9 The Bare Bear
These Stories are dedicated to:
My wife Marci and my three children Saundra, Jessica, and Jimmy – Thank you for believing in me!
And to the rest of my chosen family – may they learn to recognize the truth in all that I write!
The ˇ of Skinny & Fuzz
The Bare Bear
Skinny and Fuzz aren’t really all that attentive when out hunting. They’re more interested in the whole “experience” thing. Sometimes I think they have Yuppie blood like Californian’s – which is a whole other story!
I have a little experience bear hunting with the two absent minded hunting professors, and I’ll tell you about some of it in a moment, but I really want to share a couple of stories to prove my point.
You see, hunting requires concentration, situational awareness, skill, technique, and even bravery. None of which the two misfits really possess in sufficient quantities in my opinion. Their success in hunting is mostly a result of sheer dumb luck.
For example – Huey, Fuzz’s 11 year old, and oldest, child tells an enlightening story this way (yes I am filling in the blanks some, but this is her story!):
“Although I couldn’t hunt at the time, I love being outdoors, riding horses, and snowmobiles, unlike my uncle McCityboy! A couple of weeks ago I had a fun experience at the bear bait.
Me, my dad Fuzz, and my brother Monkey, who everyone except me calls “Dewey” were all in the hunting blind. My dad was asleep on the ground when I heard something like a whistle. Thinking it was Skinny warning us there was a bear coming in, I turned and saw a bear about 20 yards away.
I pointed to it and said “Bear”
My dad and Monkey were sleepy-eyed so I said it again. They finally looked and were surprised when there was actually a bear there. The bear apparently heard me and started coming towards us. My dad scrambled to get up and get his gun while my brother Monkey tried to give him his bow. Finally the bear got too close and my uncle “Old Smokey” took a shot just as my dad was getting ready to pull the trigger. He missed, and the bear took off.
That was our first hunt that year, and my dad missed his chance because he was trying to sneak in a nap!”
Another story (Though I’m not sure which kid of Fuzz’s this comes from – it’s either Huey, Dewey, Louie, Woowie, or Kaplooey – because stories seem to blend together over time) that demonstrates my theory that attention to detail is crucial to a successful hunting endeavor: but this is the way I remember it being told.
“My dad and Skinny took me bear hunting with them one year. It was the first weekend in June. Skinny had been going to the site to set up bait for a month already. He takes old Twinkies, donuts, bread, candy and all kinds of things I like to eat, and places them in big barrels in front of their hunting blinds. This attracts the bears (and kids) you know.
We arrived and my dad put me in the hunting blind facing generally north. He turned and set himself up facing South East. Skinny set up about forty feet away facing South West. It was a good arrangement until you think about gaps. I mean – isn’t there more than South on a compass? But my dad has never been mauled by a bear yet so I know he knows what he’s doing – right? The direction I was watching seems to have been facing away from the bait cans, but dad said I was “security” whatever that means!
There I was, watching my section, smelling the Twinkies and thinking about a snack when I saw something moving in front of me. It seemed small, like a rabbit or small dog, but it was still a ways off. I couldn’t figure out why a dog would be up here all by itself.
Then the thing grew larger and larger as it approached. I kept whispering “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad” but I kept hearing “Shush, Shush, Shush, Shush”.
Finally, the small dog stood up on its hind legs and scratched its back on a nearby tree. It was all black and seemed to be a lot taller than me even at that distance. I knew it was a bear now, but I couldn’t get my dad to look my way. There was more movement off to the right and an even bigger bear came in my direction.
“Dad” I said. No reply!
“Daad Bear” I said a little louder as the bear turned its nose my direction sniffing the air. It must have smelled the Twinkies! Still no reply!
“Daaad” I said even louder, but he still seemed to be ignoring me, though I heard a grunt from his direction.
“DAAAD!” I said in urgency as the second bear stared directly into my eyes. Still no response from my attentive father, but I heard a hushed swear word that I can’t repeat here.
“DAAAAAAAD!” I said in almost a shout, now afraid we wouldn’t get a shot at them before they left. I wasn’t REALLY worried about being eaten or anything – Really!
“What?” my dad finally answered spinning around to face me after uttering another shushed swear word.
