The snow lay thick on the ground and the air had a bite in it as the wind softly blew through the trees. Frank huddled closer into his jacket to try to stay warm as he stood behind a tree. His eyes were fixed on a small gully that opened out twenty feet in front of him as he surveyed the landscape.
And then, there it stood. This magnificent twelve point buck in all of its glory. Young and strong, it just exuded life and the spirit of the outdoors. Frank slowly raised his rifle and sighted through the scope with eyes on the buck who was standing there a little uneasy as if he sensed danger. He was smelling the air trying to find where the danger may be coming from. Frank was downwind of the buck so it probably would not get his scent.
The buck pawed the ground trying to send a warning to whatever was bothering him. He stood there quite still and Frank eyed him through the scope with his rifle aimed at the buck’s heart. He slowly squeezed the trigger and the buck jumped into life and took off running only he was coming straight at his adversary. Frank quickly moved behind the tree and he could have touched the animal as it went storming on by.
“Good luck my friend” Frank murmured “Stay away from the hunters as they are not all like me”. He wandered over to where the buck had been standing and surveyed the spot where his bullet had hit the ground between the bucks feet.
He straightened up as his friends came into the clearing. First in was Ronnie, a confirmed bachelor who liked to hunt deer and chase women. Sometimes, he actually caught one or the other but Ronnie had not had much luck with women over the years having been married three times each one costing him more in alimony that the last. Between the three, Ronnie had to work two jobs to keep up with the payments and it was understandable why he preferred the company of men and the great outdoors. By his reasoning, you could shoot a deer who had done nothing to harm him but it wasn’t yet legal to shoot a women who had caused him all kinds of trouble and if Ronnie had his way, he would like to change that.
The next two guys came in together. One was pretty muscular and moved like a trained athlete. The other was tending to put on weight and was the exact opposite to his friend. The athletic guy was Denny and the other was Eric. Denny had his own roofing business and liked to work out. He had a reputation as a bit of a hard nose and never backed away from a good scrap and in the little town that these four friends lived, it was not hard to rub someone up the wrong way. The last of the four, Eric, was the brains of the outfit and had a good job with the local telephone company. He sat at a desk which probably accounted for his weight gain and looked upon these hunting expeditions as a way to work out. Considering that even if they hunted every weekend during the season, it would not amount to very much working out. So much for that theory.
“What happened” Denny asked,”Did you have something lined up”?
“Yes”, Frank said excitedly, “A big twelve point buck came and stood right over there. God, he was beautiful. Took my breath away. I had him in my sights ready to pull and this big shower of snow came down. Don’t know where my shot ended up but it certainly was not in that buck. Darndest thing, that buck charged right at me instead of just running away. He must have really been pissed off”.
“You sure you didn’t pull one of your save nature things and missed on purpose”, Eric asked. “It would be just the sort of thing you would do. You are the only one of us who has not yet bagged a deer in all of the years we have been hunting together”.
Frank looked at Eric and smiled. “We’ll never know the answer to that” he said. “Time to get back to the cabin. Whose turn is it to cook”?
“Why I do believe it’s yours” said Ken, “You trying to forget. I hope we are having something better than your last effort”.
Ken was referring to Frank’s attempt to use the oven attached to the wood stove which resulted in a smoke-filled cabin and Baked Beans out of a can as the evening meal. They all laughed and Frank said that he was going to have something simple and straightforward this evening.
Ronnie led the way back. He was the real woodsman among them and knew the mountains well although this time, the group had only travelled a few miles from camp and all of them were familiar with the immediate surroundings. “Going to snow again” said Denny, “I can feel it”.
These four guys had been friends for many years having gone to the same school albeit in different classes and had grown up together. They were all in their late twenties with the exception of Frank who was a couple of years older than the rest.
Ronnie, as we mentioned previously, is a confirmed bachelor at least until the he meets the next beautiful woman. He has this unfortunate problem of falling in love with every woman who shows the slightest interest in him. We all take it in turns to talk him out of each budding romance as they come up. Poor guy, he really can’t help it. I guess he is lonely for female comfort but still wants to keep his bachelor’s ways.
Denny is a happily married man for all of his love of picking a fight. He has a couple of young kids and a wife he adores. That doesn’t stop him from drinking with his buddies but compared to them, he doesn’t spend too much time in the bars. Usually a beer after working out in the hot sun all day before he heads home. These hunting trips are different in as much they are men only. and only happen for a couple of months of the year.
Ken and Denny grew up together as they lived next door to each other as kids. They are both about the same age. Turns out that Ken has the brains and went on to University where he became an Engineer. He has a good job with the local Telephone Company. He is also married and has a couple of kids.
Finally, there is Frank. He is a little older by 4 years than the rest of them and earns his living as the owner of a small construction company. Ronnie actually works for Frank and has done for several years. He too wasn’t married and had been close a couple of times but backed out at the last-minute claiming that he had cold feet and wasn’t ready for the responsibility. Needless to say, he too has problems holding onto girlfriends. As soon as any of them started to get serious, Frank would find an excuse to break it off.
