Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
We’d just settled into our sleeping bags when the horses began making a ruckus, snorting, pulling back, and stomping the ground. After a bit, they seemed to calm down, but we should have known it wasn’t over.
My head was near the tent wall when suddenly, heavy breathing could be heard, right next to my ear; not of the human kind, but of something outside which, whatever it was, occasionally rubbed its nose against the scratchy fabric. Unlike a horse, its tread was silent.
As you might have guessed, the possibilities weren’t endless, and even though we had strung our food (including a hindquarter of venison) up a tree, the thought of a bear (what else?) in the tent posed problems of a kind we weren’t used to dealing with. It was the 1960s and bears, unlike today, were still wild, unpredictable animals.
My buddy, Roy Holloway, and I were about 14 and 15, by the memory of it and were, we suspected, quite capable of taking care of ourselves. A plan, worthy of at least “B” Hollywood, with incredible potential for bloody resolve on either side, was soon put into action.
I knew this four-man tent well, a large, green canvas behemoth made before the days of lightweight synthetic fiber and aluminum frames. It had been my summer home for the past three or four years, mostly set up in the backyard, but several times a season packed into the forest by horse, for a camping trip alone or with friends.
In the softest of whispers, I detailed the plan to Roy, as it was, after all, my tent. He was to hit the zippered door of the tent solidly with his shoulder (I’d done this before), busting out in a flash of exuberance, and then drop directly to his knees. Almost in the same instance, he’d pan the scene, right to left (the noise was on our right) with his flashlight, poking a hole in the almost opaque darkness.
Following immediately behind would be yours truly, only as we exited the tent, I would stand upright and swing my 30-.06, semiautomatic rifle to the right, catching Roy’s beam of brilliance and follow it around to the left, zeroing in on whatever we spooked in the dark. We were purists of a sort and didn’t have much use for magnifying scopes, so this wasn’t as technical as you might think.
The plan went off with magnificent, unyielding perfection. Roy was without error in his part and I caught the beam of radiance from his handheld light just as he began the predetermined arc. We instinctively knew that we had two, maybe three seconds to pull this off, so there wasn’t a lot of time to contemplate the exact nature of what our actions might accomplish.
With trigger finger at the ready, the first creatures of consequence to come into my view were the horses, which I fully expected, and almost before that even registered, Roy’s light was moving rapidly leftward, following the rustle of something large leaving the area.
Not more than 10 feet away, we caught up to the tail-end of a large black bear, scooting for the safety of darkness as fast as he could. There was almost time for one shot, and that might have done it, but there’s something intrinsically wrong about shooting an animal in the ass, particularly one as large and dangerous as a bear.
If the most ferocious thing a bear can show you is a rapidly disappearing backside, you’re going to create bad karma by taking the shot. When you least expect it, out on the trail next year, or maybe the one after that, something bad’s gonna happen, just ’cause you asked for it.
We stayed two more nights, without changing our modus operandi, and never saw or heard the bear again. The poor bastard.
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