I pointed over my shoulder towards the two bears, who by now didn’t like the noises coming out of the bushes, and decided they were leaving.
Stunned, my dad said “why didn’t you tell me there was something back here?”
“I tried” I replied, “but you just kept shushing me”.
As my dad swore a couple of times while watching the two bears leave, Skinny fired his rifle to our rear. Fuzz, fearing he had missed his chance spun around and saw Skinny smiling widely with his hands over his head in victory. The bear was right in front of my dad’s position – Skinny had stolen his shot – again!
“Why didn’t you shoot it?” Skinny asked, “It was turning to leave after hearing some noises from over your way, so I shot it myself”.
“Ugh” my dad said.
“Um” I said.
“Shush” he said.
“Um” I said loudly “what’s that moving near the bear Skinny shot?” and pointed behind both my dad and Skinny.
Another bear had come in to investigate, heard what I said, turned around and skedaddled.
“Ugh” both my dad and Skinny said at the same time. Then, the bear Skinny shot, jumped up and took off like a shot towards the south.
“Ugh” Skinny said
“Ugh” my dad said
But I giggled. That was a fun hunting trip!”
Now that story really defines what makes a successful hunt. Attention to detail. Something I learned in the Navy but have never been able to adapt to civilian prospects. Another thing I haven’t been able to adapt to civilian concepts is courage. Now, I readily admit to being a coward. Yes, I spent eight years in the military doing every nasty and dangerous job I could volunteer for. But that is a different kind of courage. My cowardice comes into play when there are bears, snakes, and spiders involved. Oh and don’t forget heights – I don’t like those either.
Skinny & Fuzz on the other hand like bears, snakes, heights and probably spiders too – the weirdos!
I have mentioned in many stories that I will never go bear hunting with Skinny & Fuzz – or anyone else for that matter – and it all stems from a little trip we took during my fourth year of detention in this maniacal family. You see, I was once gullible and proud. I let the two misfits talk me into trying things because I didn’t want to appear cowardly or to show that I was just as wild and demented as they were. I was trying to earn their approval I guess. It’s been a disaster, which is almost always the result when hubris is at play. Just ask Antigone!
You see, I went on a bear hunting trip with the family in year 4. I could, and probably should, tell my stories in a sequential order – kind of like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter “Year 1” through “Year 7” theme. Alas, my mind doesn’t work sequentially that way and you are stuck with learning of my exploits in scatter mode. No, not “SCAT” mode, “Scatter” mode.
This is what happened.
I was just about to be released from the U.S. Navy. We were on terminal leave and made the mistake of going to Idaho to see the family and try to make some plans for the future. If I had known it was bear season I would have insisted on visiting MY family. At least in Phoenix all I have to worry about is kidnappings and drive by shootings. Nope, we drove the fifteen hours to Idaho and arrived just in time to help pack the truck for a hunting trip.
“What are you hunting?” I asked sheepishly.
“Bear” Pop’s replied with a smile “You coming with us or staying here with the women and children?”
Ugh! Was that a loaded question or what? Pop’s really knows how to go for the jugular.
“Of course I’d like to go with you, but I don’t have my hunting license or a bear tag” I replied in a desperate attempt to seem manly and chicken out at the same time.
“That’s fine! We can run down to the store and get both in a couple of minutes. You have your military ID right?”
“Sure, but I’m not an Idaho Resident”
“Doesn’t matter” Pop’s replied, “You’re active duty military, so you can get a license and tag with no trouble”
Dang it! If we had stopped at the hotel like I wanted, instead of driving straight through as ordered by the Dragon Lady, I wouldn’t be in this mess!
“I don’t have any gear” I provided as a last feeble attempt to get out of the trip.
“No worries” Pop’s said, “All you need is a rifle and some warm gear. We’ve got plenty for you”
Ugh! “Let me check with Dragon Lady to make sure it’s ok with her” I replied.
Yes, it IS pathetic that I was relying on my better half to rescue me. Yes, it IS highly unlikely she will do so. Yes, I did end up begging her for help. And yes, I did end up going. As usual, she thought it was a great idea. “You’ll spend some time with Dad” she said. “You really need to get to know him better” she said. “You’ll have fun” she said. “You’re going” she said “get off your knees, it’s not helping you!” she said “wipe the tears off your face, they aren’t real” she said.
