It was in the summer of ’09 when I first heard of the remarkable events surrounding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northeastern Minnesota. I have known the public servant who was involved for several decades, and I can vouch for his integrity and veracity. Out of respect for his privacy, I will not reveal his name. He has since retired from government service and now lives a modest but invigorating lifestyle in the remote reaches of the upper midwest, not far from the shores of Gitche Gumee . . .
A few minor details may have been mangled. Such is the risk in any narrative. All fault belongs with the author. I am honored by being allowed to tell the story. I set down these events as they were related to me. As is common in the age of the ascendancy of the progressive media, no mention of them will be found in the local or national journals.
The population of indigenous “pulp savages”* has been much reduced, though many have adapted to modern forestry, and game populations have climbed to levels not seen since the end of the last glacial event.
In early ’08, the official involved, (I’ll call him ‘D’) well-known for his prowess in the field and on the target range, discovered that permits could be had for hunting bear in the BWCA reserve, a large area that has been set aside for the worshippers of the Earth Goddess and other acolytes of nature. Few bothered to obtain permits. The taboos set on the area forbid any motorized transport other than as a limited exercise of government power.
Even sails are forbidden. Only water craft propelled by muscle-power are allowed. In effect, this means canoes, though a few kayaks are seen. Hides could rot and meat spoil in the days required to transport bear harvested in the area. D had spent more time in a canoe than on a bicycle while growing up, as had his faithful hunting companion, a Christian pulp savage who he had trusted with his life on numerous occasions.
In preparation for this expedition, D had urged his companion to obtain the government permit required for legal carry of a firearm into the reserve. Due to necessity and procrastination, the permit had not been obtained. The companion would be legally limited to the traditional pulp savage belt knife and hand axe.
The growth in bear population in recent decades, and the restrictions that had been placed on the use of firearms for defense, had resulted in increasing numbers of bear attacks. Only lately had permits become available to carry firearms in the BWCA for anyone other than government officials.
D had received numerous reports of problem bears in the area. He carefully crafted his application for a permit to center in those areas. The appointed time came. D and his companion approached the sacred canoe launching place at the border of the BWCA. A group of young women from Chicagoland were in the process of exiting the area and it was clear that they had had a very bad encounter with a rogue bear. As luck would have it, D had spent an early tour in his career undercover in the tribal district of Racine.The tribes there are closely related to those in the Chicagoland district, so D was easily able to understand the Chicagoese dialect.
The attack had been prolonged. The food had gone first, pillaged and dragged off into the underbrush. The next night, in a scene worthy of a horror movie, the satellite telephone was disabled with a savage bite. No doubt it was the scent of warm human flesh that brought on the attack, rather than any supernatural bruin understanding of electrical vibrations.
The blond local guide, descended from Vikings and a sharp contrast with the dark Chicagoese, had elected to sleep under the stars. Grabbing the young woman’s foot in its powerful jaws, the beast had dragged her screaming toward the undergrowth. Only the loud ululations and angry shouts of the Chicagoese had caused the beast to break off the attack and momentarily lope into the darkness. Fear gripped the women the rest of the night, as the most effective weapon that they possessed was a canoe paddle.
The women made for the canoe launch site, their sacred root-touching ceremonies abandoned in the terror of the attack and the loss of their supplies. The attack was the culmination of a summer of increasingly aggressive actions on the part of the beast. In spite of numerous reports, some of which had attracted D to the area, the authorities had declined to take any action.
But now that the beast had tasted human blood, it would have to be terminated. It had come to associate humans with food. D’s long preparations had put him in the right place at the right time.
Good information was obtained from the Chicagoese and the local guide about the location of the attack. D and his companion quietly formulated a plan to spend a night in danger, in order to achieve the best chance to prevent any tragedy by prompt action at this early stage. On the paddle to the remote location, they encountered other travelers who were fleeing the area, too, their food supplies pillaged and gear destroyed.
After a long paddle, the canoe was beached, camp was prepared, and darkness was approached. Many sign made it evident that this was a favored haunt of the rogue bear. Food wrappings were strewn about. Destroyed gear was scattered back in the undergrowth. It was as described by the Chicagoese women. Trails had been packed by repeated use.
D and his companion were both skilled woodsmen with decades of experience in reading sign. The most likely approach of the beast was determined. A hasty blind was constructed of bracken and dead branches, with enough surrounding space to allow for sighting the beast at distances further than hand axe range. One side was protected by the lake shore. There was no time to build an elevated platform in the style of Jim Corbett. In any case, it was forbidden to do so by reserve taboo. The men would have to face the maneater on the ground.
