Expect the unexpected

Many years have passed since this took place — I would say somewhere in the ‘mid-90s. Any pics have long disappeared; only the memory remains, a memory some would like to forget.

It had started snowing in mid-October; by the first week of November deer season was in full swing. The snow made it easier to track the deer, but everything was damp and cold. Five of us were hunting north of Paugh Lake that week and had a long, rough ATV ride into our hunting area. With the snow on the ground, the deer had started to migrate early to their wintering grounds. We just had to sit and wait, though it made for a long, cold day. We would get together for lunch, build a fire and enjoy each other’s company. We had a big old metal tomato can for a tea pail. The creek water and ash from the fire made a good brew of hot tea on those cold, damp days. We ate, drank hot tea, and talked hunting tales during lunch break. Above black bear. Photo maxim.

I recounted a story from the previous year where a big bear came crashing down from the oak ridge; something had spooked him. This bear was moving very quickly in my direction but, reluctant to shoot him, I raised my rifle, aimed and fired into a rock. The bear turned and disappeared behind a knoll, then reappeared and headed straight at me. I turned the gun and set the crosshairs on his chest. I was about to squeeze the trigger when the crosshairs moved to his left shoulder. He was now 30 yards away and broadside. The crosshairs never left his heart. He stopped, turned his massive head and looked in my direction, sniffed the air and walked away. What a magnificent animal, I was so glad I did not have to shoot him. Besides, I did not have a bear tag that year.

Though it was freezing all day, the hunt was going well: two bucks and a doe so far, only two more tags to fill. Hunting in the cold is a funny thing. If for some reason, you could not make the hunt, you were disappointed. On the other hand, the fierce cold made you wonder what was keeping you there. 

Wednesday morning was disappointing; no one had seen a deer, let alone any fresh tracks. I decided to go scouting while everyone else sat and shivered on their runways; it felt good to move around. Walking down an old logging road, I discovered fresh deer tracks and decided to scent the area using Tinks 69 deer lure – the slogan was “Tinks Stinks,” and it sure did. It was a cover scent and an attractant. I decided to scout a little further then come back for the evening hunt.

As I rounded a corner, I notice a large black bear walking along the top of the ridge. I naturally assumed that once he saw me, he would run away; he didn’t. At this point, we were travelling a parallel course with the ridge sloping down to the road. If we both kept on this course, we were going to bump into one another. The crazy thing was this bear was ignoring me; he wouldn’t even look at me. Was he deaf or blind? I figured I’d better let him know of my presence, so I gave him a shout.

At the sound of my voice, he turned; the next thing I knew, there was this big black ball of fur charging downhill towards me. He was covering the ground quickly. My thought was, he is bluffing.

This situation felt different. The big bruiser just kept coming, and at 20 yards, I had no choice. The first shot lifted the bear, and just as quickly, he continued his charge. I levered, and the second shot spun him around. He fell into a depression in the ground where I could barely see him. I dropped out the clip and slammed in a fresh one. The bear tried to push himself up; I fired a third shot. In my mind, time seemed to stand still, but it all happened in the blink of an eye.

Phew, that was too close for comfort. I waited, watched and took several deep breaths. When I was confident the bear was dead, I paced myself off to where the bear had dropped.  It was fifteen feet, way too close for comfort; I let out a massive sigh of relief.

As I dressed the bear, I was ever vigilant and my nerves on edge; where there was one, there could be another. With all the shooting, the game would be gone. 

I checked the bear to see if there was anything unusual to make him act the way he did. He was a big healthy male, so maybe this was his territory, and he was the dominant bear; perhaps I startled him. Your guess is as good as mine. Instinct had instructed me to purchase a bear tag that year. Lucky for me — if you shoot an animal accidentally, you get a ticket from the MNR. It is like an expensive traffic ticket. It is different from being charged and fined for poaching. They also confiscate the animal and donate the meat to a good cause.

A couple of Polish fellows from Toronto hunted with us; these guys loved bear meat and made sausage or Bigos — a Hunter stew. “It is all yours,” I said. We hung the bear for a day, skinned him, then salted the hide, rolled it up, wrapped it in heavy plastic bags and froze it in the side porch. All was good, or so I thought.

The snow had come early, and I could not drive into the cottage that winter. My Polish buddy Cecil phoned and mentioned he had a friend who owned a business and would love to have that bearskin made into a wall rug for the customers to admire. What harm could come of that?

I said OK, I will bring it back the next time I’m at the cottage. March came, and I hiked in to retrieve the hide, backpacked it out, and drove back home. I made the call to Cecil and told him I had the bearskin: “Can you get here early tomorrow and pick it up. It’s warm in the city, and I have no space to store it in my freezer. I don’t think my wife would appreciate a bear hide in our freezer anyway. Early tomorrow morning would be the best time to show up. I don’t want it to thaw out.”  “We can be there by eleven a.m.” came the answer. “Earlier would be better,” I said.

They did not arrive until 5:00 p.m. the next day. Cecil’s buddy Walter had just picked up his new Mercedes Coupe; that was their reason for being late. The car was a real showpiece; it even had a phone built into the dash. After checking out the car, I gave him the bag with the hide. It should be OK; we had salted it well. I advised him to get it to the taxidermist as quickly as possible or put it in the freezer. He thanked me, gave me a gift and off they went. 

Now you would think that would be the end of the story. Oh no. 

Two weeks later, I got a call. “You will never believe what happened to my friend.” What now? When Walter got home and parked the car in his heated garage, his car phone rang: he had a problem to deal with at his shop. The next morning he drove to the shop, parked the car so everyone could admire his beautiful Mercedes. Of course, Walter got busy and forgot about the hide. When he finally remembered, he drove right to the taxidermist. As Walter drove, he noticed a mouse on the passenger seat, and thought, “What is going on?”  He arrived at the taxidermist and opened the trunk, and had to jump back. Mice were running in every direction; he was shocked at what he saw. He peered into the bag.

There were more mice in the bag. How did the mice get there? Cecil could hardly keep from laughing; suddenly, he went silent. I asked, “Hello, are you there?” That is when he burst out laughing, “You know that’s the craziest story I ever heard. The mice had chewed the skin from the inside out, and it was not suitable for tanning.” I swallowed my laughter and tried to sound sympathetic. “I am sorry to hear that; I wonder how the mice got into the bag. I guess he will want his gift back.” “No,” was the reply, “he is too embarrassed to tell anyone. He made me promise to be quiet about this story. So don’t ever tell anyone I told you.” I promised not to tell his tale of woe to anyone even though I thought it deserved to be shared. 

 Then Cecil asked me if I wanted to buy a slightly used Mercedes with a built-in phone for an excellent price. Walter had told him that every time he drove the car, all he could smell was the mice stink or bear odour.  

To this day, I don’t know if that bear was bluffing, but from where I stood, I did not think so and found out the hard way.  Whenever you out enjoying nature, you never know what it will throw at you, a curveball or a fastball; you always want to be on your toes. 

Expect the Unexpected!

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