The Great Hunting Expedition
The year was 1943, I was fifteen years old and WW-II was in full tilt. My dad and a
fellow named Pete Borger decided to go to Colorado for a load of coal, but I really think
it was far more of a hunting trip because they could get all the coal they needed from the
railroad's supply at the depot. But best of all, they were taking Pete's son, Roland, and
me with them, probably because at our ages, we didn't need a hunting license.
There have been expeditions to darkest Africa staged with less planning than what we put into this venture. It went on for weeks, assembling bedrolls, loading equipment and getting our weapons in top shape. Speaking of weapons, we were equipped with a 30-30 Winchester Saddle Carbine, an old 30.06 rifle dating to around the turn of the century, my .22 cal rifle and an ancient Long Tom pump goose gun with a seven shot magazine. The theory was that the 30.06 was for long range, the 30-30 for close shots. The shotgun would get us wild turkey and the .22 for rabbits for table meat. Good thing we took along ample potatoes, beans and bacon or we would have gotten awfully hungry. It was agreed that we would swap guns each day to give everyone a chance at a deer or bear.
When the day finally came, we loaded everything aboard Pete's old Ford truck. The 200 mile trip from Stinnett to Trinidad, Colorado trip took two days along with a gallon of oil, several flat tires and a score of radiator boilovers. We took a route through southern Colorado in order to avoid the dreaded Raton Pass, which Pete didn't think the old truck could make it over.
We found a great place to set up camp half way up a mountain side on US Government land about 15 miles west of Trinidad. We didn't have what most people think of today as camping equipment like dome tents, gas stoves, Coleman lanterns and down sleeping bags. We had a garish red and yellow striped tent that once served as the kitchen for a circus, a coal-burning laundry stove that vented out through the roof with a stovepipe and bedrolls made up of blankets and quilts.
It had been a powder-keg dry fall and the aspen leaves lay six inches deep on the ground. Every step through them produced a crunch like walking through corn flakes. It was enough noise to spook any animal within a quarter mile. We walked ridge lines looking for deer, watched streams where they might come to drink, and three of us would do a drive up a valley while the fourth hid near a trail at the top, but not a sign of game did we see. Had we been a bit more savvy about deer, we would have known that it hadn't been cold enough to drive them down from the high country and they were still munching happily on alpine grass far above us.
The hunt had gone on for four long, frustrating days when my dad, Roland and I had joined up and were walking back toward the tent. That's when we heard the old shotgun that Pete had that day roar. It was quickly followed by another Boom, Bam, Bang and Wham until all seven shots had been fired. We started running toward the tent.
Just as we came in sight of the tent, a half-grown, snow white bear burst from the flaps of the tent, closely followed by Pete, equally snow white, trying to shove more shells into the gun. Pete was a tall, Ichabod Crane looking guy, who usually flailed about like an animated stick figure but, for some reason, he was all bent over. The bear disappeared into the brush and Pete sent the shotgun spinning end over end after it while he turned the air blue with mule skinner quality swearing.
When Pete finally stopped cussing and kicking pinecones, he told us what had happened. He had returned to the tent to find the half-grown bear inside munching on a side of bacon. He swung the shotgun around for a hipshot but the barrel hit a tent pole and he not only missed the bear but the gun kicked him in the groin. The first shot also exploded a five-gallon lard can full of flour and the visibility in the tent was instantly reduced to zero. Pete continued to pump round after round at where he thought the bear was, but managed only to shatter the cook stove, load up most of the bedrolls with buckshot and blast several holes in the tent. The final indignity was when the bear went between his legs, turning him a flip and sending him crashing to the ground which broke the stock off the shotgun.
As if to add insult to injury, it rained that night and the tent leaked like a screen door, mostly through the holes he had shot in it. We were soaked the next morning. Since it was my day with the shotgun, which was now broken, I told the others to go hunting while I cleaned up the mess. Since they could now walk through the leaves without making noise, they might have a better chance of finding something.
Inside the tent was such a mess that the simple thing to do was move it to a new location, which we did before they left to go hunting. I strung up a couple ropes between trees and hung out the wet bedding to dry, then I gathered some wood for a campfire because we no longer had the stove to cook on.
Along about the middle of the afternoon I had things pretty well tidied up. The bedrolls were all back in the tent and I was chopping firewood when a large buck deer came bounding out of the brush with his head held high and tail in the air, headed directly through camp. He spotted me and tried to change direction but caught his antlers in one of the ropes. He went up on his back legs, did a half turn and his feet flew out from under him. He came crashing down flat on his back with all four feet flailing in the air. I ran over and while he was struggling to free himself from the rope, I got in a good swing with the blunt end of the ax, hitting him right between the eyes. He shuddered once and was dead as a doornail.
When the rest of them returned an hour or so later, they thought that the deer must have been one they saw bounding away through the trees. They had taken a potshot as it disappeared and figured it must have made it into camp before it died. They were finally convinced when they could find no gunshot wound and his skull was soft from the blow. We dragged it a hundred yards from camp to field dress it so the offal wouldn't attract unwanted animals into camp.
It snowed about six inches that night so we decided the smart thing to do was get back to lower altitudes before we were stranded. We struck camp, loaded everything, stuffed our deer with snow and headed down the twisting road that would take us off the mountain. We turned a corner and standing in the middle of the road was a full-grown black bear. Pete slammed on the brakes but the truck went sliding toward the bear which, instead of fleeing into the woods, stood on his hind legs to challenge us. Now, when it comes to a contest between an old Ford truck and a bear, the truck usually wins, even though it did sustain a smashed radiator, which dumped all the water onto the ground.
The bear wasn't in too good a shape after being run over by the truck so we finished the job with the 30-30, dressed it out and it joined our deer for the ride home. Since it was mostly down hill and we could coast, we were able to make it to a village where we found a radiator in a wrecking yard.
So we returned home the great Nimrods with both a deer and a bear, but not one of us ever breathed a word that the deer was killed with an ax and the bear with a truck.
That was the one and only deer I ever killed because I figure that until some animal comes at me with a gun, I see no reason to kill them.
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