Later in the trip, when a moose browsed out along the rim of the lake on which the lodge was situated, John spotted it from the window. Grabbing up his crutches and rifle, he hobbled to the shore and fired across the water, dropping the moose. He didn't get a chance at bear, but in spite of his broken leg he managed to go home with three of the four big Alaska trophies.
HAPPY RIVER, ANGRY BEAR
My chance at bear came on the other side of the Happy River, the one place in Alaska I had hoped never to see again. Late one afternoon we spotted an enormous grizzly moving toward the remains of my moose kill. I wanted him even if it meant going into that thicket again. But the next morning what had seemed like a good idea was beginning to pall. One of the guides had flown over the kill and confirmed that the grizzly was on it. He was as angry as a bear can be because in the surrounding brush three other grizzlies and a black bear were waiting for a chance to move in.
I was scared. But in an all-male camp I couldn't very well play the fainthearted female now. Against my better judgment, I smiled cheerfully and said, "When do we start?"
The answer was: right away. While Dennis got his gear together, I persuaded Mike Finnell, who had flown back from the peninsula with Lew Wright, a friend of the Branhams, to come along as an extra gun. There was something comforting about our being three, instead of two, against five bears in all that brush.
We crossed the Happy River and started on the same route we had taken to the moose. Along the way Dennis gave us a few words of encouragement: "If you see a bear—and the only way you'll see him is if he stands up or you bump into him—shoot."
"How can we tell if he really means business or is just curious?" I asked.
"If you see him, believe me, he's seen you first," he whispered. "Don't ask questions. Shoot!"
I think we would have fired at a falling leaf. Now Dennis, who usually moved so fast it was a race to keep up with him, tiptoed through the brush in slow motion. I kept walking up his heels, and Mike kept stepping on mine. Each time we stopped to listen we were all breathing so hard we couldn't hear anything else. Twigs snapped in my face, but I was so keyed up I didn't even blink. Finally we reached the little hill where I shot at the moose. There wasn't a sign of life anywhere.
After an eternity of waiting, we heard the cracking of bones and other sounds of a bear at dinner. Dennis got out his movie camera and started setting the lens. In sign language, I got across the idea that I couldn't care less about pictures at the moment. I wanted that other rifle around if we found ourselves with a grizzly on our hilltop.