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Gaines himself, whose back had gone sore on him earlier in the week, had to revise his initial aggressive strategy and settle for a spoiler's role. His plan was to zap anyone who came along—because he figured he couldn't outrun them.
Hayes Noel, 40, a native Tennessean, who is a trader on the American Stock Exchange, is a non-hunter with no woods experience. But he's a runner, and a serious one. Wiry and quick, he planned to dart around the woods, running perhaps five or six miles in the course of the day, grabbing flags where he could and marking the flag tree with his white-dye bullets so as to lead other players into believing he was lurking nearby in ambush, thus slowing them down.
The man most psyched up for The Game was Bob Gurnsey, 38, a plump but intense deep-water sailor from New London, N.H. Gurnsey had developed a "complete interior strategy" in which he would avoid both the perimeter trails of the playing field and the other players. "I don't intend ever having my gun drawn," he said. He would run the side hills from flag to flag, computing his time, speed and distance like a seagoing navigator operating on dead reckoning. (It nearly got him "dead" within the first five minutes of The Game.) He also predicted that The Game would be won "in less than 90 minutes," even though Gaines had allotted nine hours.
Two other players also planned to avoid gunfights while moving fast from flag to flag. Jerome Gary, 35, is a New York film producer, a non-hunter but another serious distance runner. He hoped to stay to the high ground, sprinting, and thus get through unshot. Carl Sandquist, 38, an estimator for a Dover, N.H. building contractor, said he would have to see the lay of the land before he could commit himself to a plan, but in the end he, too, decided to stay out of trouble as best he could. Sandquist is a deer hunter, and much of the success he was to have came from his ability to see other players in the midsummer tangle of forest before they saw him. When Sandquist did bump into an enemy, he simply "froze" and lay low until danger was past. Most of the practiced hunters went into the woods with the same basic plan: to move in the classic "still hunting" mode used for stalking deer—take a few steps, no more than six, then pause for an equal length of time, looking and listening. It is a slow means of progress, but it allows the hunter to see his quarry before the quarry sees him. That was the strategy I planned to follow, as did Ritchie White, 35, a registered forester from Bow, N.H.; Ken Barrett, 32, a real-estate syndicator from Shrub Oak, N.Y.; and Dr. Robert Carlson, 40, an emergency-room physician from Birmingham, Ala. Carlson is a great dark giant of a man, and despite the humanitarian nature of his calling, he proved to be the top gun of the day, accounting for five "dead" before he himself went under.
Perhaps the most elaborate strategy was that drafted by Joe Drinon, 37, a stockbroker from Chichester, N.H., who also happens to be a former middleweight amateur boxer. His plan called for elaborate stalking from post to post, mixed in with occasional ambushes and sudden sprints. "I think patience will be the winner," he said before the start. "It will be a long hunt." It did not turn out that way for Drinon, however. He lost his map before he even entered the woods and with no hunting experience behind him, he was incapable of finding his way around. He took himself out of The Game after less than an hour. Thus, for want of a slip of paper, his war was lost.
The most feared player was Tony Atwill, the former Lurp. In a Calcutta auction the night before, he took top money—$140. Now a free-lance writer living in Dorset, Vt., Atwill is a tall, husky, wide-grinning guy of 35, whose laid-back manner belies his combat credentials. Yet from the time he arrived in Vietnam, during the Tet Offensive in 1968, to the end of his tour a year later, he led a dozen long-range patrols deep into "Indian Country"—the Viet Cong-dominated paddies and rain forests of interior Indochina. He doesn't talk much about those days, but I've hunted with him often enough to know how silently he can move, even on autumn-dry leaves. His marksmanship is equally impressive.
At 10 o'clock sharp I pushed off into the woods. The day was hot and sunny, but the woods lay deep and speckled in green gloom. Every shadow twitched and stretched into man-form, and even the quick scamper of a chipmunk sounded like a charging berserker. I knew that Gurnsey, the navigator, was somewhere off to my right. To my left was Simpkins, the farmer, but he had made it no secret that he would be hunting Gaines, so he would be no immediate threat to me.
The terrain to the east, my right, was a sloping hollow cut by a seasonal brook, sort of a salient in the southwest corner of the playing field. It contained the yellow flag station. We later nicknamed it, for its encounters, "Blood Alley." I assumed that Gurnsey would head directly for Yellow, capture a flag, then move down Blood Alley toward the Green station. I figured I'd ambush him. Why not? If he was operating on dead reckoning, I would aid in heightening the dead part.
On the west slope about 75 yards from the flags for that quadrant, in open woods, a jumble of moss-grown boulders rose from the forest floor. Taking position behind one of them, I waited. Sure enough—crunch, crunch, crunch—here came "Gurns," trotting along, counting his steps and checking his watch. Time, speed and distance, just as he'd planned. And he was coming right toward me. I raised the pistol slowly, so as not to spook him, and took a rest on the boulder's craggy side. When he came to within 10 yards, I had him square in my sights.
But then a strange thing happened, one that disqualifies me forever from the ranks of the warriors—I hesitated. I knew that Gurnsey had been looking forward to this game for years, and that he had given it every iota of his concentration for weeks on end. He had honed and polished his strategy, psyched himself up to a white-knuckled pitch—and now he was going to be eliminated before The Game was even 70 minutes old. Not just that, but he had been my host the previous evening—he had fed me and housed me, treated me, a complete stranger, as one of the family.