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Chapter 23 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

“Well,” Mr. Wood began: “I was brought up, as you all know, in the eastern part of Maine, and we often used to go over into New Brunswick for our sport. Moose were our best game. Did you ever see one, Laura?”

“No, uncle,” she said.

“Well, when I was a boy there was no more beautiful sight to me in the world than a moose with his dusky hide, and long legs, and branching antlers, and shoulders standing higher than a horse's. Their legs are so long that they can't eat close to the ground. They browse on the tops of plants, and the tender shoots and leaves of trees. They walk among the thick underbrush, carrying their horns adroitly to prevent their catching in the branches, and they step so well, and aim so true, that you'll scarcely hear a twig fall as they go.

“They're a timid creature except at times. Then they'll attack with hoofs and antlers whatever comes in their way. They hate mosquitoes, and when they're tormented by them it's just as well to be careful about approaching them. Like all other creatures, the Lord has put into them a wonderful amount of sense, and when a female moose has her one or two fawns she goes into the deepest part of the forest, or swims to islands in large lakes, till they are able to look out for themselves.

“Well, we used to like to catch a moose, and we had different ways of doing it. One way was to snare them. We'd make a loop in a rope and hide it on the ground under the dead leaves in one of their paths. This was connected with a young sapling whose top was bent down. When the moose stepped on the loop it would release the sapling, and up it would bound, catching him by the leg. These snares were always set deep in the woods, and we couldn't visit them very often; Sometimes the moose would be there for days, raging and tearing around, and scratching the skin off his legs. That was cruel. I wouldn't catch a moose in that way now for a hundred dollars.

“Another way was to hunt them on snow shoes with dogs. In February and March the snow was deep, and would carry men and dogs. Moose don't go together in herds. In the summer they wander about over the forest, and in the autumn they come together in small groups, and select a hundred or two of acres where there is plenty of heavy undergrowth, and to which they usually confine themselves. They do this so that their tracks won't tell their enemies where they are.

“Any of these places where there were several moose we called a moose yard. We went through the woods till we got on to the tracks of some of the animals belonging to it, then the dogs smelled them and went ahead to start them. If I shut my eyes now I can see one of our moose hunts. The moose running and plunging through the snow crust, and occasionally rising up and striking at the dogs that hang on to his bleeding flanks and legs. The hunters' rifles going crack, crack, crack, sometimes killing or wounding dogs as well as moose. That, too, was cruel.

“Two other ways we had of hunting moose: Calling and stalking. The calling was done in this way: We took a bit of birch bark and rolled it up in the shape of a horn. We took this horn and started out, either on a bright moonlight night, or just at evening, or early in the morning. The man who carried the horn hid himself, and then began to make a lowing sound like a female moose. He had to do it pretty well to deceive them. Away in the distance some moose would hear it, and with answering grunts would start off to come to it. If a young male moose was coming, he'd mind his steps, I can assure you, on account of fear of the old ones; but if it was an old fellow, you'd hear him stepping out bravely and rapping his horns against the trees, and plunging into any water that came in his way. When he got pretty near, he'd stop to listen, and then the caller had to be very careful and put his trumpet down close to the ground, so as to make a lower sound. If the moose felt doubtful he'd turn; if not, he'd come on, and unlucky for him if he did, for he got a warm reception, either from the rifles in our hands as we lay hid near the caller, or from some of the party stationed at a distance.

“In stalking, we crept on them the way a cat creeps on a mouse. In the daytime a moose is usually lying down. We'd find their tracks and places where they'd been nipping off the ends of branches and twigs, and follow them up. They easily take the scent of men, and we'd have to keep well to the leeward. Sometimes we'd come upon them lying down, but, if in walking along, we'd broken a twig, or made the slightest noise, they'd think it was one of their mortal enemies, a bear creeping on them, and they'd be up and away. Their sense of hearing is very keen, but they're not so quick to see. A fox is like that, too. His eyes aren't equal to his nose.

“Stalking is the most merciful way to kill moose. Then they haven't the fright and suffering of the chase.”

“I don't see why they need to be killed at all,” said Mrs. Wood. “If I knew that forest back of the mountains was full of wild creatures, I think I'd be glad of it, and not want to hunt them, that is, if they were harmless and beautiful creatures like the deer.”

“You're a woman,” said Mr. Wood, “and women are more merciful than men. Men want to kill and slay. They're like the Englishman, who said 'What a fine day it is; let's go out and kill something.'”

“Please tell us some more about the dogs that helped you catch the moose, uncle,” said Miss Laura. I was sitting up very straight beside her listening to every word Mr. Wood said, and she was fondling my head.

“Well, Laura, when we camped out on the snow and slept on spruce boughs while we were after the moose, the dogs used to be a great comfort to us. They slept at our feet and kept us warm. Poor brutes, they mostly had a rough time of it. They enjoyed the running and chasing as much as we did, but when it came to broken ribs and sore heads, it was another matter. Then the porcupines bothered them. Our dogs would never learn to let them alone. If they were going through the woods where there were no signs of moose and found a porcupine, they'd kill it. The quills would get in their mouths and necks and chests, and we'd have to gag them and take bullet molds or nippers, or whatever we had, sometimes our jack-knives, and pull out the nasty things. If we got hold of the dogs at once, we could pull out the quills with our fingers. Sometimes the quills worked in, and the dogs would go home and lie by the fire with running sores till they worked out. I've seen quills work right through dogs. Go in on one side and come out on the other.”

“Poor brutes,” said Mrs. Wood. “I wonder you took them.”

“We once lost a valuable hound while moose hunting,” said Mr. Wood. “The moose struck him with his hoof and the dog was terribly injured. He lay in the woods for days, till a neighbor of ours, who was looking for timber, found him and brought him home on his shoulders. Wasn't there rejoicing among us boys to see old Lion coming back. We took care of him and he got well again.