This weekend was the same as most weekends during the hunting season. The four friends each had equal shares in the small hunting cabin set in the Adirondack Mountains. Ronnie had been the original owner having been left it by his Father after he died but during Ronnie’s second divorce which turned out to be real messy, he needed the money and offered his three friends equal shares if they could come up with the funds to help him pay off his ex-wife. Needless to say, all three jumped at the chance and came up with the cash and now between them own the place and Ronnie has one less wife’s alimony to worry about
The cabin was typical of most of the real hunting cabins that are scattered about the Adirondacks. We are not talking about the real fancy hunting lodge’s that some people have built with all of the modern conveniences of the city out in the woods but a simple well-built practical cabin made out of wood. It was both sturdy and warm as the original builders were well aware of the fact that the temperature often gets down to the minus category in this part of the country. They had dug a well inside the basement so that the water was always available even though the top of it would ice over, it was never so thick that it was unbreakable. The lodge was heavily insulated and heated by a big wooden stove, it was always comfortable when they were staying there and in truth, it was sometimes an effort to leave the cosy confines to venture out in search of a deer.
For electricity, there was a small generator enough to power the lights and a small refrigerator that was only used when they were in residence. It was no trouble keeping the beer cold as it was stowed in the nearest snow bank or hung in the well during the warmer months.
The cabin was located on the edge of the lake and like all good vacation homes was used year round as it was not just a deer hunting cabin. During the Spring and Summer, there was good fishing to be had on the lake although one had to be really prepared as the black flies could torment a man to death they were so thick and their bite, so ferocious. Usually, lots of “Off” and other repellant took care of them but there was always that one spot that the repellant had missed and the deer flies always found and that would itch for days afterwards. I would not have been a bit surprised to see a swarm of these flies carry off one of the kids, they were so thick.
It was Franks turn to cook the meal for this particular evening. Every man was allowed to choose what they would cook. Most of them kept it simple but on the odd occasion that the meal went wrong there would be hell to pay for the guy that screwed up. Everyone got their own back on anything that turned out to be inedible when it was their turn to cook and some of the pay backs had been quite amusing.. In truth, most of the fare that was served was pretty straight forward but tasty and filling. and usually consisted of meat of any variety unless they actually killed a deer or a bear in which case they would dine on it. As deer were not that plentiful in the mountains, killing one was a big occasion.
Tonight, Frank was frying pork chops on the big stove while a pot of potatoes and another of broccoli bubbled away. As it was hard to regulate the heat, it was always a test of real skill to see how the end result would turn out. It required constant attention to make sure the pork chops did not burn or the vegetables boil dry and that everything was ready about the same time.
Everyone sat around talking about the days events, drinking beer and enjoying each others company. There is something special when a group of guys get close to nature and generally relax. The others had set the table and Frank set the food out.Turns out that he had managed to get it right as everything was done to perfection or maybe it was because they were all so hungry after their exertions of the day, it didn’t really matter what was placed in front of them as they would have eaten it anyway and said it was good.
The four guys had taken a pledge that cell phones could only be used at a certain time of the day except in the event of an emergency. Even when they were on the trail in most of the places in the mountains, the signal was spotty at best and most of the time totally unavailable. Reception was better at the camp and they had all agreed to limit calls between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm every evening. As most of their immediate family knew the rules it was not a problem for the friends to abide by them. Only in the case of a true emergency was this rule to be broken. Little did they know what was in store for them the next day.
Talk turned to the next day’s hunt and what area they should cover and between them, they devised a plan of the section they would hunt. The way they hunted was to divide into pairs and circle around and hunt towards each other from opposite directions. This way, they were always keeping the deer moving towards the other hunters as was proved by Frank’s deer of the morning. The one that got away. Frank knew that he was going to be paired with Ronnie the next day and that it was going to be doubly difficult to fake a shot like he had in the morning and even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself, Ronnie would only be 50 feet away and would also be able to see the deer and probably shoot it. Interesting, Frank thought. The other guys are thinking about how to make a kill and I am thinking about how to prevent one.
One unwritten rule of the cabin was that if you awoke for any reason in the night, you had to top up the stove with logs to keep it burning so that it would be comfortable when they all woke up. So, the last thing before turning in was to make sure the log pile inside the cabin was fully stocked. Frank stood up from the table and announced that he was on a log run. “Good idea” said Eric, “I’ll come and give you a hand”. Between them, they made a couple of trips and stocked up for overnight.
The cabin did have a couple of rooms set up as bedrooms. Each had a couple of bunk beds and could easily sleep up to 12 people at a squeeze. As there were only the four friends this time around, they each had their choice of which bunks to take, upper or lower. Three of them chose the lower bunks but Eric took one of the uppers as he had a fear of confined spaces and the upper bunk over his head made him feel uncomfortable.
They turned in and it was not long before they were all asleep. Ronnie talked in his sleep and Frank snored but they had slept together for so long, they were used to it and it didn’t bother them.
Early next morning, they were all up bright and early. Each reacted differently to the mornings. Ronnie and Denny were both early morning people but Frank and Eric were not and almost had to be dragged from their bunks. They all finally were ready to face the world especially after a cup of the early morning coffee brewed by Ronnie. He liked and made it extra strong and it was enough to knock your socks off. If you could keep it down, it was a certainty that you would wake up as there was enough caffeine in it wake an army. Frank piled milk into his with a generous helping of sugar. It was enough to take the edge off but it was still pretty strong. As Ronnie put it, welcome to camp coffee.
It was still dark outside as they ate a quick breakfast of bread rolls filled with whatever they fancied. Jam, Marmalade, Cut meats, cheese together it was a real assortment but it would sustain them until they stopped for a noonday rest when they would eat the food they took with them. They planned to be out for several hours. It was going to be a long day and would only be made shorter if they bagged a buck.
