Bear Story

Eddy Daniel

© Copyright 2023 by Eddy Daniel

Photo by Andre Tan on Unsplash
Photo by Andre Tan on Unsplash


Those are the first words of a framed poem hanging in my home study. The handwritten note on the back of the frame reads, “The result of a deer hunt with Jack Byrd at Kyle Norman’s cabin on November 16, 1964.” The framed poem was presented to my dad, Bob Daniel, at the Old Hickory Council of the Boy Scouts of America’s annual dinner later that month. Why such a presentation? Because Dad was the District Executive for the Old Hickory Council, and he and his friend Jack had a remarkable experience during that fateful deer hunt.

My dad grew up in rural Person County, North Carolina. The oldest of three boys, he plowed fields behind a mule and worked from sunup to sundown on a tobacco farm which was, when he was young, the sole livelihood of his family. He and his brothers were expert hunters and fishermen before they reached their teens. They had to be, because the family depended upon the fish and game they brought in to supplement the family dinners.

The Boy Scouts of America was a good fit for Dad. He loved the outdoors, he loved kids, and he was a great leader. I was only two years old when he went to work for the BSA, a job he once boasted paid him eight thousand dollars a year. Eight thousand dollars! A veritable fortune! So much more than his own father ever made in a single year farming tobacco. But he still hunted and fished, and we ate everything he brought home. Eight thousand dollars a year might have seemed like a lot to him in those days, but it still helped the family food budget to have a steady supply of meat from the field and fish from the lake on the table.

Dad’s passion for the outdoors, honed during his formative years, was a big part of my own childhood, too. I grew up hunting and fishing because Dad wanted me to know the same joys he knew as a kid. I could dig my own worms, bait my own hooks, and fish for hours alone by the time I was old enough to cast a line. For Christmas when I was eight years old, I got my own shotgun – a small, single-barrel .410-gauge beauty with which I hunted rabbits, squirrels, and doves until I was big enough to hunt with something bigger. But Dad never took me deer hunting before November 16, 1964, because I was too young. And even though we still hunted birds and small game after November 16, 1964, he never took me deer hunting after then, either, because he never went deer hunting again.

The story began with a 3:00am wakeup call. I was nine years old, a light sleeper, and I heard him rummaging around the house that morning, getting ready to leave. Jack came by to pick him up. They pulled out of the driveway about 3:30am, headed for the woods adjacent to the new Camp Raven Knob facility in Surry County. Dad was excited. So excited that he forgot his glasses. That didn’t help.

To hear Dad’s telling of the story, the two of them set up on separate hilltops in the woods an hour or so before daybreak. They weren’t using tree stands. Dad’s hilltop looked out over a steep ravine on one side and out across a few acres of plowed fields on the other, belonging to a small farm. Way on the other side of the farm was a big, penned chicken coop.
Jack’s hilltop was just across the ravine. The two of them were separated by only about thirty yards. Close enough that they could call to each other, if they wanted to. Dad and Jack set up and settled in before the roosters began to crow.

They sat there in silence, waiting for the sun to come up. Dad was mainly a small-game and bird hunter, mostly because he could hunt small game and birds almost year-round and it required a lot less in terms of expensive equipment and preparation time. He didn’t have nearly as much experience with deer hunting, although he had bagged several bucks over the years growing up and the occasional doe during legal “doe days.” But Jack was a big-time deer hunter. And this spot, he was confident, was a deer favorite in the early morning hours. They came out, he said, near sunup, to graze at the edge of the woods where the fields took over from the trees. So they waited.

Just as the eastern sky began to lighten up, Dad heard a shotgun blast coming from the far edge of the farm on the other side of his hilltop. It was immediately followed by a “squalling roar,” to quote his words. “It’s a bear,” he thought. “The farmer caught him in his chicken coop.”

He was right. But just then, he didn’t know that the farmer was using buckshot, and he hadn’t killed the bear; he’d only wounded him.

Now, everybody who has ever encountered a wounded bear in the woods knows that it isn’t a good idea to get in his way. But this bear had been shot and wounded all the way across the farm, a good half-mile, in Dad’s estimation. Surely, he thought, he wasn’t in any danger, sitting on a hilltop a half-mile away.

This time, he was wrong. He listened as the wounded bear tore up the farmer’s chicken coop. He heard two more shotgun blasts, and the slight echoes in the predawn morning of a man yelling and shouting curses. And he heard more roars from the wounded bear. And they seemed to be coming closer.

When he told this story, Dad said it finally dawned on him that the bear was being chased by the farmer across the field, straight at him and his hilltop hiding place. And when it became evident from the roaring and squalling, growing louder and louder, that the bear had passed the tree line at the base of the hill on his side of the farm, Dad got up and started trying to climb the tree he was sitting under. But it was a huge old hardwood, probably oak, although he couldn’t tell in the dark and didn’t feel much like wasting time trying to find out. The branches were much too high for him to grasp, and the trunk was much too thick for him to shimmy up. He was stuck. He only had two options: move to another site, or hunker down and hope the bear didn’t discover that he was there.

Dad’s options got a lot slimmer about then, because his friend Jack, sitting on the hilltop across the ravine, finally heard the commotion and yelled across the ravine. “Hey!” he called. “You hear that?” Then he switched on his flashlight and shone its beam across the ravine in Dad’s general direction.

