For reasons I can't fathom, my daughter Bethany has become an outdoorsman. It must be one of those recessive genes that surface every few generations. She certainly didn't get it from me.
I've caught one fish in my life. And all I know about firearms I learned from the U.S. Army. What I remember about firearms is when I was in Vietnam and had to carry a weapon, I worried more about shooting myself than being shot at by some VC.
When she was younger, Bethany never seemed much interested in the outdoors. She didn't avoid the outdoors, but she never strayed far from the indoors and its sundry conveniences.
All that started to change in 2001, when Debbie and I divorced, and Bethany and her mother headed for Orofino, Idaho. Now, if there is one thing Idaho has in abundance, it's outdoors. And for the folks along the banks of the Clearwater River, the wild life is mostly about the pursuit of wildlife, and game is about the only game in town.
In time, Bethany adapted. It took a while. She said of a boyfriend a few years ago: "Travis is so small town." That struck me as putting on cosmopolitan airs, coming as it did from someone who spent her first 17 years in Ashtabula.
But she found her way outside and in time became an avid sportswoman. Even so, I was taken aback a few days ago when I opened an email from her and found that she had bagged a bear. You know, one of those big furry things that Davy Crockett killed when he was only 3. But there it was, pictures and all.
"We had gone up in the Lochsa/Coolwater region of Idaho, which is heading out toward Missoula, Mont.," Bethany wrote. "We walked around this old logging road to the bluff that contained large trees and steep draws. We thought it would be the perfect place to set up a bear bait.
"So we set it up, using about 50-70 pounds of dog food and 10-15 gallons of grease. After we dumped all of that stuff down, we took large logs and branches and placed them on top of the dog food and grease. We would be able to determine the size of the bear that was there by noticing which logs had been moved. Then we finished it by starting a fire next to the bait and burning molasses. The molasses burns and produces a thick smoke that sticks to the trees, ground, etc. Basically it is a type of lure."
I like the way Bethany takes me through this step by step. Sometimes she is in such a hurry, but when it really matters, she is so patient with her old man.
"A few days had gone by and we ventured back into the bear bait to see if it had been hit. It had," Bethany went on. "Looking around the bait we noticed many bear tracks in the soft mud, including the smallest bear track I have ever seen. It was sooooo cute. We knew now it was just a matter of time."
OK, if you think the tracks are "sooooo cute," why would you want to risk shooting its mom or dad? Isn't it easier when the meat is prepackaged, and you don't have to concern yourself with questions of cuteness?
"Two days after that, on a Sunday, we decided we were going to shoot a bear," Bethany said. "We drove up to the spot, got out of the truck, got the guns, video camera, knives etc., and we sneaked into the bait.
"As we were walking up to the bait, we could hear the ravens talking. On a bear bait, when you hear the ravens but do not see them, they are generally sitting on the bait, which means there is no bear there at that time. Sure enough, we looked over the hill and saw about five ravens sitting on top of the logs.
"No big deal. Having those ravens there actually enabled us to get a good spot and get prepared for a bear to walk in."
So, that's all there is to it? You sit around and wait for the bear to show up for its execution. I would have concluded that the ravens were saying "Nevermore" and headed back to town.
"So here I am sitting on this hill. I have my shooting sticks in place and the Remington 7 Mag sitting on the sticks," she went on. "I had it set up so all I had to do was look through the scope and it was already looking onto the bait.
"After about five minutes of preparation, I sat there for about another five minutes. I looked around and was completely silent. Then, in that short amount of time, my soon-to-be bear rug was walking into the bait. All of the sudden, my heart began pounding and I looked through the scope, got the bear in the sights, waited patiently until the bear turned so I could have a clean broadside shot, and BOOOOM.
"I hit the bear right in the shoulder, and he folded on top of the bait. I looked up at my friends and had the biggest smile in the world. I was sooooo excited."
For those like me who have no idea what Bethany is talking about: Shooting sticks are two sticks that are put into the ground to form an X. The shooter rests her gun on the sticks and awaits the prey. A Remington 7 Mag is a gun about which I know nothing.
"We began walking down to the bait to check out my kill," Bethany continues. "When we got there, we poked the bear a little with the butt of the gun to make sure I didn't just injure him, and that he wouldn't get up and attack me. But he was done - no movement or anything. I had made a perfect shot.
"After about a half hour of photography, we started to skin the bear out. After about 45 minutes of working on getting the bear cleaned up, Danny - a friend of mine - looked down the draw and said 'Beth give me the gun.' I looked at him and was like 'whatever.' He says, 'No, seriously, give me the gun.'
"So I give him the gun. He pops off a shot and I hear what sounds like a deep moan. I look down the hill and he had shot a bear, too.
"His bear was a beautiful blonde color. It was a boar and it was about 100 pounds. Mine was a black sow with a tan patch at about 175 pounds. So, that made for a long evening. We had to skin out not only my bear but his as well.
"It was probably the best hunting trip I have ever been on."
You know, I'm not sure I like the idea of my daughter using the term "like whatever" in written correspondence. Otherwise, she never ceases to amaze me.
This appeared in the Star Beacon, July 23, 2008