It had snowed overnight just as Denny had predicted. A new layer covered everything with a blanket of about four inches obscuring all of their tracks from the previous day. It was all so quiet and peaceful. Here and there could be seen fresh tracks from rabbits and the occasional fox and at one point, they came across fresh bear prints. They knew that there were bears in these mountains but in all of the years of hunting, they had never had the chance to face one close enough for a kill.
Frank was thinking about bear as he walked along following Eric, in single file. Ronnie was in the lead and Denny was bringing up the rear. They didn’t speak very much as they didn’t want to spook any of the animals at least before they could get into shooting range. They knew they had a couple of miles to hike in to the foot of one particular mountain that had brought them luck before on a previous hunt but this was wild country and the chances of seeing a deer was always present.
Far off in the distance, they could hear the sound of a couple of snowmobiles.
“I wonder who that may be” said Eric, “Don’t they know they are not supposed to be driving those things in this part of the mountains”.
“Well, they appear to be heading away from where we are going so with any luck, they will not have spooked any animals in that direction’, said Denny.
“If I find them, I will make them wish they had not driven those things so close to where we are heading”. Coming from Dennie, it was no mean threat so we had to hope that our paths would not cross.
We continued on our way knowing that we had at least another hour of hiking to get to the area we had selected to hunt. Walking in new snow may appear romantic and the stuff that songs are made of but in reality, it is very hard work. We came to clearing where the trail opened up into an old logging road. This was better to walk on and we made better time. We came to an old abandoned cabin and decided to stop for a break for a few minutes. We hadn’t heard the snowmobiles for at least fifteen minutes and hoped they had gone in the opposite direction. Ronnie again took the lead and we followed along behind as before as we resumed our walk towards our chosen area. By now, we figured we were about fifteen minutes away and making good time. A few minutes later, Ronnie brought us to a halt to say that this is where we need to split up with two of us going in a different direction than the other two. We would make a big sweep and converge at a place that we knew as the Big Rock. It was a fairly tall cliff area probably a couple of hundred feet up that was visible through the trees and at least a couple of miles away. That was where we would be driving the deer if there were any around the idea being to spread out so we were a couple of hundred yards apart and walk towards the rocks. We had used this tactic once before but we had more hunters on that drive and covered a bigger half circle.
The rule in the mountains was to never walk about alone. With cell phone’s useless there always needed to be a buddy system in case one or the other ran into trouble. The age-old signal of firing a shot in the air every fifteen minutes was really a last resort but it was always there just in case. As we were also out of site of each other, a loud “Yip” was the norm about every five minutes to let each other know that we were still within earshot. If someone did get into trouble or failed to respond to his partners “Yip”, then a series of them would be sounded which would bring them all in to figure out the problem. It was crude but a very effective way of not losing touch with each other. The mountains were not to be trusted especially in the winter and could not be treated lightly.
They made their way towards the Big Rock using it as their beacon. Frank could hear the “Yip’s” as they went across the line as he responded in kind. Once he caught sight of a deer but it was a big doe. They were not hunting doe’s so he watched it go out of sight. Wonder what I would have done if that had been a big old buck, he mused as he already knew the answer to that.
All of a sudden he heard a gunshot off to his left and recognized the sound of Ken’s “357 Magnum pistol that he hunted with. It was followed by another and then another in quick succession. He immediately started moving left and came across Ronnie’s tracks and followed them until he came into a clearing where the other three stood.
“What happened? Did you get it” he asked of Ken. Ken shook his head and said, “No, but I wounded it”.
“Damn you and that bloody pistol. I said all along that you need something with more kick to it”, said Ronnie. Denny just stood there and then said, “Well we know what we have to do. It looks like it is bleeding so we need to fan out and track it down”.
They fanned out with Kenny following the bloody trail. It was his right to finish off the buck as he had wounded it in the first place but if by chance, one of the others has a clear shot, they were supposed to take it to save the deer from prolonging the suffering.
With eyes on Ken they walked forwards taking their lead from him. Then Ken stopped and beckoned to them and they closed in around him.
“Look’s like he has gone to ground behind this big patch of brush. We should circle around and then I will go in and drive it out”, Ken said. We all knew that it was both risky and dangerous to go in after a wounded buck and we had all heard horror stories of some of the outcomes.
“You sure about this”, asked Ronnie. “It could be dangerous”.
Ken just nodded and signalled to us to fan out and headed into the brush which was thick and tall and covered in snow making it very difficult to go anywhere except to follow the trail that the deer had left. Ken pushed further in until he was out of site of the others. They could hear him as he moved forward when all of a sudden, Ken let out a yell followed by two quick shots and then a long scream of someone in pain.
Then all was still and quiet. “Close in” said Ronnie. “We got to get in there but remember the buck is still there”. We pushed on into the brush full of trepidation and fear wondering what we would meet. Then Denny said, “I see him” and before he could get a shot off, the buck was on him knocking him over as it tore of through the brush and away. Neither Ronnie or Frank were able to shoot it as it went out the other side of where they were.
They both pushed on and came across Dennie who was doubled over clutching his belly. “The bastard got me”, he said. “Gored me with one of his horns. Christ it hurts”. Ronnie stayed with him while Frank went looking for Ken who had not made a sound after the scream he let out. He came across him all bundled up like a rag doll, his body all twisted and contorted in strange positions. He felt his pulse and it was there although very weak. He was bleeding badly from a stomach wound and looked to be in a bad way.
