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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 shot.
Then silence 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.
As dusk 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.