“The Hacksaw Trick”
We had progressed perhaps half-a-mile when I suddenly saw the bear approaching some 80 or 90 yards ahead. He was walking slowly along the very same path I was on. There was absolutely no cover anywhere near me, so, as I knelt down immediately in the middle of the trail, I looked at my guide and realized he couldn’t yet see the bear from his position on the bluff some 70 yards away (and maybe 25 yards forward of me). I looked back at the bear just in time to see him lift his nose in the air and pick up Eric’s scent.
With that he broke into a trot. Three seconds later — upon seeing my guide’s profile against the sky — he accelerated to a dead run, and I instantly knew I was about to have a very close encounter of the most furry kind. Hairy is perhaps a better word than furry. As the bear’s trail turned slightly uphill and directly toward me, I hardly had time to get an arrow nocked and drawn before the proverbial moment of truth was upon me.
Having to think on your knees in front of a charging grizzly has a way of speeding up your thought processes. Because he was running so hard, his head was up high, fully exposing his ample chest as an easy target. I knew one of two things was most likely to happen. In the 4:00 AM half-light of the arctic spring night, either he would not see the obstacle in his path and would run right over the top of me, or else he would see me at the last second and veer to the side.
If, in fact, he was going to run right over me, the big decision I had to make was whether to bury the arrow in his chest at 20 yards or wait until he was a mere four or five feet away. It occurred to me that if he felt the sting of the arrow too soon, he might have time to put on the brakes and come to a stop just as he reached me. The thought flashed through my mind that that might not develop into too comfortable a scenario. On the other hand, if I waited to release the arrow until he was almost literally on top of me, then it would probably take him at least 10 yards to slow down and reverse direction so he could come back and hold me accountable for the lethal arrow inside him. If things happened that way, at least I’d have time to get my pepper spray out of its belt holster and defend myself.
“The Changing of the Guard”
First, however, it seemed that the changing of the guard needed to take place. Over the next two hours, his six brethren — one by one — from distances as far away as 500 yards, all came back to pay their respects and bid their old leader a final goodbye. Absolutely spellbound, I watched as each ram, in turn, arrived at his side and then proceeded to nuzzle him, nose-to-nose! It seemed clear that every one of the six understood that he would not be with them much longer. At the conclusion of each, individual adieu, the deliverer turned away and fed off into the setting sun. The last of his colleagues to come and pay tribute ( with the same nose-to-nose nuzzle) was the second-largest ram in the group. No doubt, he would become — by natural selection of his peers — their new leader. When this last one finally turned to go, my ram tried to regain his feet and follow. The monumental effort was for naught. No sooner had he managed to stand . . . . . than he died on his feet — collapsing back into the bed he had struggled so valiantly to leave. The Ceremony of the Fraternal Farewell was complete. And so was the changing of the guard.
Now that I think of it, there were — in fact — two changings of the guard. The first one (a new sentry) had made possible the second one (a new leader). Indeed, without the first, the second (most likely) could never have taken place. What an odd bit of irony!
As the reader can well imagine, many emotions had coursed through me while I watched this powerful drama. In the world of Ovis dalli, there was apparently a much more highly-structured social order and protocol than I would have ever believed. I felt in awe of being allowed to observe such a moving piece of dramatic theater: a common thing, no doubt, in the private Playhouse of Mother Nature — but seldom granted an audience for human eyes to see. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the Almighty, Who had spared my life the night before, yet allowed me — as a natural predator in the food chain — to take the life of such a magnificent animal less than 24 hours later.