“Over here guys”, said Frank, “I found him and he doesn’t look too good. We are going to have to get him out of here somehow”. Frank turned back to Ken and tried to straighten him out to make him more comfortable. It was obvious that he had a broken leg and probably an injured shoulder and the stomach wound was bleeding pretty heavily. Frank took off his jacket and then his shirt and tore the shirt into a makeshift bandage and used the rest for packing as he put pressure onto the wound. Ronnie scouted around and found a couple of branches they could fashion into a splint for the broken leg. They worked on Ken with their rudimentary but effective knowledge of first aid. Ken had insisted they all take the First Aid course put on by the local fire department. How was he to know just how useful that was going to be.
Denny was in obvious pain but had also torn his shirt into a bandage and with Ronnie’s help, had bandaged up his stomach wound. It appeared to be superficial and he was able to function somewhat albeit in between cussing out the deer. Frank found Ken’s ‘357 Magnum with the sight all smashed as though the deer had stomped on it, and put it in his pocket.
“OK” said Frank, “This is what we are going to need to do. It looks like there is a small cave in the base of that rock. I am going over to explore it to see if it will hold two of us. Wait here and I’ll be right back. In the meantime, see if you can find something we can make a sled out of as we are going to have to move Ken one way or the other”.
Frank moved away quickly and the other two located a couple of long branches and a lot of shorter ones along with some vines and began to assemble a long sled the type the Indians used to haul things around.
Frank was busy exploring until he found a cave that would hold them for the night if needs be. He trotted back to the others and said,”OK, there is a small cave that will do us for tonight. We need to move Ken to it and light a big fire to keep him from going into shock or die from hypothermia”. They loaded Ken onto the sled and he was screaming in pain as they moved him. Frank was afraid that he may have internal injuries besides the gash in his stomach but they had to go on. They dragged him to the cave and got him inside and then proceeded to light a big fire to help keep him warm.
Frank beckoned to the other two and said,”I don ‘t like the way he looks. His injuries are pretty severe and I don’t think we have too much time. The way I see it, one of us needs to travel back to where there is some sort of phone reception to call in for help. We need to get a chopper or at least a snowmobile out here ASAP. I suggest that Ronnie, you go back as you can travel the fastest. Denny, you should probably stay here unless you are up to traveling with him. You need to think about it as we can’t have you slowing him down”.
Dennie thought about for a bit and said, “I’m going with him. If I can’t keep up, he can go on ahead and I can still follow his tracks to get out”.
“OK, you got about 6 hours of daylight left and it will take you at least a couple to get back. Keep trying your cell phones just in case you can get out. I will turn mine and Ken’s on from time to time so that they can maybe get a fix from our GPS systems. Go, go”, said Frank.
They all shook hand and then they were gone into the forest and all of a sudden, Frank felt very alone.
Ronnie and Denny took off at a fairly rapid pace and were quickly out of sight. They were able to follow their own tracks to show them the way out. They had at least a three-mile hike in front of them and it looked like it was going to snow again. New snow would cover their tracks making it harder to track back in on their return trip.
They had gone about a mile and Denny was having a hard time keeping up the pace. Ronnie slowed it down a bit but it was obvious that they were going to have to split up if Ronnie was going to make any time. Ronnie checked on Denny’s wound and it had started to bleed again.
“You going to make it” he asked “I hate to leave you behind but you are slowing me down”.
Denny looked at the bleeding wound and said “You had better go on ahead and I will follow at a slower pace. Don’t worry about me, I will be OK”.
“You sure about this” said Ronnie
“Yes, I will be OK. Just can’t go as fast as you” said Denny
With that, Ronnie turned on his heel and took off down the trail they had followed on their way in. He figured that they had gone a little over a mile and he still had a couple more to go. From time to time, he stopped and checked his cell phone but there was still no signal.
He was making good time and pushing himself hard but felt pretty good. As he was striding along, he was thinking of the past few hours events. He was worried about leaving his mates but knew that someone had to go and get help and he was it. He was particularly worried about Denny being injured and on his own.
He was so deep into his thoughts that he got careless instead of watching where he was going. Next thing he knew, he was sliding down a bank heading for the stream at the bottom. He flailed around trying to grab at anything to slow himself down and the next thing he felt a hard knock on his head and everything went black.
He didn’t know how long he was out and when he did come to, he was disoriented from the blow. He laid in the snow until he could collect his thoughts and then remembered the mission that he was on. He looked at his watch and by his reckoning figured he was out for probably ten to twenty minutes or so. He was having trouble in thinking and concentrating on his direction. Blood was pouring down his face from a bad cut on his forehead that was going to need stitches when he got back to civilization. “Damn” he thought, “Another scar, just what I need”.
He struggled to his feet and looked up at the bank he had fallen off and wondered how he was going to climb back up. He decided that it would be better if he followed the stream for a bit and then try to cut back up the hill to locate their original trail which he knew was on the top of the ridge. After a couple of hundred yards, the slope eased considerably enabling Frank to walk back to find the original trail. He picked it up on top of the ridge and started trudging along.
After a half mile or so, he had this horrible feeling that he was going the wrong way and was backtracking towards Frank and Ken rather than back to the cabin. He stopped and surveyed the tracks in the snow and realized that there were four sets pointing in one direction and the fifth set was pointing in the opposite direction. His head was still fuzzy but he forced himself to concentrate and realized he was going in the same direction as the four sets meaning he was heading in the wrong direction. “Damn” he thought, “I have just wasted more time and my strength is giving out. The knock on the head must have done more damage than I first thought”.