I mean, couldn’t she just divorce me instead of sending me off to a torturous death by bear mauling? I don’t have THAT much life insurance darn it!
Kind of reminds me of that time dragon lady, nurturing an untimely pregnancy, made me go Huckleberry picking with Mom. If you aren’t aware, Huckleberry’s grow in the worst places. Cliffs, river banks (with cliffs), mountain sides (with cliffs) – and ALL in bear country! I have climbed to the top of 620 foot towers (remember, I don’t like heights? Well that’s why I don’t like heights), crawled up the side of ships in combat zones, seen weapons fired in anger in both civilian and military life, and none of it compares with huckleberry hunting.
I was flabbergasted when Mom pulled out a hundred foot rope, fashioned a harness out of it around my body, tied it to the hitch on my truck, gave me a bucket and said “just rappel down the bank there and start picking.” Apparently she has done this kind of thing hundreds of times, and learned to tie knots really well while working with the scouts, or I would have tied myself to the steering wheel of my truck! I was never a Navy Seal or in the Green Beret’s, so rappelling is not really my thing.
What’s worse is when she came hopping down the side of the bank with a big grin on her face. I still had a look of terror in my eyes and was soaked from the cold sweat leaking from my body. Apparently, when we finished picking, my fourteen year old sister in law would jump in my truck, put it in gear, and pull us back up the cliff. This wasn’t really a comforting thought. I really hope she knows that R is not the right direction.
Anyway, Dragon Lady, I think, has been plotting ways to collect my life insurance for many, many, years. It is only my cowardice (and luck) that has foiled her plots. I mean, if you ever find my body on a hiking trail, you should immediately assume I was murdered somewhere else and the body dumped on the trail. Who in their right mind ever takes a hiking trail?
Well, Pop’s and I drove a couple of miles to the store, and unfortunately, I had no trouble getting a hunting license and bear tag. Thanks for nothing Idaho. I am sure there are military members who appreciate your generosity, but you should consider that some of us don’t. I mean, don’t you require hunter’s education or anything from military? Yes – I know how to shoot responsibly, but really – hunting animals that hunt back, unless they are of the two legged variety which are somewhat predictable, is not something you should offer anyone just because they have a military identification card.
I took the opportunity to stock up my geedunk bag and cooler with coke, candy, chips, jerky, and sandwiches. If the ladies were coming I wouldn’t have bought so much, but the men of this family think eating jerky for every meal is enough, and I can’t survive on jerky alone.
As I approached the counter, Pop’s smiled at me and said, “Got enough? Or did you forget the pepper spray?”
Ah, “Thanks for reminding me” I said “I have to get some Bear spray!” I got two kinds, one in a big canister and a smaller one I could attach to my belt loop for emergencies.
“You do know we are going to shoot the bears right?” Pop’s asked.
“You can’t shoot Grizzly’s” I reminded him. He shook his head as if wanting to tell me there’s no Grizzly’s in Idaho. Kind of like the government saying there are no wolves in Idaho. Just not true!
“Are we taking the horses in or what?” I asked as we drove back to the house.
“Nope, we’ll walk in and out each night and stay in the tent” he replied.
Woohoo. “I’ll take my truck and sleep in the bed” I replied unable to conceal the smile on my face. Worst comes to worst, I can crawl my butt in the truck and turn on the heater!
Dragon lady was a little surprised when she saw me dragging a foam mattress off her bed out to the truck, along with a half dozen camping quilts, and my pillows.
“What in the world are you doing?” she asked.
“Setting up camp” I replied.
“Aren’t you supposed to do that on the mountain?”
“Nope. Hey, can you carry that space heater down to the truck for me?” I asked seriously.
“What for?” she replied.
“I can put it in the bed of the truck and plug it into the cigarette lighter. I don’t want to get cold” I replied.
“You’ll kill the battery on the truck” she said concerned.
“Nah, I’m taking my generator and battery charger out of storage just in case!”
She threw her hands in the air, picked up the space heater, and while looking up at the sky mumbled something that sounded like “blimp” but I didn’t see one in the direction she was looking.
