By Tommy Dale Lane | @tommydlane
My family and I all share a kindred passion for a lot of things in this life, but one thing we all can wrap our united noggins around is anything hunting or fishing. It’s a burnin’ that’s in us that’s gonna come out no matter what is going on in this crazy, messed up world around us. Be it timely or not, the hunt is gonna show up and rearrange our calendars whether we want it to or we don’t!
This is a common passion we share with many folks all over this floating rock we all call home. One common denominator we have with the folks in our close proximity is that we track wounded game animals that have befuddled their pursuant and gotten away undetected. You see, we have a forty-five-pound half bloodhound half red bone un-befuddler named Cladrastus (Clad) that would rather follow a leaky four-legged sack of groceries through the woods as put his snout down in a warm bowl of bacon grease gravy!
My three boys and I take calls from folks that have been dealt the misfortune of a bad shot or a lost track. We simply bring Clad in, harness’em up, and just kinda hang onto’em and get pulled through briars and thorns and stuff until we’re looking at our quarry right in the hairy eyeball. And here’s where my story begins.
We were about a week into the 2019 Arkansas black bear season and not one of us had the opportunity to toss any pointy sticks at a big black fuzzys. We were just getting home from our morning of sittin’ and staring at barrels when we got the call. One of our friends had been fortunate enough to not only see a bear on public land, but got the chance to send an arrow down range and through an Arkansas bruin as well!! No light feat in just seeing one in the wild in our neck of the woods. Although he got a pass through, he felt like he may have hit it a little bit too far back behind the good stuff and needed our assistance in finding said bear.
Now, this ain’t our first trip to the principal’s office and we know the ins and outs of tracking a disgruntled, injured, meat grinder through adverse terrain and thick cover. So we were not ill prepared to handle whatever might be laid before us on our newly accepted mission. We was sittin’ on go and Clad was jacked up like a kindergartener chowing down on a stolen bag of jolly ranchers.
One of the first things we do as trackers is gather as much information about a track as we possibly can before we even bring the dog on site, you know, so everything goes smooth and exactly like we need and want it to. We got all the inquiries taken care of and headed to the shot site. We got there and the hunter was giving us the low down when Clad got his first whiff of his next assignment. Boy was he excited, just bouncing at the end of his lead rope! We keep Clad on lead and right in front of us while tracking, some folks track without a lead with their dog working the track sometimes at a dead run, any you keep up with their whereabouts with a tracking collar.
We gathered ourselves and prepared and Cory gave the command that starts Clad to set into beast mode, “Hunt em up Clad!” Head down, nose to the ground, ears alert, and tail a pointin’ at the clouds, “We huntin’ now boys!!”
We were all but a few feet into the track when ole Clad turned and looked over his left shoulder at Cory as to say, “Y’all do know this ain’t no deer we’re follerin right?” Cory just looked back down at’em and told’em again, “Get’em up Clad”! It was on, and the adventure had commenced!
I don’t know if any of you have ever had the distinct pleasure of being attached to a forty-five-pound, red bulldozer who has no concept whatsoever on the identification of a green briar or blackberry bush at a festive pace or not, but I do not recommend it. Oh, and did I mention the sweltering 85-degree day we were having? You know, just a typical Arkansas weather day, went hunting in an insulated jacket and by nine o’clock we were wearing short sleeves.
By this time Clad was fired up and we had already covered about a hundred and twenty yards or so straight down the bench we started on. The track made a little juke and then turned a ninety straight up the mountain.
Mind you, we are on the side of big mountain, just right under switchbacks on a country highway. So, as we got there and the whole time, we’re tracking we can hear vehicles in the distance above us. You can imagine my disdain and concern when Clad insisted that the bear had decided to make “up” his direction of choice. My disdain simply comes from, I don’t like to go up, and my concern came from a couple reasons. Number one, bears that are fatally wounded usually don’t set their compass to North if ya know what I mean, and two, up is where all the cars are! Neither one of them things will do us any favors.
We are steadily climbing, I’m steadily falling further behind because, fat! I’m holding my own though, as best I can, as I watch my son and the hunter slowly take a lead up ahead of me. As we get closer and the highway noise becomes more distinct, I thought for a second that I heard voices. Not too much to be all up in the air about, people usually are what’s drivin’ vehicles, and a good portion of most folks got voices, and most of’em use their voice when they’re talkin’, so I figured no big deal.