He turned himself around and started back in the right direction, gritting his teeth at the pain his head was giving him. He walked on in the silence of the snow, the only sound his footsteps as he crunched along. He stopped and listened and there it was, the sound of the snowmobiles only this time they sounded much closer. He wasn’t sure in what direction they were travelling but they seemed to be heading towards him. As he looked down the trail towards the sound, he could see them in the distance probably more than half a mile away. He waved frantically in the hopes of attracting their attention but they did not see him. He fired off a couple of shots in quick succession but they did not hear them over the sound of their machines. The sound of their motors died away as they disappeared in the distance.
He struggled on walking more like an automaton than a person and from time to time, tried his cell phone without any luck. Fifteen minutes later, he stumbled into the clearing where the cabin sat and this time, he had a signal. he quickly dialed 911 and explained the situation to the person on the other end. She asked a few questions and then told him to wait and someone would be out to rescue him and the others.
Frank busied himself collecting firewood as he had no idea just how long he and Ken were going to be holed up in this cave. he thought about their situation and knew it was not good for his injured friend. The buck had torn him up pretty good and the stomach wound looked bad. It had stopped bleeding at least on the outside.
He went back to the clearing in front of the cave and marked out the word “HELP” in big letters in the snow. He hoped that it would be visible from a helicopter when they sent one out and that the falling snow would not cover it up. From time to time, he turned on both his and Ken’s cell phone. There was no reception on either of them. He thought about climbing to higher ground but then discarded that idea as too risky.
Ken moaned softly and Frank went over to him. He was coming to which was not a good thing as at least he didn’t feel the pain in his unconscious state. “What happened” he asked. Frank outlined briefly the events leading up to the present moment. “How do you feel” Frank asked.
“Like I been run over by a bad-tempered buck” said Ken. Frank laughed that even in his badly hurt condition, he was still able to make a joke about it.
Frank outlined the events up to date and the plan they had to get help. “All we got to do is sit tight and wait for the help to come”, he said. Frank gave his friend some water and tried to make him comfortable and after a little bit, Ken relapsed back unconscious. Frank checked his pulse and although weak, it was still there.
He went back outside and checked the firewood stack and wandered off to find more. He came back to the cave and then froze. In front of him there was this big black bear sniffing around outside the cave. Whether it could smell Ken’s blood which made it interested in the source or was looking for a cave to den up for the winter, Frank didn’t know. Luckily, the fire which was in the cave opening, was large enough to keep the predator out at least for now. Frank was surprised that this bear hadn’t already holed up for the winter and which is why he was looking at the cave where Ken was laying. In any case, it didn’t matter the reasons as there it was as big as life.
The bear turned when he heard Frank come into the clearing but did not run away. Frank thought about it but as he did not have his rifle with him wondered how he was going to get around the bear. Currently, it was between the cave and Frank and did not look like it was ready to run away.
Then he remembered Ken’s pistol that he had put back in his pocket after they had found Ken. He knew it had a broken scope but didn’t know if the rest was working. He took it out of his pocket and checked the chamber. It had a round in it and the safety was off. Frank had no idea if it would fire or blow up but reckoned he didn’t have too much of a choice but to squeeze the trigger if he needed to.
He slowly made his way forward towards the bear who by now was fully turned and was facing his new foe. The bear reared up on his back legs and let out a roar. Frank new that it would charge next and sure enough, it dropped down on all fours and came at him like a bat out of hell.
His first inclination was to run but he knew he could not outdistance the bear and there were no climbable trees within easy range so he stood his ground, raised the pistol and squeezed the trigger and nothing happened. Somehow the firing mechanism was damaged. He ejected the shell and tried again and still nothing happened.
The bear was now no more than 20 feet away when all of a sudden it veered off to the right and kept on running past Frank who had braced himself for an impact that didn’t happen. Frank turned and watched as the bear slowed to a walk, turned and looked at Frank, shook his head and wandered off into the trees.
Frank wasted no time in gathering up his armful of wood and made his way back to the cave where Ken was sitting up with a rifle in his hands. “What happened” he said “I heard the bear roar and thought it was coming in to get me. Frank recounted his story and they both sat there in silence each thinking of the close touch they had just had with death. Frank was wondering why the bear never attacked when it had the chance and knew that he would never know that answer. One thing was certain, he would not venture out without taking his rifle with him.
Denny watched his friend leave walking quickly away down the trail and knew that he needed to keep moving if he was going to survive. His stomach wound was very painful and each step he took only aggravated the situation. He was determined that he was going to survive this and it would be a story to tell his Grandkids when they came along.
In his weakened state, he was having difficulty in concentrating and began to imagine things. He shook his head and tried to focus on the job in hand which was to follow the trail and keep putting one foot in front of the other. He plodded along knowing that every step was taking him closer to help.
He felt that he was being followed and from time to time, would turn around but did not see anything. Try as he might, the feeling would not go away. Then he saw the wolf. It was standing an a slight hill watching him, big and grey and sinister not in its looks but for its reputation. Now he understood why he thought he was being watched and wondered how many more of them were in this pack. At least this snapped him out of his mind wanderings as now he really had something to concentrate on. He grasped his rifle closer and checked the breech to make sure it was ready for action. Injured or not, he was not going down without a fight. He had never backed away from one and was not going to on this one even if this was to be his last ever. He knew that the smell of his blood was what was making the wolves so bold. They sensed a wounded animal and an easy kill.
He stumbled along very wary of his surroundings trying to keep in the open. He spotted another wolf that was following and one more off to his right. So far, they were prepared to stalk him as they sensed that he was injured but he knew that sooner or later, they would rush him and all he could do was try to pick them off before they got to him.