The night would be tense. D’s companion had his hand axe. Hand axes have been used to kill bears, but the effective range can be measured in inches. D preferred, for reasons of efficacy and health, a large caliber rifle.
D had brought his custom .416 rifle, with a Redhawk .44 magnum as a sidearm. Based on the best of the colonial actions, the trusted Ruger model 77, the rifle had been put together by a smith who specialized in such work. Chambered for the .416 Taylor cartridge, its gleaming, traditional stainless steel and composite stock were impervious to the notoriously fickle BWCA weather. Topped with legendary Leupold glass, it could accurately deliver 315 grain solutions from specialized hand loads deliberately crafted for the task at hand.
Just after dark, the cry of a loon was heard in the distance. The stars slowly wheeled by in their nightly procession. Even the smallest noises were analyzed for their limited information. Each sound could be the approach of a hungry and frustrated bruin. Electric torches lay close at hand next to the rifle, revolver and hand axe.
Finally, the sky started to lighten in the east. The plan was set in motion. D took up his rifle and left camp for the hasty blind that had been prepared. Another taboo forbid hunting within 150 yards of the camp. Scent was not a problem, as there was no wind, and this creature associated humans with food.
His companion started the fire and began to cook a traditional pulp savage breakfast involving copious amounts of bacon fried in its own grease in a large cast iron skillet over an open wood fire. The beast was used to such activities, and might well be attracted to them. The hand axe was close to the fire.
A light fog lay over the area. The air was still. Even small sounds carried long distances. Only the lapping of tiny wavelets could be heard from the lake shore. At such times, you can hear the beating of your own heart.
Alert for any small noise, the two men were startled as the loud sounds of thrashing brush and the breaking of dead branches reached them through the still air. The companion later said that it sounded like a bull moose was crashing through the undergrowth. He gripped the most effective weapon available to him.
The crashing grew nearer. D tried to detect the approaching creature through the thick forest. It had to be very close. Every one of his senses was stretched to the limit. Nothing existed except the forest, the noises, and the familiar rifle in his hands. Was it a moose? The bear? Something else? A waving branch caught his attention. Then, there it was, less than 20 yards away and it was coming right at him.
He shouldered the .416 in a fraction of a second, slipping off the safety as the rifle butt fit into his shoulder in a motion made smooth by years of practice. The cross hairs of the Leupold found the deadly spot; the trigger broke without detectable motion.
The big beast had learned to announce its arrival, no doubt certain that it would terrify the weak beings that it had so easily dominated in previous encounters. Now it learned that another hunter was higher on the food chain. The prescription of high velocity lead was delivered as required to terminate the threat. The career of the maneater of the BWCA was stopped just as it had barely started. The old adage had been correct – a fed bear is a dead bear.
D returned to camp and retrieved his .44.
The men now joined in the hard work of skinning and quartering the fallen beast. It had been in good health and had obviously been larding up for the winter. The sweet flesh of humans had proven to be too much of a temptation after a long association that had taught it nothing but contempt for their abilities.
Camp was broken, the canoe packed and the return trip started. Gliding along with silent paddles, the buzz of an airplane disturbed the autumn air. An official float plane with a kayak strapped to the pontoons flew over the scene, seeking to land at a nearby lake. D surmised that it had been sent to scout the area of the attack.
On the way out, two forest protectors accosted D and his companion. As is often the case, the official response was too little and too late. However, all was not lost. The official responders would receive copious overtime while searching for the bear that was in float bags in the bottom of D’s canoe. The forest protectors didn’t insist that the canoe be emptied to access the official tag while the canoe was floating on 60 feet of wilderness water.
After returning to their home environs, D’s hunting companion took his advice to heart. D had assured him that with his name as a reference, he was nearly certain to be granted a permit to bear weapons in the BWCA. On the next trip, he could proudly carry his own sidearm without worrying about any legal difficulties.
©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
*Pulp savage is a term of endearment relating to occupation more than race. The group involved made much of their living harvesting pulpwood in areas of northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, with crude chain saws and hand tools.
A primary tool was the “spud” a sharpened curved blade made of a bit of automobile spring. The “spud” was used to peel the bark from the pulp trees, which then brought a higher price at the mill.