E R N I E ' S H O U S E O F W H O O P A S S
THE LONGEST MINUTE - Doug White - September 16, 2006 as culled from the internet
We all have read about or seen movies entitled, ‘The Longest Day’, ‘The Longest Yard’, or ‘The Longest Mile’. Well, I am going to tell you about “The Longest Minute” of my life.
Reed Thompson and I had been hunting hard for five days. The day was Thursday, September 7, 2006. The weather had turned from beautiful sunny skies to gale force winds and the blasting rain that comes with fall storms. Never has the weather dictated hunting time to us, so out we ventured into the Alaska bush. Not seeing a single bull for several days, we decided to hunt an area downstream that had always produced one.
Late in the evening, we were walking down a raised half mile long finger of ground that was full of grass and alders. This turf was slightly higher than the swampy tundra on either side of it. We had slogged across the swamp as quickly as possible, during a sudden deluge, to get to the downwind point. Our hope was that our passage would not be observed with the sudden increased wind and rain. About halfway down the finger, Reed turned to me and said, “I think there is a moose up ahead. It looks like two white sticks in the grass. It would surprise me if it was not a moose.” I glassed the area about one hundred yards ahead and to the left. With Reed’s help, I zeroed in on the two white sticks and watched them for several minutes. With the slightest movement, the two sticks transformed into a white paddle and then back to the two sticks. The bull had moved his head ever so slightly.
I moved my scope out to ten-power and focused in on the two white sticks as Reed moved about ten yards further down the high ground. Then as Reed focused on the white points, I moved to his location for a better shot. Reed began moving toward our quarry as I watched for movement though the scope. With nothing solid or high enough to rest my rifle on, I was forced to aim free-hand. When Reed had taken a few steps, I saw the horns rock to the right and then back to the left. The big boy then stood up and was looking directly our way. Even with the forty mile an hour winds blowing directly at us, he sensed our presence. I squeezed off a round from my Browning .338 and felt good about the shot, but the bull took two or three steps to my right and disappeared out of sight behind some alders. Reed could still see him and shouted, “Do you want me to shoot him?” I yelled back at him to go ahead because I did not want the bull running too far. I heard his shot as I was scrambling forward to get a better look. After a thirty yard hustle, I was able to see the huge fellow still standing. I put another shot into him and watched him drop. We both hesitantly, but with great excitement, approached this giant and realized that he was dead. This was a mature bull with a beautiful rack and the biggest body mass I had ever seen. The fun was definitely over; now, the real work was ready to begin. After consulting the GPS, we noted that we were a half mile from the slough and boat. It was decided that both of us should return to the boat to discard unnecessary items and return with the gear needed to prepare and pack out the meat. We placed red and blue handkerchiefs high in an alder bush so that the sight could be located from the adjacent high ground. This was the easiest half mile hike of the day. I was pumped up and excited beyond explanation.
At the boat, we left our heavy rifles. We gathered our pack frames, game bags, ropes, and knives. After Reed repositioned the boat, to compensate for the upcoming low tide, I asked him, with hand signals, if he remembered to get the handguns. He did not understand my award winning charade performance, but I let it pass after observing his revolver strapped to his chest.
Upon returning to the moose, we were hot, sweaty, and wet. The rain had abated for awhile, so we removed our rain gear and hung them in a small tree about five yards perpendicular to the moose’s belly. Reed removed his revolver, hung it on a branch opposite his jacket, and brought to my attention that it was hanging there.
With darkness approaching, we decided on removing the top front and rear quarters, tie them to our pack frames, gut him out, and then roll the behemoth over to cool through the night. We would return in the morning to finish up. Two non-spoken traditions when hunting are: whoever pulls the trigger 1) does the gutting and 2) hauls the horns out of the woods. After removing the two quarters, it was time to remove the internal organs. After cutting, tearing, and ripping, I had removed all but the heart and part of the esophagus. Darkness was settling in pretty fast and I could barely move my arms. At this point, Reed said that he would trade places with me. Instead of moving up behind the moose, I just scooted to the rear leg area and watched Reed crawl up inside the gut cavity. After a couple of cuts the ordeal was over. As Reed pulled the heart out and tossed it behind us, a loud “HUFF” snapped us to our feet. Turning around, we saw standing before us, on his hind legs a large, chocolate brown grizzly bear. The next minute seemed to last an eternity. The term surreal is so over used, but the next minute was dreamlike, bizarre, fantastic, and unreal.
The bear was standing next to the tree where the pistol was hanging. We both started shouting and waving our arms back and forth, as we moved somewhat to our right, toward the tail end of the moose. The bear came down off his back legs, onto all fours, and started circling to his right -- toward the head of the bull. My only thought was to get to the gun so that we could scare him off. I sensed that he charged us from the head of the moose as I broke for the gun. Reed commented later that the bear vaulted over the moose and went straight for him. Halfway to the tree, I tripped on a fallen log and went down on all fours. From my peripheral vision on my right, I saw the bear going after Reed, who had moved into the tall (5 foot) grass. It appeared that the bear had knocked Reed down and was standing over him. My worst fear was that my friend was being mauled. I did not know how I would get him back to the boat and then home.
I grabbed the holster but was unable to remove the revolver, regardless of how hard I tugged. As I looked up, I saw the bear charging toward me. I started backing up as I continued screaming and hollering at the bear. I was frustrated that the pistol would not break free from the holster. With the bear almost on top of me, I fell over another log. I did a back drop and felt him grab my left leg. His huge head was above my lap, just out of reach of my holstered club. I tried to hit him with the pistol but a crazy thought entered my mind that I could scare him into thinking I was going to shoot by waving it back and forth. Unable to remove the pistol from the holster, I tried to shoot through it, but the strap held the hammer down on the single action revolver. Just when I thought all was lost, the bear rose up, pivoted 90 degrees to his left, and was gone. The grizzly had charged back in the direction of Reed as he had jumped up and yelled once again. Later, Reed stated that he had seen the bear knock me down and thought he was mauling me. The thought entered his mind that he was toast. He was alone in the grass with no weapon. I was down and I had the gun. When the bear started moving toward him, Reed dropped back down into the low wallow area where he had fallen during the initial charge. Reed saw the bear’s face about a foot from his own. He could hear the bear trying to sniff him out. At that point, the bear stood up, pivoted to his right, and charged back to me.
When Reed distracted the bear from its attack on me, I had time to concentrate on the holster. I saw a buckle with a strap running through it. I could not figure out how it held the gun in place, so I grabbed the buckle and attempted to \rip it off. To my surprise, the buckle was actually a snap and the strap peeled away. As I pulled the revolver out, a sudden calm came over me, and I knew everything would be fine. I looked in the direction of Reed only to once again see the bear charging at me. He was about ten feet away coming up and over the initial log that I had tripped over. That was when I pointed the revolver and fired at center mass. The .44 magnum boomed in the night and the boar fell straight down, his head three feet away from where I stood. As he fell, he bit at the ground and ended up with a mouthful of sod. I stood in a dumbfounded stupor. I had no expectation that the pistol would kill the bear. My hope was that the shot would sting the bear and help scare him away along with the flame and loud report. As his head sagged to the ground, I shot him three more times in quick succession, out of fear and anger.
My next sensation was hearing Reed’s voice ask if the bear was dead. I answered, “Yes”. He then yelled at me to save the rest of the rounds because we still had to walk out, and he did not have any more bullets with him. The minute was over. We hugged each other for a long time, before packing out the two quarters.
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