He stumbled on and wolves began to tighten the noose as they moved in a little closer. They had abandoned all remnants of cover and were boldly walking out in the open. There were five of them all told led by the big grey that he had first spotted. Denny knew he was getting weaker and was not moving very fast. He also knew that if he stopped, they would be on him. He might get one or two of them but the rest would get him.
He fired his rifle in the air and the wolves moved back and widened the circle but did not go away. He fired again, this time in the general vicinity of the big gray who immediately slunk back under cover. He turned and looked and they had all disappeared back into the trees but he knew they were still out there. They were not going to give up on him.
Ronnie was still on hold with the 911 operator who was trying to get more facts out of him. In the end, she transferred him through to the Parks and Wildlife Rescue Group and he was able to talk to the Supervisor direct. He gave them a rough location-based on his map of where he thought Frank and Ken were holed up and told them that he was going to backtrack to try to locate Denny.
He answered all of their questions and then got off the line knowing that it was the only contact he was going to have for a while. He went into the cabin and although he was in a hurry, forced himself to eat some food and to take some with him and when he was satisfied that his strength would hold out, headed back down the trail.
It had been snowing hard for a while but he was still able to see their tracks. On his own, he made good time and after an hour or so of walking, thought that he was somewhere close to where he had left Denny. In the distance, he could hear the snowmobiles and they seemed like they were coming closer and for once, he was hoping they would find him.
He plodded on and heard a single rifle shot some way off in the distance. He quickened his pace and heard the second shot and then all was quiet. He was traveling as fast as his tired body and the deep snow would let him for he was very concerned for his friend.
He heard a series of shots and they were very close, not more than a half mile or so away, he guessed. He tried to walk faster but his speed didn’t increase by very much and when he rounded a bend in the trail, he saw and heard the reason for the shots. In the open clearing with absolutely no cover stood Denny surrounded by a pack of snarling wolves. Denny had winged one of them it was limping away but the other four had him surrounded.
Ronnie unslung his rifle and for once he knew he had no choice but to shoot to kill in order to save his friend. The wolves had not heard his approach as they were busy concentrating on Denny so he dropped on one knee, took careful aim and pulled the trigger. One of the wolves leapt in the air and dropped to the ground dead. The others turned and he squeezed off another shot and the next wolf dropped. That was enough for the remaining two as the fled after their wounded mate. Denny collapsed in a heap as Frank made his way towards him.
He reached Denny who was clutching his side. He had his bowie-knife in his hand and it was covered in blood.
“What the hell do you think you are going to do with that” said Ronnie pointing at the bowie-knife.
“Thank goodness you arrived when you did. What took you so long. I thought I was going to have to kill all five of them by myself”, Denny joked.
“You OK” asked Ronnie worried about his friend.
“Yes” he replied. “The big grey came at me and I managed to stick my knife in him enough for him to run away and then you arrived, just in the nick of time”.
“Where’s your rifle” Ronnie asked. “Why didn’t you shoot them instead of that knife of yours”.
“I dropped it when the big grey jumped me and wasn’t able to pick it back up” said Denny.
Ronnie walked over to where one of the wolves was still moving and put a bullet in his head to put him out of his misery. The other was already dead.
“Pretty good shooting if I do say do myself”, said Ronny
Denny looked at his friend and just nodded and the strong bond between them became even stronger.
Then they heard and saw the snowmobiles as they pulled into the clearing. They were manned by Park Rangers who were out on patrol.
“Looks like you took care of these wolves” one of them said, “What happened”
Real briefly, Ronnie outlined the chain of events as they had happened to this point including the fact that there should be a rescue party on the way for Frank and Ken. Then it occurred to Denny that it had been over an hour since he had called it in and they had not seen or heard a helicopter which he thought was a bit strange.
One of the Rangers had been on his satellite phone reporting back in to base the events that had happened and requesting assistance. It turned out the at the helicopter was on another rescue mission and would be coming for the two missing hunters shortly which would account for why they had not heard or seen it.
Ronnie turned to the Rangers and said, “Why don’t one of you get Denny back to camp for treatment and the other can take me back to where we left the other two”. The Rangers were named Jack and Ted, and Jack appeared to be in charge as he did all of the talking. Ted just tried to be helpful. Jack turned to Ted and told him to get Denny back to their base where he could be taken to the hospital for treatment while he went back for Frank and Ken.
They loaded Denny on to the snowmobile and Ted took off at a nice leisurely pace so as not to lose his weakened passenger. Before Jack and Ronny jumped on the other machine, Ronnie went over to both of the wolves and knelt down beside each one to say a silent prayer for taking their life. Denny had seen this before from his friend and knew it was out of genuine respect for all living animals. They mounted the snowmobile and went back along the trail towards the Big Cliff.
Ronnie thought how much easier it was riding on than walking in the snow as they ate up the distance. In no time, they were pulling into the clearing where Frank and Ken were supposed to be. There was no sign of the two men and the fire was out. They looked at each other and Jack said, “Lets take a look around. I don’t think that they could get far with Ken’s injuries”.
Frank piled more wood on the fire. He had managed to collect a pretty big supply as he had no idea how long they would be waiting. He thought about the days events leading up to the present. From time to time, he checked on Ken who was slipping in and out of consciousness as he grew weaker. Frank surmised that he probably had some internal bleeding as the wound in his stomach had stopped bleeding on the outside. he had taken off his own jacket and had covered Ken with it and huddled close to the fire to keep himself warm. The trouble with camp fires is that it is easy to be warm the way you are facing the fire but the other side is usually freezing cold as what was happening in Frank’s case. The snow was coming down heavier making it difficult to see very far.
