When the editor of Outdoor Life told Pat McManus and I to go on a hunt and write a double feature, we were all for it. For those of you unfamiliar with Pat, he wrote the back page for Outdoor Life for years. He was the Humor Columnist, and was regarded as the most-followed outdoor writer in the business. In the double feature article, Pat and I would each write our own versions of the hunt. Interesting concept with plenty of room for humor. And maybe some of it would be true.
At first we figured we'd do a hunt somewhere for geese, but then we decided that a waterfowl hunt wouldn't be very exciting. So we decided to hunt for bears.
As it turned out, Linda Powell, who is the Press Relations manager for a firearms company, was putting together a black bear hunt for a group of writers. She invited Pat and I to go along, and we quickly agreed. The hunt took place in British Columbia, with an outfitter I'd hunted with before. He had lots of bears, and hunter success was high, even though BC doesn't allow baiting for bears.
Hunting was slower than usual because the winter had been severe, and snow covered most of the woods that were normally bare during the spring season. Some bears climbed high into cottonwood trees, feeding on the buds that were just beginning to open. Spotting the bears was easy, since they stood out in the bare trees, but all the bears were small.
On the last day, my guide and I were driving back to camp for lunch, and we spotted a bear standing on a small knoll about 100 yards from the road. I slipped out of the truck, rested my rifle on a bipod rest, and assumed this bear would be history -- meat on the table. I fired, and the bear showed no reaction to the shot. It stood there for a moment, turned, and it ambled off into the woods, disappearing immediately. I couldn't believe it. I had a dead rest, the bear was close, and I knew my rifle was dead on. What just happened?
The guide shrugged his shoulders and offered condolences. He said I had missed. I already knew that. The bear wasn't touched. Bewildered over the miss, I asked the guide to stand exactly where I shot from, and walked over to where the bear was when I fired. I easily found his tracks in the snow, and confirmed it was a miss. There doesn't always have to be blood if an animal is hit, and I knew by the way he sauntered off he was unscathed. A hit bear would have tore out of there in a hurry.
I mentally drew a straight line between me and the guide. I looked carefully at the path the bullet took, and spotted the top of a sapling evergreen laying in the snow. I immediately knew what had happened. I picked up the branch, and saw 3/4 of a circle the size of a bullet where the branch was shot off. It was a perfect deflection. The bullet struck the tree and whizzed off in another direction. Now I knew what had happened, and was relieved to know I hadn't missed an easy shot because of my fault or my gun's fault. But I still missed. I had to face the music when I got back to camp. I picked up the branch and we drove in.
There were two bits of bad news when we arrived. One was that I had to tell my sad story and suffer the consequences, but hey -- I had the branch as evidence. The other bad news was that McManus got a bear! This was the last day of the hunt, and I only had a half day to redeem myself, but it didn't happen.
Bryce Towsley, a well-known gun writer, was with our group. I showed him the branch and he confirmed what I believed. The deflected bullet allowed the bear to live another day. From that point on, Bryce became my favorite gun writer.
If you stood on a certain little hill near camp you could get a cell phone signal. I called my editor in New York to tell him what happened. The conversation went like this;
"You'll never believe what happened," I said when he answered. "McManus got a bear and I missed one." There was a long silence. "We can't run with that story," he said. "My Hunting editor is not supposed to miss a bear, and my Humor editor is supposed to not get one."
"But think about it," I replied. "It's really a great article. It'll make a great double feature. McManus will fabricate a really funny story " Then I explained what really happened.
So here's how the double feature went. I wrote the article how it really occurred, in every detail. Pat, however, wrote that I was really after that tree, and I held my fire until the bear walked behind it, offering a perfect black backdrop so I could easily see the tree. It was the perfect McManus tale, one that brought much reaction from readers.
Everyone had a smile on their face, including me. It was the perfect way to end the hunt. Even though I had to eat crow.