One thing to remember when hunting moose in northern British Columbia -- always look out for bears.
Nick knew that. He had grown up in the western province of Canada, and he had been going outdoors his whole life. His father taught him how to hunt, how to fish, and how to always be aware of those bears.
Black bears you only really needed to know about during the spring. They didn’t tend to be aggressive. They were more interested in trash cans and beehives. But in the spring time, when the momma bears had their cubs, these bears could be dangerous. The old saying you don’t come between a momma bear and her cubs exists for a reason.
But the grizzly bears, those critters were nasty. Whenever they invaded black bear territory, they would start terrorizing the black bears to make them move out. When they killed the black bears, they didn’t just kill for food. They’d rip out the hearts and eat them, letting others know they were the top bear in the forest.
In British Columbia, odds are more likely you will see a black bear than a grizzly. Black bears number around 120,000 in the province; grizzly bears number only about 15,000. So, you’re much more likely to encounter a black bear than a grizzly bear. And even then, conservation officers like to point out that unprovoked attacks are rare.
None of those facts helped Nick that day.
Moose hunting can be dangerous for a host of reasons. For one, moose don’t like people, and they can be aggressive. Second, their size makes them a danger, whether they attack you, or you manage to kill one and have to figure out how to get it back to your home, your camp, or wherever.
Standing 7-8 feet tall at the shoulders (add another couple feet or more for head and antlers, and you’ve got a tall animal), and weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, you have a lot of animal to cut up and haul away if you do make a successful kill. Of course, the hunters use their all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks to carry the carcase home, but still, the job is easier with two or more than it is with one.
But Nick couldn’t get together with his buddies that day. Some had to work, others had grandkids to see, so he just picked up his gun and headed to the forest by himself.
It didn’t take long to see the bull moose in the clearing. His antlers were easy to spot above the small saplings near the river. Moose don’t like the overgrown forests, with their low-lying branches and tangled weeds. The antlers make a mess of the growth, so they prefer plains and swampy areas with fewer trees.
One shot perfectly felled the bull moose for Nick, and the animal fell to the ground almost immediately. Nick set about field dressing him to prepare the moose for the ride home. He turned the moose on its back and strung each leg to a different tree, giving him access to the under belly. He was cutting away when he heard a noise coming through the woods. The familiar sound of footsteps across the pine needles, a few snapped twigs, and then a regular huff and puff.
This was the biggest reason to always hunt in pairs. Moose season in Canada falls in the autumn, right before hibernation time for bears. Faced with the winter slumber, bears will stock up on proteins and fats to get them through the cold-weather fast. A freshly killed moose makes for a tantalizing treat, and if a hunter gets in the way, well, hors d’oeuvres are served.
When a hunter is engaged in field dressing his moose, he isn’t able to pay enough attention to the dangers surrounding him. An extra set of eyes -- and an extra weapon -- come in handy.
Nick didn’t have these at his disposal that day, so he tried to stay on high alert. He recognized the sounds of an approaching grizzly, and he turned just in time to see a mammoth bear staring through him into the moose carcase. Easily 700 pounds and standing 6 feet tall on all fours, the bear would make quick work of him.
With a deafening roar, the bear swiped a massive paw at Nick’s head. He dodged in time, with a glancing blow from one of the extended claws drawing blood from his scalp. Nick reached for his gun, and grabbed it with his left hand. Before he could pass it to his dominant right hand, the bear clamped down on his right forearm.
Nick screamed in pain as teeth tore into muscle, and his ulna and radius cracked. He thought at first that the arm had been ripped off, the pain was so great, but instead, the bear dragged him to the ground as easily as a toy doll. Try as he might, he couldn’t budge his arm from the bear’s mouth.
Still clutching the gun in his off hand, Nick tried to aim the gun at the beast’s head. But he couldn’t handle the gun well enough to aim properly. His right hand dangled from the jaws of the bear, and he tried in vain to grab hold of the fur at the front of the bear’s neck to steady himself.
The bear chomped again onto his harm, and the movement allowed his hand to turn toward the bear’s mouth. Suddenly, he was struck by a thought. Lifting up on his legs, he turned his hand into the bear’s mouth, and used his full body weight to shove his hand into the mouth. The bear gagged, but Nick kept pressing his arm further down the bear’s throat. The bear chewed and sank his teeth into his arm, and Nick felt the blood flowing.
Finally, Nick forced his arm down the bear’s throat all the way to his shoulder, and he leaned his body into the bear’s chest. He had the gun pinned against the bear, with the muzzle pointed toward his head. From this angle, he had a clear shot. He let out a cry of desperation and pulled the trigger.
With a loud blam, the bear’s brains went flying through the air, descending in a cascade of mush on the nearby trees. The shotgun flew out of his hand and landed several feet away, nearly taking a couple of fingers with it. The lifeless bear collapsed to the ground, slamming Nick hard into the ground, but fortunately not on top of him.
NIck took in the quiet for several seconds, glad to be able to breathe. Woozy and dazed, he sat up and pulled his arm back out of the bear’s mouth. He sat on the ground several minutes as he tried to collect his thoughts.
He looked at his right arm. Despite the pain in his forearm, and some deep scratches and cuts, he didn’t seem to be spurting blood. As if by a miracle, the bear’s teeth had missed any major blood vessels.
He righted himself, stumbled over to his ATV, gingerly cranked it up, and drove to his awaiting truck. He wasn’t sure if he would come back for his kill, but if he did, he wasn’t going to come alone.
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