He wondered what had happened to the bear and whether it was still hanging around. He made sure that his rifle was within touching distance just in case.
The cave they were in was not very big with just enough room for the both of them. The fire was outside in the cave opening. Frank decided to look around a bit to see if there were any other suitable caves that were a bit larger. First though, he made sure that Ken was conscious and had his rifle with him just in case.
“I think I will scout around a bit to see if there is a little bigger cave we could get to. This one is hardly big enough to keep us out of the wind”, said Frank. “Will you be OK for a few minutes on your own”?
Ken said,”Yes, I don’t hurt as bad. I think Nature is doing its thing and numbing my body. If I get into trouble, I will start shooting and then you had better come running”.
Frank stoked up the fire and took his jacket back so that he could go out in the cold. He was guessing but he thought it was below zero and there was a wind chill factor as well to worry about.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can” he said, “Hang tight”
With that, he pushed off into the wind and followed the base of the cliff for about half a mile. He didn’t find anything suitable so turned back, checking on Ken as he went past the cave entrance. Ken was still OK so Frank pushed on in the opposite direction. He went the same distance and again, didn’t find anything. Just as he was going to turn back, he had a hunch that he should go just a little further and there was the cave entrance right in front of him. He was well aware that a bear or other animal may well have already claimed it so he very carefully went inside. This one was about ten feet deep with a small opening and luckily, was as yet, uninhabited.
He made up his mind that this would be much safer and warmer and started back on the return journey to the first cave. Just as he was turning the last corner, he heard gunshots and broke into a run. There in front of him was the black bear and it was trying to get into the cave after Ken. The fire had died down a bit which allowed the bear to get much closer. Frank fired a couple of shots in the bears general direction as he approached which took the bears attention away from Ken or maybe he was just wanting the cave to den up in and was not interested in Ken at all.
With Ken shooting wildly from one side and Frank from the other, the bear decided that the odds were against him and turned and lumbered off into the trees.
“OK Ken, you can stop shooting as the bear has gone and it’s just you and me again”, said Frank. “That is one determined bear so we had better move out of here and let him have it. I found a much better cave about half a mile that way”, he said pointing in the direction from where he had just come. “I have been thinking how we can move you and whatever we do, it’s going to hurt like hell. Think you are up for it”? asked Frank
“Well, what’s the plan and the only way for us to find out is by trying” said Ken
They still had the brush sled that they had made to move Ken the first time and Frank brought it over and positioned it in front of the fire. He had almost burnt it but decided against it at the last-minute luckily for all of them. He went into the cave and between them, got Ken into an upright position. His broken leg was just dangling in the splints and his stomach started to bleed with the movement but he struggled on as Frank half carried, half dragged Ken to the sledge where Ken collapsed in a heap. Frank straightened him out and got him as comfortable as he could. Frank had taken off his jacket again and had laid it out first for Ken to lay on. As an afterthought, Frank piled firewood on both sides of Ken to get a fire started in the new cave. he kicked snow into the old fire and made sure it was thoroughly extinguished before going to the front of the sledge.
He picked up the handles and pulled with all of his strength. Luckily, they were starting at the top of a small hill and this was enough to get him the momentum he needed. Once he was in full stride, the sledge moved fairly easily over the snow and even though Ken was always complaining about his excess weight, Frank couldn’t notice the difference.
They made good progress over the first quarter of a mile or so until the ground began to climb upwards. Frank found himself digging in his heels and walking backwards to pull Ken up the hill and they made it to within fifty feet of the opening which was also strewn with rocks and boulders with no clear way through.
“This is as far as I can drag you, old buddy. I am going to have to carry you the rest of the way”, Frank said. He helped Ken stand on his one good leg and then bent forward and had him on his back in a fireman’s lift. Ken was no lightweight and Frank staggered a bit under his weight but kept pushing forward, one step at a time until he reached the cave entrance which was too low for him to carry his burden inside.
Placing Ken on his one good leg, he helped him inside and made him comfortable as far back inside as he could. Lowering Ken to the floor, the pain was too much for him and he passed out again. Frank busied himself on lighting a new fire this one inside the cave but close to the entrance. As soon as it was burning. he made a couple of quick wood runs collecting as much firewood as he could mindful of the fact that he carried his rifle with him at all times. He took the sledge and used it to block up the entrance. it would not keep out a determined bear but it would give them notice of the bears arrival.
When Frank finally sat down, he realized just how tired he was. His body ached from all of the exertion and he was feeling the cold. He was not yet to the frostbitten stage but was getting awful close. He had retrieved his jacket and as he sat by the fire, began to feel a little better.
Ken was in no better shape and all of the exertions had made his wounds bleed again. He had suffered much pain in the journey and had passed out a few times along the way. He lay there in a dazed state not truly conscious but enough to be aware of their situation.
“I wonder how the other two are doing?” said Ken. “Do you think they made it back to camp”.
“I don’t know” said Frank. “I sure hope so. I’m getting hungry”.
“Me too” said Ken and relapsed back into unconsciousness.
It was snowing hard and had blotted out any tracks that Frank and Ken had left.
“My guess is that they were looking for a safer place to stay. They can’t be too far off as Ken was pretty broken up”, said Ronnie. The terrain was too rough with too many rocks and boulders to use the snowmobile so they started searching on foot. They decided to stay together after their brush with the wolves and moved off following the base of the mountain. What they didn’t know was they were going in the wrong direction. Like Frank before them, they were looking for a larger cave. After traveling more than half a mile, they discovered a cave much bigger and better than the original one. It was uninhabited by human and animal alike leading them to the conclusion they were heading in the wrong direction.
