Sealing the Deal
by Marc Taylor
|Nervous; he just can’t shake the jitters that accompany the moment before the shot. Adrenaline flows freely through his veins, although the large male black bear approaching through the spruce forest comes mostly expected. That doesn’t change the nervous excitement
that causes his palms to sweat, and his bow to shake in his hands as he places the release on the loop to the rear of the string. He has been sitting this stand for each of the last three evenings, and is now hoping that fate will finally allow the bear who has
been raiding the bait station just after dark to break his routine.
Well the bear’s routine has been broken, but the hunter’s anxious routine persists. He recalls the first time. In the oak-studded piney woods of Mississippi, when the whitetail deer buck cautiously approached the thirteen-year-old hunter’s tree stand at the edge of the soybean field. A tiny heart pounded with anticipation. A cold shiver reverberated through the young body. Anticipation of what… the shot? Anticipation of the kill? Maybe it was being in the presence of a game animal – and its absence of the knowledge of the young hunter’s lethal posture above that gave him the strange feeling that he experiences to this day, each time he is poised to send the target of his passions - his desires - to its final destination; the eternal memory of the hunter.
Then, it was a .410 gauge shotgun with a lead slug. Now it is a compound bow and carbon arrows tipped with razor-sharp blades of steel. He has evolved through a series of tools of the trade, each providing a measure of lethality appropriate to the quarry and the conditions of the hunt. Through the changes, some things remain the same. Years and months of practice culminate in a single moment for those who participate in this deadly game, but for him, the nervous excitement that may sometimes accompany the shot is ever-present. And this time it is especially bad.
The large black mass stirs beneath the dense alder and willow cover. The source of heat and light hangs lower in the daylight sky, and a cool breeze awakens the bear from restful sleep. He lets out a long yawn and rolls up on his haunches, appearing much like a plump black ball of hair below beady, sleepy eyes.
The previous fall he was in position to harvest a tremendous caribou bull. Having spotted three bulls as they bedded for the afternoon, but a full mile away, he planned a stalk that would take him to a stream drainage just downwind of their position. The closer he got the more adrenaline his heart received. It caused him to sweat in the fall coolness. As he closed to within shooting distance, and could see the antlers of the largest of the three bulls just over the horizon. He froze. The beat of his heart could be felt within his ears as if listening though a stethoscope. Creeping forward, he placed the crosshairs of the 6X scope on the horizon and walked forward. The back of the bull slowly filled the bottom of the scope from the distance that had been closed to a mere thirty yards. An ear flickered. The bull stood, exposing an entire right flank to the hunter with the full scope. But the crosshairs would not cease their fluttering. As the thin hairs of the
reticle passed behind the shoulder, he jerked the trigger, causing the barrel of the rifle to lower. The last thing he saw in his scope was the daylight between the bull’s legs. And that is precisely where the bullet passed.
Moist black nostrils taste the air, searching for the scent of another bear. His massive brown snout turns left and right, allowing his limited eyesight to aid in the location of any threat to his enjoying another bellyful of the rotten beaver carcass that has been strangely trapped within the large metal object. His belly grumbles, much like when he approaches a defenseless new moose calf. His eager anticipation of the first taste of blood makes his mouth lather with saliva, and he can hardly control the urge to rip forward, possibly alerting the prey. His front paws, with ebony claws protruding forward, claw the ground with each extended step. He woofs loudly with excitement, but also to alert all who may hear that the ruler of this bog, and this newfound food source, is near.
The hunter snaps out of his daydreaming state as the bark of the bear pierces the air. It is not a particularly terrifying sound, unless heard while alone in the wild, where there is no immediate escape or any appeasement that may be offered the maker of the sound that will remove the agitation or excitement – except to shoot or leave. The shooter slowly lowers his head to check that his arrow is properly knocked. He pulls back with his right elbow to test the caliper release against the string. He feels pressure there, so backs off. It’s not time yet.
I’m going to watch this animal until I stop shaking and then I am never going to allow this to happen again.
Well, the 3-D target reaches in for another helping of the putrid slop that had been gathered in the previous winter trapping season. Each beaver was skinned, then cut into quarters and stored in five gallon buckets, with the addition of warm grease of the fryer of a restaurant run by a friend. The contents of the bucket decay through the winter and into spring, becoming the dream attractant and center-of-the-barrel entrée that will draw a bear for miles around. The neat, closed-lid pickle buckets, also supplied by the restaurant owner, contain the smell and make for easy transport to the bait site, one or two at a time, as needed, during nightly and weekly outings to the site before and during the season.
Without the use of a bait station, hunting black bears in this area, and in most of Alaska for that matter, would be by chance contact only. Many fewer bears would be taken, and their omnivorous nature would greatly reduce the numbers of moose calves that survive the first year, which is the most critical aspect supporting their ability to reach maturity. Yes, we are all predators, to some extent, but when some predators begin to tip the balance unfavorably, then that predator must be regulated. Hence, one hunter, perched seventeen feet above and twenty-three yards from a barrel of bait.
The hunter stands on the tiny platform, which is affixed to the large spruce tree with a nylon strap and self-locking buckle. His left foot is forward, toward the barrel, and his bow is held in his left hand. Evening light is fading, and it is necessary to get on with the business of sending a carbon, razor-tipped arrow toward the chest of this magnificent animal. Excuse me... 3-D target of a large black bear.
The hunter stands as described, muscles taut, as the formed-foam 3-D target of a black bear reaches toward the barrel with his right hand this time, exposing the area behind his shoulder to the chiseled tip of the broadhead that is directed toward it. A fluorescent green dot hovers over the area, viewed by the archer through a plastic ring entwined into the string. Dead bear, flashes through the mind of the hunter as the air is pierced by the razor blades as they are launched toward the large dark shape with its arm outstretched toward the barrel.
The bear feels nothing more than a stinging as the razor blades pass through its chest. First on the right, then instantaneously on the left as the arrow passes completely through his body. His reflexes react more to the crash of the arrow into the brush on his left than to its passing through his lungs. He wheels to his right, springing away from the barrel, snapping with his teeth at the bees that sting him from both sides of his chest. He runs for little more than three seconds, but has covered nearly thirty yards in that time before barreling into the lower limbs of a large spruce tree. He has no breath, and strangely, cannot inhale, although his lungs burn for air. He collapses, as the blood ceases its travel to his brain, instead pooling within his chest as it spurts from his pierced lungs. He attempts to moan, but only gurgles as blood spews forth from his mouth and nose. The forest floor is visible before his eyes, but it is at an odd angle that he is not familiar with. He attempts to right his head, but cannot lift it. A cold chill washes over him, and the forest floor is now black as he drifts, tingling, weightlessly, toward the limbs above.
It was over in mere seconds, and the last thing the archer saw was the fletch of his arrow, bright pink, against the black of the bear’s chest. Then the bear bolted to the right and crashed, out of sight. The hunter can hear him gurgling, attempting a moan, as if to notify all that might hear that the forest is now safe from his menacing. He had heard it before, and is thankful that he is spared from its horrible, spooky sound.
-- “The deal” is this; you are offered the opportunity to end the life of one of nature’s more beautiful creatures. In return, you promise to hold his living memory sacred among your most valuable possessions, passing the details of his taking down throughout the generations, speaking of him as if he were the most incredible creature that ever existed. – Marc
Marc Taylor is the author of
Hard in Alaska. This story is an excerpt from an upcoming book
in the Hunting Hard series
which is scheduled to hit the shelves by spring/summer 2005.
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