Maneater of The Boundary Waters Canoe Area

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.
Gun Watch

*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.

comments

  1. avatar David PA/NJ says:

    I got a little into this and got confused and quit. I get the attempts at humor but I don’t understand

    1. avatar 7.62x54r says:

      David,

      Maybe too much NJ and not enough PA.

    2. avatar Andrew says:

      I tried. I really tried. about half-way through I’m putting everyone in powdered wigs and adding “native squaws” to the imagery…

      Let me know how that bear makes out.

    3. avatar KCK says:

      Back to the comic books for you (plural) then.

    4. avatar William Burke says:

      Yeah, WTF the stilted language, Dean? I’ve read some of your posts elsewhere, and it was never like this. Are you making sport of what you believe to be the average intelligence level on TTAG?

      That would be a huge mistake. You sound like a man from the government talking down to the natives.
      Shee-IT…

      1. It is my attempt at the style of hunting story from several decades back. I enjoyed them tremendously, and this incident seemed ready made for that style.

        1. avatar FsN says:

          Having spent time at Gunflint on my way around the big lake, I found the style consistent with stories I’ve heard north of Superior. Thanks for the read eh!

        2. avatar ReadMore says:

          You condescended toward two groups that are not mutually exclusive. You obviously don’t like the fact that guns are banned in many wilderness areas. I agree. You also seem to dislike protected areas like the Boundary Waters. You’ll find that many gun owners are strong supporters of natural areas. I think you stand to alienate many readers with this article.

        3. avatar Brian Patterson says:

          I very much enjoyed the style in which it was written. Wish it was longer! Thank you.

        4. avatar SelousX says:

          Good use of style. Also glad the main character didn’t get eaten. 🙂

  2. avatar Michael Reed says:

    Nice story. Reminded me of the old Outdoor Life stories I used to read many moons ago…

    1. avatar Anmut says:

      Yep you have to have read those old stories to understand the writing style of this one

    2. avatar Cliff H says:

      Brought back many memories of my time at Outward Bound in 1971. We were thankfully oblivious to any significant danger from bears.

  3. avatar peirsonb says:

    Meanwhile, back in Lake Wobegon….

    1. avatar A-Rod says:

      …where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

    2. avatar William Burke says:

      😉

      You got it. I do not fancy being talked down to.

  4. avatar Hugh Glass says:

    Love it. Reminds me of a story from August 1823 near the forks of the Grand River in South Dakota. Fun times.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      While it was amazing that you survived being mauled by that bear and stranded in a hostile wilderness the truly amazing part is here it is near 200 years later and you still can write about it.

      1. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

        He’s a member of the Howard Families.

        1. avatar A-Rod says:

          Lazarus Long rules!

  5. avatar TheBear says:

    I lost interest a few paragraphs in.

    TL;DR.

    1. avatar Cliff H says:

      Just as well, Bear, you would not have enjoyed the ending.

  6. avatar IdahoPete says:

    “Only lately had permits become available to carry firearms in the BWCA for anyone other than government officials.”

    Similar to the past restrictions on carrying guns in National Parks. I have heard rumors of a current resident of Idaho, well-known as a charmingly eccentric firearms enthusiast (CEFE), who, while still a prisoner-at-large in the People’s Republic of California (many, many moons ago), would stash a .357 S&W in his dry box while paddling his trusty MadRiver kevlar Explorer canoe on the waters of certain sacred National Parks in the far northern reaches of the PRCa. His attitude towards the potential hissy-fit outrage of the High Priest/esses of the NPS priest/esshood was best summarized by the words, “piss on ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

  7. avatar Chris. says:

    I enjoyed it but I live in MN.

  8. avatar Stinkeye says:

    Summary for those who don’t have time to read the whole thing:

    Some guy shot a bear in Minnesota.

    1. avatar TheBear says:

      Thank you.

      I am being sincere.