As we were getting into the trucks to leave, Dragon Lady came over and gave me a hug and kiss. The look in her eye said “If I don’t see you again, so long!” But she said something that sounded like “Don’t be afraid – drive fast” but could have been “don’t forget to get gas!”
Skinny decided to ride with me, while Fuzz rode with Pops. This is where Skinny learned to appreciate my culinary skills on outings. Half my food was gone by the time we got to the edge of town.
If, dear reader, you have never driven in Idaho, please let me enlighten you. The roads in town are icy. The roads in the hills are treacherous, and the roads in the mountains are not to be attempted. Of course, we were going to attempt them. It started to snow about an hour into the drive. By the time we made the turn off to Salmon Idaho, there was a full blizzard. I had no idea where I was going, couldn’t see a darn thing, and Pops, apparently deciding I was driving too slow, passed me to set the deadly pace. Skinny was either loopy after eating all my food, or thought it was fun the way I kept running off the road, because he had a grin on his face and often laughed. He made it seem like he was having a good time. I didn’t realize until many years later that my daughter demonstrated the same look and laugh whenever she was in pain. Too funny!
You should all remember that cell phones are relatively recent inventions. Yes, they existed during this trip, but they were the size of bricks and weighed about the same. Not to mention you would need someone to call. Nope, our means of communication relied heavily on CB radios back in the day. I picked the microphone up to recommend a slower pace to Pops when Skinny said not to bother.
“Dad doesn’t turn his on. Say’s it distracts him and makes driving dangerous” Skinny said.
“Ugh” I said.
About four hours later we pulled into snowy Salmon Idaho. Pop’s pulled into a diner parking lot for supper. I pulled in behind him and had Skinny pry my fingers, one-by-one, off the steering wheel. I’ll have to get that replaced when we get back to town as the grooves aren’t in the right place for normal driving comfort.
We had a nice dinner in the diner- kind of a last meal thing I guess. Unfortunately, we still had another couple of hours to drive to get to our camping spot. The blizzard was worse, the roads were worse, Pop’s driving was worse, but Skinny was still having a great time. When we arrived the ground was solid snow and ice, but the rugged mountain men set up their tent and got ready for bed.
I started to crawl into the back of the truck, head first, but it was difficult because my knees were knocking and my teeth were chattering in the cold.
“Where are YOU going?” Fuzz asked.
“Bed” I replied “Wake me at noon!”
Noon came very early. About 4 a.m. in my estimation. Remember, I had just driven 15 hours from California to Idaho, then another 6 hours to our hunting spot. I was bushed.
“Wake up” Fuzz said chuckling, “Its noon – somewhere.”
I grunted and rolled over in my comfy bed. No way was I getting up this early to go hike in the snow.
“Ok, I’m gonna have to throw snow on you” Fuzz said with a small, smirkish, evil little smile that I had never seen before. Some years later I knew that smile and got up when prompted. Not this time. I rolled over and started snoring again.
It suddenly grew cold, very very cold – and wet. He, Skinny, and Pops had actually used their shovels to throw snow into the bed of my truck through the camper rear window. Needless to say, I got up. Getting dressed was now an ordeal, because I had to get the snow out of the truck first. I finally took the wettest quilt and put it out on the ground, crawled out, got dressed in my ski pants and coat, and started to tie my boots when something white and heavy floated through the air towards my head.
“Try these McCityBoy” Pops said when the bunny boots bounced off the bed of the truck and landed on my toes. “They’ll keep you warmer than those city boots you brought!”
They looked like big, white, square blocks of rubber. But I put them on because my feet were already icing up.
“Now walk around a little, your body heat will help warm them up” Skinny said smirking.
Not that I don’t trust them, but I had reason to believe I was the butt of a joke because Fuzz had his 35mm camera out snapping pictures of me, so I was a bit skeptical. Nevertheless, I walked around as directed and my bunny boots performed as promised. My feet were warm. In fact, they were starting to steam a little, which I thought funny for some reason.