“It was good sport to see the dogs when we were hunting a bear with them. Bears are good runners, and when dogs get after them, there is great skirmishing. They nip the bear behind, and when they turn, the dogs run like mad, for a hug from a bear means sure death to a dog. If they got a slap from his paws, over they'd go. Dogs new to the business were often killed by the bears.”

“Were there many bears near your home, Mr. Wood?” asked Mr. Maxwell

“Lots of them. More than we wanted. They used to bother us fearfully about our sheep and cattle. I've often had to get up in the night, and run out to the cattle. The bears would come out of the woods, and jump on to the young heifers and cows, and strike them and beat them down, and the cattle would roar as if the evil one had them. If the cattle were too far away from the house for us to hear them, the bears would worry them till they were dead.

“As for the sheep, they never made any resistance. They'd meekly run in a corner when they saw a bear coming, and huddle together, and he'd strike at them, and scratch them with his claws, and perhaps wound a dozen before he got one firmly. Then he'd seize it in his paws, and walk off on his hind legs over fences and anything else that came in his way, till he came to a nice, retired spot, and there he'd sit down and skin that sheep just like a butcher. He'd gorge himself with the meat, and in the morning we'd find the other sheep that he'd torn, and we'd vow vengeance against that bear. He'd be almost sure to come back for more, so for a while after that we always put the sheep in the barn at nights and set a trap by the remains of the one he had eaten.

“Everybody hated bears, and hadn't much pity for them; still they were only getting their meat as other wild animals do, and we'd no right to set such cruel traps for them as the steel ones. They had a clog attached to them, and had long, sharp teeth. We put them on the ground and strewed leaves over them, and hung up some of the carcass left by the bear near by. When he attempted to get this meat, he would tread on the trap, and the teeth would spring together, and catch him by the leg. They always fought to get free. I once saw a bear that had been making a desperate effort to get away. His leg was broken, the skin and flesh were all torn away, and he was held by the tendons. It was a foreleg that was caught, and he would put his hind feet against the jaws of the trap, and then draw by pressing with his feet, till he would stretch those tendons to their utmost extent.

“I have known them to work away till they really pulled these tendons out of the foot, and got off. It was a great event in our neighborhood when a bear was caught. Whoever caught him blew a horn, and the men and boys came trooping together to see the sight. I've known them to blow that horn on a Sunday morning, and I've seen the men turn their backs on the meeting house to go and see the bear.”

“Was there no more merciful way of catching them than by this trap?” asked Miss Laura.

“Oh, yes, by the deadfall that is by driving heavy sticks into the ground, and making a boxlike place, open on one side, where two logs were so arranged with other heavy logs upon them, that when the bear seized the bait, the upper log fell down and crushed him to death. Another way was to fix a bait in a certain place, with cords tied to it, which cords were fastened to triggers of guns placed at a little distance. When the bear took the bait, the guns went off, and he shot himself.

“Sometimes it took a good many bullets to kill them. I remember one old fellow that we put eleven into, before he keeled over. It was one fall, over on Pike's Hill. The snow had come earlier than usual, and this old bear hadn't got into his den for his winter's sleep. A lot of us started out after him. The hill was covered with beech trees, and he'd been living all the fall on the nuts, till he'd got as fat as butter. We took dogs and worried him, and ran him from one place to another, and shot at him, till at last he dropped. We took his meat home, and had his skin tanned for a sleigh robe.

“One day I was in the woods, and looking through the trees espied a bear. He was standing up on his hind legs, snuffing in every direction, and just about the time I espied him, he espied me. I had no dog and no gun, so I thought I had better be getting home to my dinner. I was a small boy then, and the bear, probably thinking I'd be a mouthful for him anyway, began to come after me in a leisurely way. I can see myself now going through those woods hat gone, jacket flying, arms out, eyes rolling over my shoulder every little while to see if the bear was gaining on me. He was a benevolent-looking old fellow, and his face seemed to say, 'Don't hurry, little boy.' He wasn't doing his prettiest, and I soon got away from him, but I made up my mind then, that it was more fun to be the chaser than the chased.

“Another time I was out in our cornfield, and hearing a rustling, looked through the stalks, and saw a brown bear with two cubs. She was slashing down the corn with her paws to get at the ears. She smelled me, and getting frightened, began to run. I had a dog with me this time, and shouted and rapped on the fence, and set him on her. He jumped up and snapped at her flanks, and every few instants she'd turn and give him a cuff, that would send him yards away. I followed her up, and just back of the farm she and her cubs took into a tree. I sent my dog home, and my father and some of the neighbors came. It had gotten dark by this time, so we built a fire under the tree, and watched all night, and told stories to keep each other awake. Toward morning we got sleepy, and the fire burnt low, and didn't that old bear and one cub drop right down among us and start off to the woods. That waked us up. We built up the fire and kept watch, so that the one cub, still in the tree, couldn't get away. Until daylight the mother bear hung around, calling to the cub to come down.”

“Did you let it go, uncle?” asked Miss Laura.

“No, my dear, we shot it.”

“How cruel!” cried Mrs. Wood.

“Yes, weren't we brutes?” said her husband; “but there was some excuse for us, Hattie. The bears ruined our farms. This kind of hunting that hunts and kills for the mere sake of slaughter is very different from that. I'll tell you what I've no patience with, and that's with these English folks that dress themselves up, and take fine horses and packs of dogs, and tear over the country after one little fox or rabbit. Bah, it's contemptible. Now if they were hunting cruel, man-eating tigers or animals that destroy property, it would be different thing.”

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