They had been a nuisance for all the time that we had lived in the woods.
It wasn’t like we were back so far from civilization that we were isolated from humanity. We had neighbors. Roads. The nearest stores were only five miles away.
But I understood how the bears felt. This was their land before we arrived. And one day they would in all probability reclaim it. But right now they were a pain in the ass. And soon would become more than that.
You would see them from time to time. Huge black shadows slipping back into the deeper woods. More often you would see where they had been. A tree destroyed as they sought the tasty grubs inside. A huge pile of scat. The large paw print here or there.
But we seemed to be able to co-exist peacefully enough. You kept the garbage can inside the garage with the lid tightly closed, bringing it out just in time for the weekly compacter visits, and then collecting it in a timely manner. Bears had learned about garbage cans and had a taste for the contents.
We stopped feeding the birds after an unnerving encounter with a 500 pounder who stepped up to the kitchen window, grabbed the suction-cupped sunflower seed filled tube and tipped it down it’s maw like a pez dispenser. We watched the process with a sheet of glass between us and the beast.
We had been told that the bears would remember where they had found food and return regularly to check. So the chickadees, nuthatches and finches went hungry, at least from our kitchen window.
Once in while I would hear one in the deep woods. Usually in the early morning hours as I made my way to the car. I got in the habit of making lots of noise. The worst thing was to surprise one and scare it into action. It usually didn’t work out for the human.
We had a dog door installed in the kitchen. Usually these are cut into an existing door but in our case it went into a side wall. It was big enough to admit our Siberian husky. After she passed away we never replaced her and the door went unused and eventually all but forgotten.
The bears had become more numerous and aggressive lately. It was talked about in supermarket check-out lines and at filling stations. Someone approached their car to find one sitting in the front seat, munching on a candy bar. Someone else had one get trapped under a deck. That encounter ended badly for the bear.
After the encounter at the kitchen window against my better judgment but with the approval of Jane, my wife, I kept a rifle handy. There was small alcove near the kitchen door and I leaned it there, with a fully loaded magazine but an empty chamber.
The rifle was my father’s. It was German, a Mauser KAR 98K Carbine chambered for 8 millimeter shells. We never knew how dad acquired it. He served in WW2 but in the Pacific theater so it was probably not a war souvenir.
It was not a great hunting rifle. It was heavy, unwieldy and not easy to load. But it was powerful and loud. I figured even if I didn’t hit the marauding bear that I could at least scare it.
It was just about dusk on a cold November day. I was upstairs in my office half dozing, pretending to be a writer. I woke completely up when I heard Jane yelling and banging on pots in the kitchen.
“Go away! Bad bear shoo. Get the f&$# going,” Jane was screaming at the top of her lungs.
I raced down the stairs and took in the scene. If it wasn’t so deadly serious it would have been comical. The bear had discovered the dog door and broken it open. A huge black bear leg was sweeping the kitchen floor. The door was too small to allow it to come in but it was trying its best and Jane was shrieking at it to go the f&$# away.
I don’t know what surprised me more. The bear gouging the floor with its sharp claws or my wife saying “f&$#.”
Looking back at the moment now with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I made two big mistakes right in a row. First: I forgot completely about the rifle. Second: I decided it made perfect sense to stomp on the bars paw with my shoeless foot.
I knew it was wrong as soon as I did it. The bear’s paw I stomped on was equipped with two inch claws which were now, courtesy of my stupid move, imbedded deeply in the sole of my foot.
The bear roared, I roared and things went downhill quickly.
The bear withdrew its leg and me with it. As it was pulling my leg towards the dog door it occurred to me that I was in deep trouble. The bear was going to have my foot and quite possibly the rest of me for dinner.
“The rifle! Get the f f&$# ing rifle!” I screamed at Jane.
By now the bear had my leg completely out of the house. I could feel its hot breath on me. Trying to free its paw from my foot it shook me back and forth like a rag doll.
Jane was moving in extreme slow motion. At least from my perspective she was. The rifle leaned up against the wall harmlessly as she made her way to it.
Somehow the bear had pulled my torso through the door and was now investigating my more sensitive parts with its snout. I felt its jaw close around my scrotum and I heard a shrill loud noise. I realized it was me shrieking like a girl at the top of my vocal register.
I was in a fix. A black bear was gnawing on my manhood, I was completely blocking the dog door and my wife was just reaching for the rifle.
A lesser man might have given up. Or passed out. I screamed at my wife to give me the goddamn rifle. She finally did and I managed to shove the barrel down my body, out the door and pulled on the trigger.
“Click,” the Mauser said, almost apologetically.
That the rifle was unloaded when Jane handed it to me had, in the heat of the moment escaped both of our attentions.
The bear, apparently liking whatever it was getting out of my midsection clamped down on me, eliciting a noise that sounded like a jet engine.
“Gahhhhh, “ I said.
The bolt action on the rifle was a long one. It took me precious seconds to work it and get a shell in the chamber. The bear released its grip on my balls and lunged in for a better one on my whole package when I pulled the trigger.
Black bear fur, blood and brains covered me. I looked at my wife, took a deep breath and passed out.