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HOW I KILLED A BEAR
BY CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER
So many conflicting accounts have appeared about my casual encounter with an Adirondack bear last summer, that in justice to the public, to myself, and to the bear, it is necessary to make a plain statement of the facts. Besides, it is so seldom I have occasion to kill a bear, that the celebration of the exploit may be excused.
The encounter was unpremeditated on both sides. I was not hunting for a bear, and I have no reason to suppose that a bear was looking for me. The fact is that we were both out blackberrying, and met by chance, the usual way. There is among the Adirondack visitors always a great deal of conversation about bears, a general expression of the wish to see one in the woods and much speculation as to how a person would act if he or she chanced to meet one. But bears are scarce and timid, and appear only to a favored few.
It was a warm day in August, just the sort of day when an adventure of any kind seemed impossible. But it occurred to the housekeepers at our cottage — there were four of them — to send me to the clearing on the mountain back of the house to pick blackberries. It was rather a series of small clearings, running up into the forest, much overgrown with bushes and briars, and not unromantic. Cows pastured there, penetrating through the leafy passages from one opening to another,
and browsing among the bushes. I was kindly furnished with a six-quart pail, and told not to be gone long.
Not from any predatory instinct, but to save appearances, I took a gun. It adds to the manly aspect of a person with a tin pail if he also carries a gun. It was possible I might start up a partridge; though how I was to hit him if he started up instead of standing still puzzled me. Many people use a shot-gun for partridges. I prefer the rifle; it makes a clean job of death, and does not prematurely stuff the bird with globules of lead. The rifle was a Sharp's, carrying a ball cartridge, ten to the pound; an excellent weapon, belonging to a friend of mine who had intended for a good many years back to kill a deer with it. He could hit a tree with it, if the wind did not blow and the atmosphere was just right and the tree was not too far off, nearly every time; of course the tree must have some size. Needless to say that I was at that time no sportsman. Years ago I killed a robin under the most humiliating circumstances. The bird was in a low cherry tree; I loaded a big shotgun pretty full, crept up under the tree, rested the gun on the fence, with the muzzle more than ten feet from the bird, shut both eyes, and pulled the trigger. When I got up to see what had happened, the robin was scattered about under the tree in more than a thousand pieces, no one of which was big enough to enable a naturalist to decide from it to what species it belonged. This disgusted me with the life of a sportsman. I mention the incident to show that, although I went blackberrying armed, there was not much inequality between me and the bear.
In this blackberry patch bears had been seen. The
summer before, our colored cook, accompanied by a little girl of the vicinage, was picking berries there one day, when a bear came out of the woods and walked toward them. The girl took to her heels and escaped. Aunt Chloe was paralyzed with terror. Instead of attempting to run, she sat down on the ground where she was standing and began to weep and scream, giving herself up for lost. The bear was bewildered by this conduct. He approached and looked at her; he walked around and surveyed her. Probably he had never seen a colored person before, and did not know whether she would agree with him. At any rate, after watching her a few moments he turned about and went into the forest. This is an authentic instance of the delicate consideration of a bear, and is much more remarkable than the forbearance toward the African slave of the well-known lion, because the bear had no thorn in his foot.
When I had climbed the hill, I set up my rifle against a tree and began picking berries, lured on from bush to . bush by the black gleam of fruit that always promises more in the distance than it realizes when you reach it; penetrating farther and farther, through leaf-shaded cow-paths flecked with sunlight, into clearing after clearing. I could hear on all sides the tinkle of bells, the cracking of sticks, and the stamping of cattle that were taking refuge in the thicket from the flies. Occasionally, as I broke through a covert, I encountered a meek cow, who stared at me stupidly for a second and then shambled off into the brush. I became accustomed to this dumb society, and picked on in silence, attributing all the wood-noises to the cattle, thinking nothing of any real bear. In point of fact, however, I was thinking all
the time of a nice romantic bear, and, as I picked, was composing a story about a generous she-bear who had lost her cub, and who seized a small girl in this very wood, carried her tenderly off to her cave, and brought her up on bear's milk and honey. When the girl got big enough to run away, moved by her inherited instincts, she escaped and came into the valley to her father's house (this part of the story was to be worked out, so that the child would know her father by some family resemblance, and have some language in which to address him), and told him where the bear lived. The father took his gun, and, guided by the unfeeling daughter, went into the woods and shot the bear, who never made any resistance, and only, when dying, turned reproachful eyes upon her murderer. The moral of the tale was to be kindness to animals.
I was in the midst of this tale, when I happened to look some rods away to the other edge of the clearing, and there was a bear! He was standing on his hind legs and doing just what I was doing picking blackberries. With one paw he bent down the bush, while with the other he clawed the berries into his mouth, green ones and all. To say that I was astonished is inside the mark. I suddenly discovered that I did n't want to see a bear, after all. At about the same moment the bear saw me, stopped eating berries, and regarded me with a glad surprise. It is all very well to imagine what you would do under such circumstances. Probably you would n't do it; I did n't. The bear dropped down on his fore feet, and came slowly towards me. Climbing a tree was of no use with so good a climber in the rear; if I started to run, I had no doubt the bear would give chase; and although
a bear cannot run downhill as fast as he can run uphill, yet I felt that he could get over this rough, brush-tangled ground faster than I could.
The bear was approaching. It suddenly occurred to me how I could divert his mind until I could fall back upon my military base. My pail was nearly full of excellent berries — much better than the bear could pick himself. I put the pail on the ground and slowly backed away from it, keeping my eye, as beast-tamers do, on the bear. The ruse succeeded.
The bear came up to the berries and stopped; not accustomed to eat out of a pail, he tipped it over and nosed about in the fruit, “gorming” (if there is such a word) it down, mixed with leaves and dirt, like a pig. The bear is a worse feeder than the pig. Whenever he disturbs a maple-sugar camp in the spring, he always upsets the bucket of syrup and tramples round in the sticky sweets, wasting more than he eats. The bear's manners are thoroughly disagreeable.
As soon as my enemy's head was down, I started and ran. Somewhat out of breath and shaky, I reached my