The Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman

Chapter 9


            I suppose that some primal urge which dates back a million years or so causes modern man to take up a gun and set out to kill something as defenseless as a deer. It certainly can't be an economic situation because it has been proven time after time that a person can go down to the local A&P and buy a good steak for a tenth of what it costs to hunt down and kill an animal which by most standards, is barely edible.

            Today I can see no reason why I should intentionally kill any animal except in self-defense and for the life of me, I can't remember a single instance during my lifetime when I have found myself in mortal danger from a deer, turkey or even an armadillo. However, at age fifteen I suppose that it was very easy for me to get caught up in the thrill of the hunt.

            World War Two was in full swing and meat was one of the things which was rationed, however with all the cattle that we had on the ranch, we had no fear that we would run out of red ration coupons. I suppose that due to the war, meat was a rather scarce item on many dinner tables across the nation but where we lived, fresh beef was more or less taken for granted. My dad always gave his red coupons to people who could use them.

            The justification that my dad and Pete Borger gave for wanting to go to Colorado during hunting season was to bring back a load of coal for the winter. The fact that a hunting license wasn't required for anyone under the age of sixteen was more than likely the reason why they decided to include Pete's son, Roland, and me on this excursion on which I killed my one and only deer.

            There have been expeditions to deepest and darkest Africa staged with less effort and outfitting than what was done for this simple trip to Colorado. By the time that everything that we were taking along was loaded on Pete's ancient truck, there was little room for hauling coal on the return. Come to think of it, I suppose that bringing back a load of coal was more of an excuse than a reason for going, especially when you consider that one could buy coal hauled in by railroad for little more than it costs at the mine.

            Between stopping to allow a boiling radiator to cool, add oil to the engine or fix flat tires, the two hundred mile trip to just over Raton Pass into Colorado was made in only two days. From Trinidad, we made out way westward a few miles into the San Isabel National Forest and the location of our great hunting adventure.

            When we found the ideal spot, we set up a garish tent with orange and red stripes which had once been a cook tent for a circus. Once that the tent was up, we carried our food in and spread out our bedrolls. In those days, we didn't have all the fancy camping equipment like Coleman stoves, down sleeping bags, ice chests and other things which we now take for granted. We were going to cook on a wood-burning potbelly stove and sleep on the ground in bedrolls made of blankets and quilts.

            Our selection of firearms was about as limited as our camping equipment. They consisted of my Dad's old 30-30 lever action Winchester, Pete's bolt action 30.06 rifle, my .22 Caliber rifle and an old long-tom 12 Gauge pump shotgun which held seven shells in the magazine. We rationalized that we would use the 30.06 for long shots and the Winchester for short ones. The shotgun would be great for turkey and the 22 for rabbits. Just so everyone would have an equal chance at getting both a deer and a bear, we would swap guns each morning. While we fully expected to kill far more game than we could ever eat, at least someone had the forethought to bring along a side of bacon.

            It had been a rather dry fall in Colorado and golden aspen leaves had long since dropped to the ground, forming a blanket about six inches deep. Every time that you took a step, the leaves could crunch like walking through a bowl of corn flakes.

            After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and cowboy biscuits, we were ready to set forth like mighty nimrods to kill all sorts of wild animals. We crept through underbrush, walked over hills and sneaked around groves of trees in search of our quarry. The only problem was that our every move we made produced so much noise that no wild animal in its right mind would have stayed within a mile of any of us. We did hear a few wild animals as they crashed away through the brush but never saw any of them. When noon came without sighting anything bearing either hair, fur or feathers, we sat down in a small clearing to eat the lunches that we had packed. While we sat there eating, a large grouse strutted out of the underbrush, took one look at our startled expressions and disappeared in a flash of beating wings so quickly that we never had the slightest chance of getting off a shot at it. That was the only wild game we saw that day.

            The next day, in fact the next three days were all the same. We walked, we tramped, we thrashed, we crunched but we never saw a single animal. It was getting rather late in the afternoon when My dad and I came across Roland who had been hunting a along a ridge with no more luck that either of us. We were walking back toward camp together when we heard the roar of the old goose gun that Pete was carrying that day. The sound came from the direction of the camp. A second later, it fired again and again until we counted the full seven shots that it held. Pete must have found something really big in order to have shot that many times so we began running toward the tent.