We take in another hundred foot straight up and much to my delight the boys decide to stop and take a breather. This is where the fun part starts. As we are all standing around with our hands on our knees, come to think about it, maybe that was just me bent over dying. Anywho, we start hearing the voices a little clearer now. The voices sound like maybe there’s a party goin’ on or maybe somebody is screamin’ at somebody else cause they was stomping their kitty cat or something like that. Then it dawns on us about the third time we heard somebody scream, “BEAR!”
We all just kinda looked at each other for a second and the lights started coming on. Cory asked, “Did they just say bear?” That’s it, break times over! It is at this point where the story switches from firsthand to second hand information because all I could see was a whirlwind of boot soles, oak leaves, and little red dog sprinting up the side of the mountain leaving me in disbelief.
They go on ahead and I catch up as quickly as I can, which really, looking back, wasn’t all that quick. When I finally make it to the highway the first thing I see is a feller standing beside a table full of water bottles and a sign on the front of it saying something about a marathon or something like that. The fella, even though he seemed quite concerned about the condition in which his world had just been in, looked at me and pointed straight up the highway and said, “It went that way, and so did those two guys and that dog! Wait, are y’all following that bear?” I just took a breath looked at him and grinned and said, “Yep!”
As I turned to start my new trajectory, I could see a few folks with big numbers strapped to their backs all scattered along the road ahead of me. They all had a few more things in common that I had at first missed like, none of them were doing whatever marathoners do, they were all to the far-right side of the road, and they were all looking in the same direction. Now, I’m no Sherlock Holmes but it didn’t take me a millisecond to paint a picture in my cranial cortex of the matters at hand in which these folks had just witnessed.
As I walked up the road, I began to think about the conversations I was hearing as I was climbing the cow’s face I just traversed, and it dawned on me, these people were talking to that bear as it ran by them. I’m not talkin’ about, “Hey bear, I like what you’ve done with your hair,” or, “Oh, I didn’t know you was in our marathon today?” No, I was hearing people screaming and yelling all kinds of stuff!
“Get to the side, get to the side!”
“Don’t run from it, just scoot over!”
And my favorite, “No bear, no bear!”
Not really sure what that one was gonna accomplish or prevent but I’m pretty sure I picked that lady out as I walked by her, you know with her newly found PTSD and what not, she was pretty easy to dial in on.
In all the ruckus and commotion Clad had lost where the bear turned and headed back off the mountain. There I found Cory and Daniel, the hunter, trying to get lined back out. Well with all the eyewitnesses, the ones that we’re left anyway, we began to get all CSI asking questions and relocating and positioning to get things figured out. Sure enough, Waterboy had’em pegged and all we had to do was get Clad back on the spot and we were off again. Except this time, it was straight down.
I’m no stranger to mountain life nor am I a stranger to the effects straight down has on a fat man, so I just told’em to go get’em and not worry about me. Off they went, slowly fading into the brush below me, every once in a while giving me a glimpse as they would top and go over the edge of the unending benches. Every once in a while, I was hearing ole Clad telling em, “Hurry up we’re gettin’ closer”!
As a kid growing up, I was absorbed in a family with dog culture, not just owning pets, but true dog culture. My Dad was one of the best coon houndsmen around for most of my life and he would often tell me that listening to a hound in the distance was like readin’ a book. He would teach me about the relationship you could have with a hound and how that relationship would grow into something special if you let it reach its full potential. He would tell me that you have to become that dog’s world, and time is the only thing that can pull it out of’em. Time with that dog right by your side; whatever you are doing, that dog is right there. I listened and have applied that philosophy to many breeds serving many purposes over the years. I’ve had many best friends that would never leave my side in the course of a day on the farm. From licking my hand, to waking me up as I rolled over with my arm hanging off the bed, to laying in front of my recliner at night as I rubbed their bellies with my bare feet. Time!
Clad is one of those dogs that I don’t have to be the one attached to that lead rope to understand what’s going through his mind, time has made that come natural. And as I sat on the bench above the action taking place below me a half a mile away, I was hearing Clad read the story out loud with every bark. I knew that ole bear better get ready to first, meet Clad, and next, meet that curly blonde headed hunter that was quickly approaching his very last living location, and last, meet his Maker because game, set, match you goin’ home to live with somebody new today!
