell you more about this bear. He had to be dressed quickly. There wasn’t time to teach me how to do this job but I did help a little. That left front paw was almost completely disjointed at the ankle. He’d probably been hit by a car. I held his right paw up while he was being skinned. ” tink tink” The knife hit something odd just above his right elbow.
“Look at this.” Fragments of bone protruded above his right elbow. It wasn’t a fresh wound but it wasn’t yet calcified. He was thin. He had so little fat I’m sure he wouldn’t have survived winter. It’s no wonder he moved slowly and made so much noise. He had a hard time getting around. I’d focused on his paw. If he limped on his right front leg I hadn’t noticed.
I caused him more suffering, and I ended his suffering. I submitted a tooth to be aged but I won’t have his age back for about a year. He had gray on his muzzle and his teeth were very stained. I thought at first that he was fairly young because he weighed only 148.5 pounds but I now think he was probably quite old. I’ll let you know next year.