I was not too
much disturbed by the thought of an attacking bear, but I did wonder just how
the beaters could drive one over several miles of mountain and bring it out
within 30 yards of my stand.
My doubts were
soon confirmed. For two days we beat the forests, each day staging two beats
and each night moving to a different base. But no wolves, no lynx, no boar and
no bear emerged. Dima and his expert, Lika, were deeply depressed and begged me
to prolong my stay. Dr. Gogulescu, my cheery mentor, was even more dismayed. It
was all his fault, he moaned. He was always a Jonah. In fact, he confessed, in
10 years of bear shooting he had never even seen a bear!
The first drive
on our last day likewise produced nothing. There was only one beat left. After
an enormous lunch we scrambled up the last mountain. My stand was in an open
beech clearing on a slope above a stream, beyond which was a thick stand of
saplings. Above me, 200 yards away, Lika held the flank to turn any bear toward
me that might try to slip through.
I settled down
behind a stump and soon, far across the mountain, I could hear the hounds on a
scent. A few moments later there was a crashing of dried branches on the slope
opposite me. As the sound grew louder I slipped the safety catch, brought my
rifle to the ready and waited for a bear to charge across the stream below.
Only then did I recall the good doctor's assurances about the doublettr, and I
looked about me. The nearest stand was a good 50 yards away, and at it, armed
only with a shotgun, was my escort, Preda, who, to my certain knowledge, had
never fired a gun in his life.
I was, therefore,
a little relieved when a small wild boar emerged and charged up the slope
toward me. Recalling the warning that a bear might be close behind, I let him
go and, as he disappeared up the hill in the direction of Lika, I heard a
again settled on the mountainside. In the west, the sun was sinking. My last
hope ebbed away.
As I waited for
the beaters to appear, I recalled the weird experience of an Austrian friend of
mine who had gone bear shooting in another area of the Carpathian Mountains.
He, too, had gone empty-handed to the very last drive and was congratulating
himself on a free four days of sport. But then, just as Lika had done, his
flank man had fired. A moment later the drive was over and the flank man
appeared, trembling and white. He had, he said, shot a bear as it attacked him
when he had tried to turn it toward the Austrian. Wouldn't my friend claim it?
The Austrian frostily refused, saying he was not in the habit of claiming other
people's trophies. Thereupon the hunter had burst into tears. Didn't my
Austrian friend realize, he wailed, that he faced a penalty of losing his
license and his job and getting a stiff fine and probably six months in jail
for shooting without authority? The Austrian pointed out it was surely no crime
to shoot in self-defense. On the contrary, the hunter said, he was an expert,
and if he was so incautious as to provoke a bear he had to pay the penalty. A
ghastly dilemma faced my friend: either the hunter who had risked his life for
him went to jail, or he falsely claimed the bear and paid $1,000 to boot. The
Austrian chose to save the hunter.
approached I wondered if I would have been as bighearted. But then my attention
was caught by more rustling on the slope opposite. Quickly it grew louder as
the animal, whatever it was, approached the stream below. Then a great black
object broke cover and trotted across the stream and up the slope directly
toward me. Hastily I flipped the safety and waited motionless. Only 30 yards
separated us when I brought my rifle to my shoulder. Instantly the bear spotted
me and paused. Then he let out an angry roar, rose on his hind legs, his front
paws waving menacingly, and rushed toward me.
My shot caught
him in the chest and he fell forward, his claws grappling the dirt not 20 yards
from my stand. I threw another cartridge into the chamber and held the gun to
his head for a good minute. But he never moved. A moment later Dima and Lika
were beside me, pumping my hand and embracing each other for joy.
Next day, as I
slowly trundled westward in the Haflinger, I thought again of the status
hunters armed with dollars. Perhaps their motives were sometimes a bit sordid,
but I knew that, come next September, I, too, would find it hard to refuse
Dima's invitation to come back to the Carpathians for a week's bear hunting or
to spend a day in Czechoslovakia banging away at myriads of pheasant or to join
Dr. Halasz again in a hunting cart and watch a gigantic stag, his broad antlers
swaying gently as he majestically picked his way through the cathedral-like
beech forests of Hungary.