It wasn’t long ‘til I knew the ending, but the ending in itself was a whole other story. I tell the rest of this story through the eyes of my son, as I wasn’t there to witness first hand.
“We headed off down them benches one after another and I was able to look down and get a glimpse of blood every once in a while as Clad was trying to pull my arms off. We got down close to where the feeling changed and Clad got quiet and started walking real slow and his tail was straight up looking for airplanes, no wiggle at all. Every once in a while Clad would turn and look at me like, ‘You still sure about this, cause I’m thinking this thing is still alive!’” On a bear, when it’s getting’ down to the nitty-gritty, ole Clad will pick one foot up at a time in almost slow motion and slowly set it down as the next one comes up. He kinda reminds me of a spider kinda creepin along.
“We was gettin close to a cliff face and a big rock outcropping, places bears like. We started down a steep grade through big huge boulders, and over the tops of em at this point was an only option. We just got most of the way down when we hit a tree branch and a buncha flies came swarmin out of a hole, a cave, in the rocks. (Cory) I turned and told Daniel, ‘I think we just found your bear.’”
“I got a little closer and Clad was stretched out like a bird dog in a chicken pen, just creeping towards that hole. We got close enough to peer in and sure enough something was a peerin back! Without delay, we sent a projectile in the cave to dispatch the bear. I turned around to congratulate Daniel and looked down and Clad was headed South at a very rapid rate of speed. I turned around just in time to see that bear grow big enough to fill the entrance of that hole as it was making its last exodus. I decided real quick-like that all those calculus and geometry classes were fixin’ to come in real handy, as I made a bee-line away from the quickly approaching bear. All the while I was configuring the angle of the hypotenuse of the triangle my arm holding my forty-five, the bear’s noggin, and the ground we’re all makin!”
“Then I decided, naw, I’ll just wing it, I turned and took off runnin’! I turned back towards Daniel, up on the cliff above me then back towards the now retreating bear. It made its way another thirty or forty yards and Daniel delivered the final blow with his bow. Ole Clad was nowhere in sight.”
“MEANWHILE,” in my best justice league announcer dude voice, back up on the side of the mountain: Back to my perspective a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t long till I knew the ending, but I was hearing the book Clad was readin, chapter and verse.
I’m a lot of things to a bunch of folks on this old earth but one of my favorites is Daddy, and I know my boy is in some kinda major confrontation with a very upset large black carnivore at some distance outta my reach. I’m not the least bit harboring them feel goods I was talkin about a minute ago, I am now terrified, playing out the scenarios that coulda just taken place! I just hit my knees and didn’t waste time with a bunch of words I just said, “Jesus let’em be ok!” I’ve got AT&T and round here you’re better off most of the time picking up a rock or a couple sticks and trying to call somebody. But you know what, it was just a couple seconds and it got quiet that my phone rang, I was so happy when I answered and heard the words I’ve heard all my boys say many times over the years, “We got em!”
Well, feeling relieved from the happenings that had all taken place, I finally made it back to the truck when the reality of the task at hand set in. We now have to get this bear out of here and the boys are still half a mile below me and a mile and a half behind a locked forest service gate. One of them ‘well hmmm’ moments! I immediately remembered that one of my game warden buddies was working a youth hunt that afternoon and I knew with it being so hot, how slow and boring his task at hand had to be progressing. A few short moments later we were in his truck be-boppin’ down an old trenched out logging trail headed towards a happy ending. Clad finally showed back up, dragging his lead rope, as we were loading the bear in the back of my buddy’s truck. As he was slowly ascending the last bit to where we were, he was staring at that bear and then back at us. The whole time I could almost hear him saying, “Y’all have got to quit this mess; y’all know what’s lying in the back of that truck?”
Just one of many outdoor adventures me and my family has been blessed by the Good Lord with over the years to be a part of. And I’m sure he’s got many more in store for us! All I can say is come quickly Jesus, and if it’s gonna be a little bit, line us up another one, I’m always game for excitement!
One more thing, you know I’ve been meaning to get in touch with the folks running that marathon that day out of curiosity. Ohhh, I know a few of the folks who have relayed bits and pieces of their versions of that day, but the thing that really has me wondering... the thing I really would like to find out is, were there any marathon speed records set for the fastest time up the side of the mountain that day?