List fall I stalked a black bear in the foothills of Alaska's Mentasta Mountains. I was moose hunting at the time and had seen the black bear in the spotting scope about two miles away. He was eating blueberries. He was a fat young bear, and I wanted him for sausage and stew meat. Mostly for sausage. Moose is better, but I hadn't seen one in three days.
The bear was feeding just above the timberline. The woods were dry and noisy so there was no way I could come up on him through the brush. For two hours I climbed along the top of the foothills, using the terrain, the washouts and natural depressions, for cover only after I had gotten within 300 yards. This is where the stalk actually began. Bears have notoriously poor eyesight, and I was much more afraid of the wind. They have a good sense of smell and the wind was erratic, mostly working against me.
When he was about 200 yards away, I peeped over a rise. There he was, still feeding, only 50 yards from the timber. I hunt with an open-sighted .30-'06 rifle and was close enough for a shot, but not a good one.
I crawled toward the knoll from which I had decided to shoot. For the first time since the stalk began, I was aware of my heart pounding. My tongue felt swollen and my throat dry. My palms were sweating. I wondered why. I was in no more danger than I would be chopping wood. Hell, it was a black bear, not a grizzly. It would be dangerous only if I wounded him and he got into the timber. I secretly yearned for this to happen.
The bear winded me before I got to the knoll. Something told me he had, and I peeked up to see him running toward the timber. I shot twice. No-doubt-about-it misses. I watched him crashing through the brush in front of the timber. I could have shot twice more, but only with a chance of wounding him. I watched him disappear into the trees and heard him a long time afterward, crashing downhill through the brush.
Two months later, back home in Fairbanks, I sat in my easy chair watching the woodpile by the stove. I had been watching it for 45 minutes. I had a .22 rifle in my hands, loaded with bird shot. I was waiting for a shot at an Arctic shrew that I could hear scratching between the logs. I was aware of my heart pounding. My tongue felt swollen and my throat dry. My palms were sweating. I wondered why. An Arctic shrew weighs about one-third of an ounce.
I prefer .22 bird shot to any other load. It is unbelievably small, each shot scarcely larger than a grain of salt. There are more than 100 pellets per cartridge, a fantastic technological achievement for only two cents. These shells have a mouse-or shrew-killing range of about 25 feet. After that, the pattern is too large to really insure a kill. Since my cabin measures 16 by 20, I can cover the room without moving.
Being so small, the shot does not tear up the shrew at distances greater than eight feet. The brown guard hairs will be softly parted exposing the thick gray underfur wherever a shot enters the body. Usually there is white flesh exposed at the point where the shot leaves. If the animal has been well patterned, it is not uncommon to discover five or six holes, which, of course, means instant death.
I took a long pull at my bourbon and soda and set the glass on the desk next to the chair. The ice cubes had melted. The drink relieved my dry throat and swollen tongue, but my heartbeat was still abnormal and my palms sweated.
I couldn't believe it. The same physical sensations. An Arctic shrew.