  9. It helps if you have ever read any Jim Corbett.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      No, sorry. I’ve read Corbett and Capstick and it didn’t help here at all.

      1. avatar William Burke says:

        It rankled my ass, I can tell you that.

  10. avatar Skyler says:

    Very hard to follow. Might have helped a little to explain terms in the text instead of in an unmarked footnote, but it still would have been hard to follow.

  11. avatar SpecialK says:

    Enjoyable allegory.

    1. avatar William Burke says:

      Misuse of the word, “allegory”. No abstract ideas were expressed, only a hifalutin narrative.

  12. avatar rosignol says:

    …his faithful hunting companion, a Christian pulp savage who he had trusted with his life on numerous occasions.

    On the initial skim, I managed to read ‘life’ as ‘wife’.

  13. avatar gloomhound says:

    I like hunting story’s that have the taste of adventure and danger flavoring them. This was a good one.

  14. avatar rosignol says:

    …his faithful hunting companion, a Christian pulp savage who he had trusted with his life on numerous occasions.

    On the initial skim, I managed to read ‘life’ as ‘wife’.

    1. avatar Skyler says:

      I had no concept of what a pulp savage was. I thought it might be a brand of ax or knife or maybe a breed of dog. Really, this is in need of a serious dose of influence from Hemmingway. It’s got the flavor of him but not the art.

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        If you expect every writer to be Hemingway, be prepared for disappointment. He was a giant of his time, but go back and reread his prose. A lot of it doesn’t hold up all that well today. “A Farewell to Arms,” for example, which was so powerful when written, is now a major snooze.

        1. avatar Skyler says:

          All I meant was it has the makings of a good story, but wasn’t well written.

        2. avatar William Burke says:

          I agree, Ralph. In my dotage, I laugh at Hemingway’s writing style. When I bother to read any.

        3. avatar peirsonb says:

          Most of the “great” American writers have shoddy style, at best. I’ve always seen their fame more as a result of “right place, right time.”
          They simply wrote things that hadn’t been seen before.

  15. avatar DylanWV says:

    After initial confusion I came to enjoy the article, especially for it’s humor and style. It reminds me of old Anthropological texts.

    1. avatar William Burke says:

      That seems like “damning by faint praise”, to me.

  16. avatar Ralph says:

    Good story. Publish it as a comic book so some of our commenters can also enjoy it.

    1. Thanks. A high compliment from you. Unfortunately, I do not have any developed artistic talent for drawing… But, I know some people…

      I could see the comic aspect, especially if it was in the style of the Mark Trail series. There is enough there to publish a “Graphic Novel”!

      1. avatar KCK says:

        They don’t need a graphic novel to understand it, they need a COMIC BOOK.

    2. avatar Tyler Kee says:

      This is just the sort of story that Ralph enjoys reading very much. I aim to have as much high drama in my hunting tales.

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        Bingo. It’s the type of tale that we all used to read during the Golden Age of outdoor magazines, like Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and to a lesser extent, Sports Afield. For kids like me who were fascinated with the outdoors but who were cooped up in The Bronx for ten months a year, reading about the Great Outdoors was our only outlet.

  17. avatar MD says:

    Enjoyable story.

  18. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

    Good story. A bit prosy and prolix but I liked it. Every time I hear Lake Superior referred to as Gitche Gumee, it makes me think of Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the Edmund Fitzgerald. That song is now stuck in my head.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      The most depressing song ever, made hysterically funny by the late Richard Jeni’s classic parody.

      1. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

        Richard Jeni was a funny dude. I can’t find a link to that parody though. I remember it being pretty funny.

        1. avatar Ralph says:

          It should be on Youtube, though you may have to poke around to find it.

        2. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

          I think my dad has all his stand up stuff on VHS. I’ll have to ask him about it…and find a VHS player or whatever we used to call those things.

          Edit: VCR. They were called VCRs.

