A conman always has a pleasing personality or else they couldn’t make a living. During my career as a horseman, I have known many of these two bit hustlers, they are pathetic specimens always on the lookout for someone who will fall for a story and be willing to lay their money down like a fool.
Conmen, short for confidence men, have a method of endearing themselves to you and inspiring confidence in their abilities and character; yet in terms of reality, they are frauds, empty vessels without honor or integrity; who will let you down every time and leave you feeling foolish for having trusted them.
I trusted one such man and it nearly cost me my life.
During the mid-60’s, my friend Knarley Manners and I were guiding two Grizzly hunters in the Omineca Peace area near the Divide. Now I have enjoyed many of the hunters I have guided, some of them are just out for a holiday away from the city and their family. They are usually good humored and seem to care less whether they see game or not. They are there for the camaraderie and they are usually fun to be around. There are serious hunters, who have hunted all over the world and can tell you about hunting puma in Argentina, Kodiak in Alaska, and Cape Buffalo and elephant in Africa. They are often capable hunters and can often be helpful on a hunt.
This particular hunter was one of the serious hunters, or at least that is what he led us to believe. He must have read a lot of books on hunting African Big Game: we sat spellbound for hours listening to stories of dangerous encounters with African Elephant, crocs, and Cape Buffalo. I will give him credit, those were dang good stories; although, they were surely all lies.
The problem with running on lies in a place like the mountains of Northern British Columbia is that sooner or later your character and your steel will be tested, even if you are being ‘baby sat’ by a professional hunter. It’s true, the professional will make camp, pack and care for the horses, cook for you, and find you game; yet under these sheltered conditions, the hunter must contend still contend with extreme weather conditions, dangerous climbs, the possibility of a rogue animal situation, there are no guarantees in the mountains. Character, resolve, and knowledge of the bush will keep you alive when the situation becomes grim; fanciful tales of false bravado will be as useless as teats on a boar hog
I have had many invitations to hunt African game from customers whose homes were in Rhodesia and South Africa, I never took up any of these invitations because killing animals that you don’t eat doesn’t appeal to me. Although, I live to hunt Grizzly, the only game that I consider sport and yet I can’t be in a house that has bear being cooked: because the odor offends my delicate stomach. I know this is a contradiction, but it is one I have learned to live with. Still there is something about walking out in front of a Grizzly and being close enough to see his eyes just before he charges; when his eyes turn darker and his brow lowers, much like a pit bull does a split second before he attacks, you can bet that one of you will be dead in the next minute or two. In that instant you have to fire your best shot or hope you are good enough to make a lethal shot on a bear running at you at 45 miles an hour.
The hunters that are serious sportsmen can often tell interesting stories about hunting around the world. Knarley and I often listened in awe of hunting crocs and wildebeasts, but neither one of would ever care to try that exotic type of hunting.
This particular hunter was telling of us hunting Brown Bear in Alaska, bears that were much bigger than the bears we were hunting. He talked of hunting Polar Bears, African Lions, and Cape Buffalo. He had an exciting story that went along with each hunt and we were spellbound at his hunting experience. We each had a shot of his expensive Irish whiskey in our coffee after dinner and his stories became better and better. Knarley and I went out to catch the horses while the two hunters turned in, out of ear shot from the hunters, we asked each other if we would want to hunt in Africa. No, we would just hunt here in the North country, we were in agreement on that.
The next morning, after a breakfast of huckleberry pancakes, eggs with onions and wild Shaggy Head Mushrooms, served with fried potatoes with onions and gravy we headed out on our hunts.
I found some tracks by the river, a fairly good sized bear. My hunter told me he was hoping for a larger bear, right then I knew that something wasn‘t plumb on the level with this guy. These tracks were huge, the claws were thick and short with several that were broken from being brittle. This was an old bear and he was probably only going to survive until the middle of the coming winter. This is a sportsman’s bear, the kind you were supposed to hunt. A man with the superior tracking skills that he alluded to would have known all that within a few seconds. A few minutes later in some poplar and alder saplings, I saw the outline of a big bear moving through the brush about 70 yards away.
I had my rifle on my back cross-ways, trusting in this guy’s hunting ability from his stories. I pointed to the silhouette and silently mouthed the hunter to shoot. (Normally, I had a round in the chamber and was ready to fire a second shot in case the hunter made a mistake.) We were crouched down and I looked over his way while waiting for him to fire, his rifle barrel was weaving and shaking. Just as I started to tell him to use a tree for a brace, he fired. The bear let out a terrible bawl when the bullet went through the side of his belly. I looked over his way again as I was telling him to fire again, and the only thing I saw was the rifle spinning end over end in mid air without a hunter. The hunter must have had an emergency call back at camp because he was gone. Now one of the first rules of Grizzly hunting is to break the animal down and not let it get its ‘blood up’. They are much harder to kill when they are aroused. Now, I had a gut shot bear that was enraged and biting 4 and 6 inch poplars in half as if they were chicken legs, while he turned in circles looking for his enemy.
I aimed at his right shoulder and fired, he spun around and was still confused on what direction the firing had come from. His right foreleg was now useless and he was turning around on his hind legs looking for his enemy. I fired at his left shoulder just as he saw me, the round did its job, but the bear was still in a rage. He dropped down to charge on all fours, but the best he could do was to charge on his chest with his hind legs throwing up dirt behind him. I chambered another round and fired while he was in his desperate, yet unbelievably fast charge. I missed, he stopped to bite through some saplings that he couldn’t push through and I fired another round in his back and that one didn’t slow him down. How could this be happening to me?
There was a 14 inch spruce tree behind me. I climbed up the tree just before he would have been on top of me. He was biting the trunk when I took careful aim and put a round in the base of the skull where the spinal cord enters the skull and the bear gave up the ghost, that was the sad end of this magnificent bear and nearly the end of me.
I was shook up and it took me a while to regain my composure and skin the bear. It was my own fault for trusting this con-man and having my rifle slung across my back: but under the circumstances, I fully expected to keep the hide and the rifle, but the outfitter told me that the manufactured hunter, con-man, expected the hide and it was his. He had run back to base camp and had a rider lead him out and drive him to the airport so that he wouldn’t have to face me. He left an address to send his rifle and all his gear. I felt sorry for the bear and imagined he would have to listen to this fraud tell lies about his hunting skills for decades.
This is the trouble with a ‘manufactured man’, when you need him to respond with courage and integrity, he can’t do it, because it was never there. These characteristics are tempered and tested over time. This is the danger of relying on a myth for leadership and integrity, myths are just that a myth. In other words, they aren’t real, they are manufactured.
In the next few months the courage and integrity of President Obama will be tested. Will he live up to the lies that comprise the myth? That is a big gamble we will all soon face.
Author’s Note: I will retire in a year or two and figure to have 10 to 20 more years of Grizzly hunts ahead of me. Sailing, fishing, and Grizzlies will occupy the rest of my life.
A professional horseman for over 50 years, Skook continues to work with horses. Skook has finished an historical novel, Fifty Thousand Years, that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The story follows a line of courageous women, from the Ice Ages to the present, as they meet the challenges of survival with grit and creativity. These are not women who whimper of being victims, they meet the challenges of survival as women who use their abilities without excuses or remorse, these women are winners, they are our ancestors.