They turned back and made good time on the return journey and began to carefully follow the base of the Big Rock until they found the cave opening. They almost missed it as the brush piled up against it looked very natural as though it had grown there. They cautiously approached the entrance and Ronnie hollered, “Ken, Frank, you in there? It’s Ronnie and I don’t want you to shoot me”.
They heard a muffled shout from within the cave and pulled the brush back to reveal two smiling faces of Ken and Frank. “Boy are we glad to see you guys” said Frank. “We thought we were going to spend the night. Where is the rescue party”?
“Right now, you are looking at them”. said Jack. “I’m Jack with the Park Rangers, and it’s only luck that we found the other two guys”.
Jack got on his satellite radio and broadcast his position to the base and asked where the helicopter was. They said it was on the way and should be there shortly. The chopper was not going to be able to land too close so it meant that they were going to have to move Ken yet again. This time, they had extra help plus the snowmobile to pull the sledge.
Within minutes of making contact, they heard the chopper as it came in hovering over the spot where they were standing. The pilot told Jack there was a small clearing about a hundred yard to the North that he could set down.
They loaded Ken back onto the sledge and this time Ronnie sat on the snowmobile and pulled Ken along to where the chopper was now sitting on the ground. They had a medic on board who checked Ken over and added more bandages to his stomach. He looked at the make shift splint on Ken’s broken leg and inquired, “Which of you boy scouts put this on”. Ronnie sheepishly said, “I did. Couldn’t think of what else to do”.
“You did well” said the medic and Ronnie grinned to himself.
They loaded Ken onto the chopper and Frank climbed aboard with him. Ronnie said to Jack, “If it’s OK with you, I’ll hitch a ride as you know as well as I do that it’s not safe for one person to be in these woods alone, even an experienced Ranger like yourself”.
Jack looked at him, “Thanks, I appreciate that”.
The helicopter lifted into the air and they watched it as it flew out of sight. They walked back to the snowmobile and on the way, Ronnie made sure the fire was out in the cave. When they arrived at the clearing where they had left the snowmobile, Jack who was in the lead put up his hand and stopped. Ronnie followed suit and there in front of them was the black bear busily pounding on the remains of the snowmobile. The bear still hadn’t spotted them so they back tracked and then made a big circle around it.
They had no choice other than to walk on out of there. Jack got back on the satellite radio and told the dispatcher the situation who informed them that the helicopter had developed engine trouble just after dropping off Ken at the hospital and was out of service and that the snow-cats were on another rescue mission “and could you guys walk out of there”?
Jack looked at Ronnie and they both started laughing. They had turned down a ride in the helicopter thinking that they could cruise out on the snowmobile which the black bear had taken care of. The chopper was out of commission and they were left with one thing to do, walk.
“Well” said Ronnie,”That is why God gave us legs” as they hit the trail. Two hours later, they arrived at the Rangers base camp at the same time that both of the Rangers two snow-cats pulled in unloading several stranded school kids who had managed to get themselves lost.
Ronnie thanked the Rangers for their help and knew there would be more questions to answer and one of them gave him a lift to the small hospital where Ken, Denny and Frank had been taken.
Ronnie and Frank made a quick recovery from their ordeal as neither had suffered anything more than a slight touch of frostbite and exhaustion from their efforts.
Denny who had been gored by the rogue buck spent some time in hospital before they were able to finally heal his wounds. Just as soon as he was cleared by his doctors, he was back in the gym frantically working out to regain the six-pack that he was so proud of only this time it has a long scar, a war wound of which he is very proud.
Ken came off the worst. he too had a badly gored stomach and it was touch and go that he would make it. They patched him up finally. His broken leg was in a cast for six months and he is still going to therapy. One of the bright spots as far as Ken is concerned is that he finally lost a lot of weight and he too is proud of his new body, scar and all.
The four of them were sitting at Denny’s house drinking beer and talking about the event. It was now eight months after it had happened and they were planning their first fishing trip together. Ronny and Frank had been to the camp a lot all through the summer, making repairs to the cabin, stocking up firewood for the winter and generally just hanging out.
The fish, along with the black flies, had been biting well and the guys were planning another weekend away from it all only this time, it would be a family outing with Denny and Ken bringing their wives and kids and their Moms and Dads. Ronny was bringing his latest girl friend that he was head over heels in love with…again. She was one hell of a looker and a lot of fun and she really did care for him. Maybe this time, it would be the real thing for him and God knows, he deserves it. They all owed him a lot for that fateful day back in October.
Frank, on the other hand, had found this girl who like him, did not want to get serious so between them, it was a perfect match. They both were taking it real slow and even though they cared for each other, maybe, just maybe they might decide they could make it work.
To Ken, Ronny, Denny and Frank, the girls and the wives and kids were just trappings of this modern world. In reality, the only thing that really mattered to these four guys was the camaraderie and the bond they had and the knowledge that no matter the odds, they could always rely on each other as they had already proved. The beauty of it was that it didn’t take a near death experience for them to find this out. They already knew it.
Oh yes, Ken’s 357 Magnum that Frank had tried to fire at the bear was sent to be tested. The report that came back showed that the firing mechanism had jammed but worse yet if that had not been the case, the barrel was full of dirt and most certainly would have blown back if the shell had fired. Frank, had one more good reason to be grateful as he could have been seriously injured.