THE FINDING OF A BEAR
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THE FINDING OF A BEAR

THE FINDING OF A BEAR




      

THE FINDING OF A BEAR


By EDWARD T. MARTIN

SOMETIMES a person may be very anxious to find a thing and after he has found it be sorry, also puzzled what to do with it. Such was the case with a party of three prospectors in Alaska a few years ago. They had been told of a great brown bear, a bear often weighing a ton and the largest of the bear family, that made its home along' the Alaska coast, feeding on seals, salmon and other fish. "Larger than a grizzly but not as fierce," reports said and also, "These bears on meeting a man want the whole road. They say by their actions, ''Clear the track for I am coining." If the animal is given plenty of room, all is well, the bear goes on about his business and the man is allowed to go when he pleases. If, however, the man is contrary, disposed to want more than his share of the trail, or tries to shoot up the bear, well, there is no telling what may happen, for those big brutes are very hard to kill.

This variety of bear, known as the Kodiak, was first discovered only twenty years ago. They were believed to be an overgrown specimen of another branch of the bear family, cinnamon probably, but naturalists said, "No," they were much too large and their habits different. People used to say, "Add an inch on to the end of a man's nose and it is a whole lot." So in case of the bears, put 1,200 pounds of flesh on top of the 800 a cinnamon carries and it makes a U'lialc of a bear.

The Alaska Indians don't want much to do with a Kodiak bear. Even a half-grown one is large enough to be let alone. They tell a story of an adventure one of them had with a monster of this species. They say the man was a boaster and often told his comrades, "Big brown bear, him coward. Me show yon. Me kill one with knife." never intending to come face to face with one, but he did. When out on a trapping expedition with two other Indians, a Kodiak rose out of a gully and came directly toward him. His friends were on a ridge above him and able to see his every move. The bear, so the Indians say, looked bigger than an ox musk ox probably, for that was the only kind of ox they knew. The Indian knew this and he was directly in the trail 'the bear wished to follow. He could not get out of the way. The ridge, whose wall was steep and high, blocked him on one side; a deep ravine cut him off on the other. The bear could climb one or slide down the bank of the other but he would not and the Indian knew it. Also he knew another thing, that while a bear will eat decaying flesh, he will not, unless very hungry, touch the flesh of a dead man, not even if he kills the man himself, and the Indian made up his mind to fool the bear to play dead. He laid down as far to one side the ridge side as he could get, held his breath and waited. The bear came, saw the Indian, rooted at the body much as a hog might and I was plainly much puzzled. He wrinkled the skin on his forehead as bears often do when trying to solve a problem, all the time staring at the hunter. Went to him, rooted him over with his snout, and then, believing him to be dead, trotted off and left him.

By his nerve in lying still while the bear was examining him, the boaster made a reputation for courage that clung to him for many a day.

But about the bear the prospectin" party found and were sorry when they had done so. The three men had been working hard on their claim and decided to take a day off and go hunting, moreover, a little fresh meat, even if it was bear's meat and tough, would be a welcome change, so one pleasant morning in May thev started out. The bear, himself was in some thick brush and watched proceedings, so the hunters came upon him quite unexpectedly. He stood up, snarled a little and seemed undecided whether to advance and meet them or to go on. He was a Kodiak and very large, so large that two of the men, now that they had found him, were sorry that they had ever gone bear hunting. The third hunter was a reckless fellow and raised his rifle to shoot. "Better not, the others advised but he did and the harm having been done, they took a hand.

The bear hesitated. He had been stung by bees before but none ever bit so deeply as these. An automatic rifle can spit out a lot of bullets in a very short time. The bear had never seen anything like it in his half dozen years of life. The noise annoyed him. The spurts of fire alarmed him and the stings of those bees commenced to hurt and he ran. The hunters decided to retire for the night and resume the hunt when day came. They cut wood, started a fire, cut brush for a "leanto" also to sleep on, then the reckless one began to get impatient. He said, ''The moon gives enough light so I can see to follow the bear's tracks; perhaps I will find him dead. At all events I will see while you boys are cooking bacon and coffee."

"Yes, and get yourself lost," one replied, but he said, "I won't go far," and started away.

In only a few minutes the stillness of the night was broken by the savage snarl of a bear at bay, followed by a shot then another and another, three in quick succession, after which silence.

They waited, expecting the return of their comrade but all night he did not come, nor did they dare venture into the brush to look for him because the moon had not set and a heavy mist that hid everything drifted in from the sea. As soon as light came and the fog vanished, they went out together, the tracks of man and beast now plainly visible, guiding them.

The bear, with the cunning of the wild, had doubled back on his tracks the better to watch the men. Probably was eyeing them when the venturesome one left the light of the fire. The man saw his big body outlined against the snow and as the bear started forward pumped three bullets at him in quick succession. All took effect for the brute was large, the distance short and the moon bright, the last bullet penetrating the bear's brain, as could be told, for he was so close the powder singed his fur.

The bear fell on his slayer, crushing him to earth, breaking two ribs and otherwise injuring him badly. There both lay all the night, the bear on top, the man underneath, but the thick fur of the animal kept the hunter from freezing, for in the Arctics, nights even in May, are cold.

It took weeks for the hunter to recover. As soon as able he took the first boat for home, bringing the skin with him. . When this had been tanned and made into a rug it was fourteen feet long by twelve wide. Some idea of the comparative size of this bear with others can be formed when I tell you that the skin of what was considered a large bear that I killed some years ago measures as it lies in shape of a rug on my parlor floor, but seven feet in length by three and a half in width, one hundred and sixty-eight square feet in one, twenty-four and a half in the other, yet the only way this bear of mine could be brought to camp was on the installment plan, a quarter at a time.

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