That caught the bear’s attention. Dad swore that he could hear the change in the bear’s growling and roaring right after the flashlight’s beam cut through the darkness. All of a sudden, instead of harboring a hope that the bear might cut across the side of the hill and head away from him, Dad knew that Jack had just lit him up in the bear’s sights like a Christmas tree in a little kid’s sights on Christmas morning. And he knew that he was the object of that bear’s affection, and that the bear intended to tear into him just like his own kids tore into their presents under the tree.

And it only got worse from there. Because just as he realized the danger he was in, the bear burst through the brush not twenty yards from the hilltop, headed uphill straight for Dad, who was still standing there at the base of the tree.

Now, my dad was not an athlete. A strong man, sure, who had grown up hard, working with his back and his hands his whole life. But one of his legs was three-quarters of an inch shorter than the other, with a slight clubfoot deformity, as a result of the polio he’d contracted as a kid. That hadn’t kept him from getting drafted into the Army during the Korean conflict, though. But because of the superior marksmanship skills he exhibited during boot camp, gained through a lifetime of hunting, he was tabbed to stay stateside as a drill instructor and member of Fort Benning’s marksmanship team. Still, running was never Dad’s strong suit.

Until that day, November 16, 1964. That day, to hear Jack tell it later, my dad set a world record in the Ravine Run and Jump.

Dad said that when the bear burst out of the brush, headed for him, he was at least twelve feet tall and weighed at least a thousand pounds. Of course, he had forgotten his glasses, so I guess that might be a slight exaggeration. At any rate, both Dad and Jack agree on the basic details of Dad’s fantastic flight.

Leaving his gun, his extra ammo, and his backpack holding his sandwiches and thermos behind, panicked, Dad ran for his life. With the bear in hot pursuit, coming within just a few feet of my terrified father, Dad tore down the hill into the ravine. He leapt over bushes and dodged around trees, running and sliding like a stuntman in a jungle movie. When he got to the bottom of the ravine, he jumped the small stream and began to scramble up the other side, pulling himself up with his hands as his legs churned up the earth, throwing clods into the air behind him. Jack tracked him with his flashlight, trying to get a clear shot at the wounded bear chasing him down into the ravine and back up the other side, toward where Jack was now standing on his own hilltop. The eastern sky had lightened up, but it was still dark. Jack couldn’t aim clear enough by flashlight with Dad running right at him and the bear behind, so he couldn’t shoot. And when Dad was halfway up the hill and the bear was still coming on strong, bellowing and roaring in rage and pain, Jack realized that now he was in danger, too.

Dad was screaming at Jack to shoot the bear as he flew up the side of the hill. Jack was screaming back that he couldn’t get a clear shot. So now there were two of them running for their lives.

When Jack finally gave it up and turned away to run down the other side of the hill, Dad stopped screaming and started praying, out loud. And the Lord apparently heard his prayers, because he caught up with Jack and passed him as the two of them burned out the soles of their boots running from a wounded, enraged North Carolina black bear.

Many years later, I heard that old joke. You know, the one that says you don’t have to outrun the bear who’s chasing you; you only have to outrun the guy running beside you. I don’t know if whoever first said that knew my dad and his friend Jack, but I know that Dad always said that was what was running through his mind just then.

Well, the story had a happy ending. For Dad and Jack, anyway. Probably not so much for the bear. Or for the farmer, for that matter, who apparently lost a perfectly good chicken coop and a number of chickens. The bear gave up the chase and headed deeper into the woods. The sun came up and revealed two hunters who hadn’t killed anything during the hunt, and who had only been in the woods for a short time that day, but who had lost their appetite for venison.

And my dad never went deer hunting again. Eventually, his lame leg gave him so much trouble that he had to give up hunting altogether, because he couldn’t hike through the countryside anymore without so much pain that he couldn’t enjoy it. So he turned all his outdoor attention to fishing, which gave him hours and hours of pleasure until he couldn’t do that anymore, either. He died in 2009. But to his dying day, he swore the whole story of the twelve-foot-tall, thousand-pound bear was absolutely true.

Not long after the hunt, the Old Hickory Council presented Dad with that framed poem. It hung on the wall in his own study until he died, when I brought it home to hang on the wall in mine.

This is the story of two deer hunters who entered the woods in the night.
They crept to their stands and sat on the ground to wait for the morning light.

Not a sound could be heard for miles around. Everything was quiet and still.
Then, from out of nowhere came the roar of a bear, he stood just over the hill.

The brave hunters sat breathless and still as the bear moved closer until
A voice from the darkness pierced the night: “Jack, please turn on the flashlight.”

As the light was turned on, he plowed up a furrow and in no time flat he was there.
He laid down his gun and broke him a switch and said, “Now let me at that bear.”

Now to all you deer hunters who enter the woods when the night is black as pitch,
Remember your motto, “Be Prepared,” and instead of a gun, take a switch.

- Words Inspired by Bob Daniel  

Eddy Daniel is a retired professional educator living once again in his native Person County, NC, his ancestral family home, where his father Bob Daniel grew up. Since retiring, he has devoted his time to his wife and daughter and two precious grandchildren, to teaching Sunday School and small-group Bible studies at his church, and to writing the stories that have been kicking around in his head for most of his life. These include four full-length Christian action novels and four Christian science fiction novels, all self-posted for e-book readers only, and none of which has ever earned more than a few dollars. Nor has the total combined sales for all eight earned anywhere near the limit for an author to be designated as "published" for purposes of this contest. But that hasn't stopped him; like a very well-known and highly successful fantasy writer who shall remain unnamed here, he writes for himself because it gives him great joy to do so. This story is the first non-fiction one he's ever submitted anywhere.

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