We packed up our hunting gear, mostly food and Coca Cola for me, but also including a rifle, shells, fire starter, TP, change of clothes – just in case, two bottles of bear spray, matches, lighter, knives, cooking set, saw, goggles, little cotton beanie cap, a real coat, big pack of hand warmers, some cooking oil, scent blocker, bear tags, hunting license, identification just in case someone needed to identify my body, and my dog tags tied into my shoe laces for the same reason. Obviously I was not the first one ready for the hike because everyone else was waiting impatiently for me to finish packing. All they had were little back packs because all the food they needed were in dried little pouches called “Jerky”. Ugh!
The hike was blessedly short – only about two hours to our hunting spot. Thankfully, Skinny and Fuzz took pity on me and alternated carrying my backpack because I was slowing them down. This is where I learned how to carry all I want on hunting trips because this scenario has been repeated many times over the years. One year I caught the two of them unloading my gear just before we left on a hunting trip. Sneaky little buggers had packed a separate bag that weighed about five pounds and were going to replace my heavier food laden bag without my knowledge. I watched them like hawks after that attempted skullduggery.
Anyway, it was still dark when we got to our hunting blind. We set up in the snow and waited. Funnily enough, I nearly shot Fuzz on this trip. Apparently he had gotten into some kind of insect nest or poisonous plant when he lay down in the blind. I didn’t know that of course because his section of the blind was about a hundred yards from mine. It happened this way:
Skinny’s little ears perked up as he heard rustling off towards Fuzz’s blind. A few seconds later we saw a shape moving through the trees towards our blind. Skinny already had his rifle up and was peering down the scope so I mimicked him and started searching for the bear in the small fogged up lens.
The creature was a little misshapen, but behaved like a bear. It crawled out, got to a tree, stood up on its hind legs, turned around and started using the tree as a back scratcher. It was a fuzzy looking, skinny, but rather tall, brown bear. I guessed this one hadn’t put on a good coat of fur for the winter and might be a little sick or something so I wasn’t going to shoot it. At that point Skinny chuckled a little and I got excited. I thought he was going to try to prove he was a better man than me by shooting it first.
I took aim, and even though I hadn’t had an opportunity to sight this rifle scope in for accuracy, I felt it was so close I could hardly miss. I took a deep breath, let half out as my finger started to take the slack out of the trigger. I guess it had about an eight pound trigger because it took some good pressure to get the hammer to release. Click Clack. The trigger finally broke on an empty chamber. I made a rookie mistake not chambering a round. Ugh!
Skinny jumped up and grabbed the barrel of my rifle as I went to chamber a round. He laughed at me and said “what were you gonna do, shoot your brother-in-law? I know he’s a little fuzzy but that doesn’t make him a bear?”
“What” I replied bemused.
“Come on” he said, Dragging me out of the blind towards my bear.
About 30 yards into our little trek I took out my bear spray. I wasn’t about to get mauled by a bear. I knew Skinny could out run me so I was the one who had to worry about a bear attack. Unfortunately for Skinny, I planned to spray him with the Bear Spray THEN the bear. At least that way if the bear spray didn’t work I could at least out run him. Multiple times over the years that theory has proven unlikely to succeed. I have seen Skinny with a completely destroyed ACL outrun several other people on a dare. Glad I didn’t try it on this trip.
Anyway, we finally got close enough to my bear that I could recognize it for what it was – Fuzz! He had stripped off all his clothes and was busy trying to calm his itchy back and spread liquid Benadryl all over his body at the same time. It appears his fur was preventing a good penetration of the Benadryl. Skinny started laughing at the site while I sheepishly put away the bear spray. Pops took out Fuzz’s camera and got a couple of really nice shots of my Bare Bear. This is where Fuzz picked up his little nickname if you are curious.
Skinny promised, at some expense to me in the years to come, to keep my little mishap with the rifle between the two of us. Though he constantly asked Fuzz if he knew how close to dying he’d been on that trip. Fuzz just answered that he wasn’t worried because “Neither one of you knows how to shoot!”
Though from that day forward, I never saw Fuzz lay down in a blind without first checking for bugs or poison ivy, I also never went hunting with a rifle I had sighted in nor carried a round in the chamber. I figure I’ll let others do the killing so I don’t have to do the gutting.
The trip home was uneventful, other than the curvy and icy roads. Skinny rode with me again knowing we would stop for fuel and gedunk. We never saw any bear that trip, other than Fuzz pretending to be one, and I decided right then and there I would never hunt bear again. It was too dangerous!