03 Dec Shooting Big Animals

Jill and I spent Thanksgiving in central Pennsylvania. That’s coal country. If you want a sense of what Pennsylvania is like, watch “Deer Hunter.” The Keystone state is rural. Some would call it hillbilly. We like it because it’s got great antiques and great old architecture. We drove up to Bellfonte and gawked at its gorgeous array of Victorian mansions. And we stopped at a lot of antique malls.

Driving one of Pennsylvania’s two-lane blacktops, we saw a startling sight. It was a black bear as big as a Harley Davidson, lying on the shoulder of the road. The bear was dead. It had fallen from the roof of a four-wheeler, where (already dead) it had been strapped. The hunters were trying to retrieve it, though I don’t know how they were going to get it back on top of the truck. The thing must have weighed 500 pounds.

The state game commission estimates that there are about 30-40 bears for every 100 square miles of forest in Pennsylvania and Maryland. If you haven’t seen a bear lately, you should know this: they’re covered with long, silky black hair and have the heft of an overstuffed couch. They look so different from the animals we usually see (deer, squirrel, dog), it seems outlandish that anyone would shoot one. Pennsylvanians have been shooting them forever, apparently, even when they were scarce. We in Maryland kill them too. By the way, you’re not supposed to say “killed.” Say “harvested” instead. Hunters pride themselves on eating the meat.

I eat meat too. Not bear meat. But just about anything else. I ate elk once. And let me say this right here: I don’t mind hunters shooting deer. There are too many frigging deer in the world. Of course, there would be fewer deer if there were more bear. See how that works? Basically, the way to hunt bear is to scare it out of hiding. Then take aim. Since a bear is a big target and isn’t spry like a deer, I don’t see how this is very sportsman-like. From the accounts I’ve read, the hunters mostly spend their time tramping through the woods making noise. Bears are cagey and secretive. That’s all they have to work with. If you’ve read Faulkner’s “The Bear,” you get the idea.

As I am not a hunter and have never hunted, I can’t speak for the atavistic thrill of shooting large animals. I do know that when our backyard was over-run with rats some years ago, I would have given anything to have taken a rifle to their cavalier cavorting—they were so brazen, they might as well have been sunbathing back there. I had fantasies of picking them off with an M-16.
But that’s different than going into the forest and spooking a big animal out of hiding and shooting it. Think of Bigfoot. He just wants to eat his berries and dream of finding a mate. Lest you get overly worried, bear-hunting season lasts only three days. In any case,  I don’t get it. The only live animal encounter Jill and I had last week was with Frieda and PJ, our dogs, who always travel with us to Pennsylvania.

We kept the dogs on the backseat of the car. When we stopped (at one of many antique malls), I barricaded them from getting to the front seat—because we had a bag of food on the floor in the front. When we return to the car, Frieda, our basset hound, had managed to get into the front seat, even though the barricade had not been moved and nothing (e.g., water bottles) had been knocked over. It was as if she had levitated. We found her with her head in our food bag. In the fifteen minutes we’d been gone, she ate half a pumpkin pie and half a loaf of bread. We laughed because that’s about all you can do when it comes to Frieda, though, as I carried her to the back seat, I might have muttered, “I’m gonna shoot this dog.”