It was supposed to be a routine sortie into the area we call the Grand Canyon. This geographical anomaly is named because of two deep drainage beds that intersect and create interesting valleys that are flanked with high forest walls.
Dad and I were bird hunting and scouting for the upcoming fall deer hunt. Upon reaching the landmark area of the Grand Canyon, we took a minute to enjoy the view. It is one of those spots on our acreage, where all of the life’s issues could be solved or forgotten if given enough time. The possibility of sighting a grouse shortened the moment and spurred us to keep moving.
For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea if we split up and met back at Moose Lodge. It made sense. Two hunters walking in different areas would increase their respective chances of seeing a grouse. Dad confirmed the general direction I should travel via HIS compass and some hand motions. My compass was tucked into my shirt under my vest.
At least it should have been there.
I knew in theory which direction to travel. I had walked this particular section of bush before. My mind knew where I was supposed to end-up and it convinced me that I would not need my compass, so I did not check to see if it was still in my shirt.
Stepping off the canyon and down the slope I began my solo trek in search of a grouse. After approximately 15 minutes of walking, the feeling of unfamiliarity began to sink in. Nothing looked as it should. It was getting swampy and wet. Gads and swamp grass prevailed. I reached into my vest for my compass. A slight panic washed over me when I realized I had actually left it back at camp.
I Panned around my location hoping something would strike me as familiar. Nothing did. I walked another 50 meters and stepped over a rotting log. Strangely, I looked down at my feet after straddling the log and noticed a large pile of fresh bear scat.
I walked another few steps and noticed another pile. Then another pile. If forests had rooms like a house I knew where I was. It was eerie. Then I heard the rustle and snap of twigs behind me. I turned my head but I saw nothing. I continued to walk in what I was hoping to be a westerly heading (based on my position to the late day sun). The rustling of leaves and twig snapping continued. I picked up my pace slightly and stopped to listen. That’s when I saw it. A slight hump (or rise) in this low, swampy land. On that hump was a tangle of bush and stone that resembled a den. My mind put the bear piles, the snapping of twigs and this hump into two words:
I fingered the safety on my shotgun and listened for the noise behind me. At this point, I finally remembered I had my radio with me. Turning the volume up I whispered,
“Dad are you there? You should see what I just about stepped in and what I am staring at! You there?”.
The radio cackled back,
“Yes. Where are you?”
I answered back,
“I have no idea. I left my compass at camp. You should see these bear piles. I think I found a den and I think something is following me!”
Dad ridiculed back,
“There is nothing following you and you are not looking at a bear den. Now hurry up and get back here. Head west. You should find something you might recognize.”
I veered away from the den in question and walked for several more minutes. I still had no idea where I was. I was about to call dad on the radio again to see if he would fire a shot into a log to help me get out of this mess.
Suddenly, I stepped onto an old logging road that I recognized. This was encouraging but what happened next was surreal. I walked down this road for a few minutes and approached a large fallen beech tree. While walking towards the leafy top of the tree that blocked my path I heard…
The leafy section of the tree shook. I pulled my gun to my shoulder. My heart felt like it was going to explode. I looked into the leafy top but I could not see anything except for brown and green leaves with a wad of black fur.
This was not a raccoon or a squirrel with vendetta. Its growl was a deep and intimidating. I clicked my gun safety off and slowly backed away from the enraged beech tree. When I was out of sight of the tree I used my radio again.
“Dad. I found my way out but a bear, in an old Beech tree, growled at me.”
His radio silence was mockingly telling.
If I made it back to camp, I was not sure how I was going to explain this one. Eventually, my retreat took me to another login road that quickly led me back to our cabin. There, with coffee in his hand, Dad came out to greet me. I sat down and I began to think how I would explain how I got lost and the location of the bear den.
I left the growling beech tree out of it.
Later, when I tried to empty my shotgun’s magazine, I discovered that I had not even loaded any shells into it. It was not until I opened the cabin door that I noticed my shotgun shells were sitting on the table beside my compass.
I never mentioned that blunder to dad either.