            Just as we came in sight of the camp, we saw a snow white bear cub that looked to be about half grown burst from the tent in a dead run. Right behind the bear came Pete, also snow white from head to toe. He was trying to shove more shells into the magazine of the shotgun as he chased after the bear. The cub disappeared into the underbrush as Pete threw the shotgun after it and let out a string of cuss-words that turned the air blue. I'd heard him cuss now and then but this was world class, mule skinner swearing.

            When we got there, Pete was still kicking, stomping and swearing. First he would cuss the bear for a while and then he would turn on the shotgun. It was hard to tell which he was the madder at. When we finally got him calmed down, he told us what had happened.

            He had returned to the tent to find the half-grown bear cub inside, munching away on our slab of bacon. As he swung the goose gun around to get a shot at the bear, the long barrel struck a tent pole and it went off, kicking him in the groin like a mule. The bear dropped the side of bacon and started trying to get out of the tent, but Pete was between him and the only way out. Pete jacked another shell into the goose gun and took another shot at the bear as it raced around inside the tent, trying to escape. He missed the bear with the second shot but hit a five gallon lard can full of flour which exploded in a dense, white cloud.

            The cloud of flour in the tent reduced visibility to a considerable degree and Pete was more or less shooting at where he thought the bear might be until it ran between his legs and turned him a flip just as he fired his last shot, which blew a big hole in the top of the tent. He tried to catch himself with the butt of the shotgun as he came crashing down from his half- gainer and the stock snapped like a twig. The bear darted through the flaps of the tent and that is where we came onto the scene.

            We surveyed the disaster created during the bear's rampage and Pete's frenzy of wild shooting. He had not only blown up the barrel of flour but he had also shot a couple of the bedrolls, smashed the stove, peppered several cans of beans and blew a hole in the roof big enough to throw a cat through. To make matters worse, a cold drizzle was beginning to fall.

            We spent a very cold, miserable night trying to keep as dry as possible. When dawn finally came, I told them that since it was my day to carry the shotgun, which was broken, I would stay in camp and try to straighten up the disaster from the bout with the bear. Also since the rain had soaked the dry leaves to where one could walk without making noise, they might be able to see something before they spooked it.

            The rain had stopped so I strung up ropes between trees and hung out the bedding to dry. The little wood burning stove was beyond repair so any cooking would have to be done over a campfire. After I cleaned out the mess in the tent and put the bedrolls back inside, I began to chop wood for a campfire.

            I heard a loud noise and looked up just in time to see a big buck with his head up and tail held high in the air, bound out of the underbrush and come racing straight toward me. As he spotted me, he gave a loud snort, wheeled and caught his antlers in one of the ropes that I had tied between the trees. His feet flew up into the air and he came crashing down on his back. The rope had caught him in such a way that he was trapped flat on his back and all that he could do was flail the air with his feet.

            I ran over to where he was threshing about and took a swing at his head with the blunt end of the axe. As luck would have it, I got in a good lick right between his eyes on the first swing and he shuddered and lay still. I hit him a couple more times just to be sure that he was dead.

            When Pete, Roland and my dad returned after another fruitless day of trekking through the woods, I had the deer field dressed and strung up in a tree to cool. There was no way that I could convince them that I had killed a deer with an axe. Pete claimed that he had shot at a large buck as it bounded away into the trees and that he must have hit it and it ran into camp before it died. They searched the carcass from one end to the other for a bullet hole but never found one.

            By sunset, the light rain had turned into snow and there was at least six inches of it on the ground when we got up the following morning. There was some discussion as to whether the hunt should continue but good judgment prevailed and we decided to break camp and head for lower elevations before we were snowed in for the winter.

            As we attempted to keep the truck from running away on the steep downgrade by using both gears and the minimal brakes, we turned a corner and found ourselves face to face with a large bear standing in the middle of the narrow road. Instead of getting out of our way as any smart bear should, it chose to stand on its hind legs and challenge the errant truck. When it comes to a confrontation between a bear and the radiator of an old Ford truck plunging out of control down a hill, Dearborn iron will always prevail. This isn't to say that the bear didn't inflict a certain amount of damage before his neck snapped; he shoved the radiator back into the fan and water blew in every direction.

            We dressed the bear, stuffed him with snow and let the truck coast down the mountain until we came to a service station. After a considerable amount of searching through junk yards, we found a used radiator which would get us home.

            Tales of our great Colorado hunting adventure were told and retold, but none of us ever breathed the truth that the only shots we fired was when Pete shot up the tent, the deer was killed with an axe and the bear run over by the truck.

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