I spent nearly five years in Panama working for the Army. It was a formative experience that forever shaped my life. I intend to visit Panama again someday. While I was there, I met and became friends with Dr. Nickolas D. Smythe. We had a number of conversations about science, biology, and research. I always have appreciated being around exceptionally smart people, and Dr. Smythe was one. I have lost track of him, and I hope that he is doing well. His research was centered around the domestication of the agouti (think tail-less squirrel). It was a very ambitious project as the number of truly domesticated animals is quite small. Agoutis are considered delicious . . .
Dr. Smythe had grown up in England, and had bicycled over great distances with his .22 target rifle on the handlebars to shoot in school-sponsored rifle competitions. No one thought anything of it. That was in the middle ’50s.
The gun control regime made it difficult to obtain guns of any kind in Panama, and he asked me to help him select an air pistol to collect lizard specimens. I was known as a “gun guy” and I had an APO address so I obtained a Beeman air pistol for him.
He had come to North America in the late ’50s and worked his way through a bachelor’s program by doing geologic surveys for mining companies in the summer in Alaska. We were talking of gun control when he told me a story.
It was about 1962 and he was traveling above the arctic circle with a co-worker, taking mineral specimens along the designated route. They had a pack dog, but the dog was sick, and they divided the contents of its pack between them. Nick carried their issued rifle for protection: a model 70 Winchester in 30-06. I don’t recall the load, but it was likely a 220 grain round nose.
All day a grizzly had been shadowing them through the tundra and stunted spruce. In the summer the sun never really goes down above the arctic circle, it just describes a low circle around you and dips toward the horizon in the “night”. Nick and his co-worker made camp. The sun was very low, they were tired, they had a fire going, and the dog was resting. Nick was sitting with the model 70 across his knees.
He didn’t say what made him look up. Maybe he already had been. Suddenly, the grizzly was charging at them, full out. He snapped the rifle to his shoulder and fired one shot. He said the bullet broke the bear’s spine. It slid to a halt, dead, just feet from Nick.
I don’t know if the successful bear defense was ever reported. Such things often aren’t. No one was hurt, no property was destroyed. The bear had likely never seen a human before and was simply hungry. No report, no paperwork.
I asked Nick, if it changed his mind about “gun control.” He said no, that happened in the wilderness and it made sense for the authorities in the U.K. to control guns. The Hungerford massacre occurred the same year that he told me his story, and UK gun control laws have only tightened since then.
©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.