  19. avatar Hannibal says:

    ” The prescription of high velocity lead was delivered as required to terminate the threat. ”

    … you’ve gotta be kidding me, right?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I guess it’s true — everyone is a critic.

  20. avatar Phil L says:

    I kept waiting for – as I find in many items on this site – a turn of events that would cause fury at official stupidity.

    Didn’t happen. Great story – a bit long on dryly humorous language, but still a great story!

  21. avatar rlc2 says:

    Great story Dean. A reminder to the younger POTG that did not have the benefit of growing up on Outdoors Life and fathers and gradfathers “fish tales” around the campfire that that contains much wisdom delivered with wry humor.

    And its predecessors …Kipling, Twain, London, Heinlein….rollicking good reads any boy “gets” in his bones. That they wont be getting in the new Common Core dumbed down reading lists informed by the 60s academias own self brainwashing in the Foucaltian pomo tranzi- nazi nonsense dished out there….

    1. avatar rlc2 says:

      but enough…the woods are calling. Got a pack to pack for a walk with a rifle on my shoulder…

      jwm pm me if/when you want to go pig-scouting some time…east sd county.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        rlc2. Alameda county and our first jack rabbit/scout trips will be north and east of here. Is sd San Diego county?

  22. avatar Jethro Bean says:

    Excellent Job and fine read… Guess I didnt realize there were so many english/grammar/story fascists out there when coloring a hunting story … MEh Would love to see more of this along with all the rest of the excellent writings here at TTAG.

  23. avatar BTinAfghan says:

    Thank you, I enjoyed the story. I had not idea what a pulp savage was before I read it at the end. I have now had a successful day as I have already learned something new.

  24. avatar Defens says:

    I rather enjoyed it – a bit ponderous, but witty. Sort of reminiscent of Pat McManus or even Dave Barry – funny in short doses, but reading an entire book at one sitting gets sort of tiresome.

  25. avatar ensitue says:

    How many men did this bear eat?

  26. avatar R Long says:

    I thought this was well-written, wry and humorous. Good stuff, Dean!

    1. avatar Avid Reader says:

      Well, hell, kids-I enjoyed it and found it mildly amusing. But I have spent time in the upper midwest, in the land near Racine and where Chicagoese is spoken. This makes me want to dig out my old cassette tapes of Da Youpers.

  27. avatar Panzercat says:

    “I changed the names for no apparent reason and violated no laws while hunting for this bear that I had a perfectly legal permit to do so and was afforded the use of an adequate firearm.”

    Trying way to hard to tell a story.

  28. avatar Wood says:

    Hey Dean, I enjoyed it immensely. Reminds me of the copious amounts of Earnest Thompson Seton I read as a boy, and more recently “The Dangerous River” by R. M. Patterson.

  29. avatar RonO. says:

    Hey, I liked it. Of course, I am a Scandinavian from SD and like to read a lot. If you have ever read the Poetic Edda this is positive brevity! It made me think of Ted Trueblood for some reason.

  30. avatar ReadMore says:

    First, I don’t understand the condescending tone of this article. Many of us gun owners enjoy the Boundary Waters, and appreciate that it is a protected and primitive environment. There are very few places left where people can enjoy the wilderness in similar conditions of isolation as our forefathers once did. Dean, I usually appreciate your articles, but this less-than-tounge-in-cheek piece stands to do more damage than good. Stick to mocking those who make it hard to carry in the BW, and stop mocking those of us who like our protected areas.

  31. avatar bobby b says:

    As someone who grew up in Minnesota, and who spent way too much time – summer, fall, winter, and spring – inside the BWCA and Quetico trying to avoid bears and rangers, I loved the story. I got the story. The story resonated within me.

    All of youse who’re puzzled and disentertained by this . . . you’ll probably want to avoid anything by Sigurd Olson or any work containing the word “Ely.” Or metaphors. Any metaphors.

    1. I felt a certain fellowship with Kipling and Corbett when I was serving in Panama.

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