Photo: Chris D’Alessandro The horse has had months of therapy and is feeling much better. Pity we can’t say the same for the bear.
Photo: Chris D’Alessandro
The horse has had months of therapy and is feeling much better. Pity we can’t say the same for the bear.

By: Chris D’Alessandro

More humour from the brain of the Raven – he saw this, I didn’t. It has been said that laughter is the cousin of sleep. I always liked that saying and felt it true, it is hard to say which releases you from the tensions of this world more dramatically, a good stretch in the rack or a violent belly laugh. Well, today I will go with the belly laugh and in accordance with the previous tale from the world of professional hunting, I will endeavor to make you agree that my choice for today was correct.

Again, I am repeating a tale that was told word for word; I wish I could have seen this one but the description was so well articulated that I think we can all see it together. The actual tale took place over 25 years ago, right about the time I heard the story. I was at the annual Foundation for Wild Sheep convention held that year in Nashville, Tennessee. That evening after the completion of the daily events, a number of Canadian hunting guides had gathered in the beer hall in the middle of the convention center and were of course swapping tales of the high country adventures from the previous season.

One of the guides who I will leave unnamed was a prominent and internationally known owner/operator of a very successful hunting lodge on the Spasizi plateau in the Cassiar Mountains. He was a real character and a great guy, he had spent about 20 years in his area and he had the most developed 1000 yard stare I have ever seen. After years of gazing into optics with the sun blazing on your face and months on end of watching objects with the naked eye at 1000 yards or more, a very noticeable change occurs to your appearance. It might be likened to Moses coming off the mountain and the children of Israel being unable to look upon his shining countenance. He sat there quietly and although he was the dean of all the guides present, he had little to say.

There were two biologists sitting at our table and being somewhat awed by the presence of fame, they asked a lot of questions and seemed to be intrigued with many of the great stories that were being told. One of them finally turned to 1000 Yard Stare and asked if he had ever seen any really bad horse wrecks. As if brought back to earth from his visions and reflections by the stupid question, a slow smile tugged on the edge of his lips and the barest spark of a twinkle lit his eye. He took a sip of his beer as the tug turned into a grin and he related what has to be the funniest story I have yet to hear about horse wrecks in the high country.

I believe it was the previous season he had been out with another guide and a German client. The German hunter wanted to harvest a grizzly so off they went with him and a number of packhorses to a high country berry patch that was a known feeding spot for bears. Now one of the horses in the string was a knothead from Smithers with the confidence inspiring name of Warhorse. Warhorse had been around Smithers for years and had changed owners constantly for the course of his life. His name alone should suggest the reason why. The Outfitter had looked at him and, being short of pack horses that year, had purchased Warhorse to take him up to Spasizi for a new life.
Now the tale develops with the Outfitter being on the way down from the top of a mountain, for some reason that I cannot remember. He was possibly glassing above when the assistant guide and the hunter had shot a bear on the flat below. As he made his way down the mountain the scenario below him began quickly to unfold. The guide was trying to load the large, bloodied and very strong-smelling bear hide onto Warhorse and the horse was having none of it. The guide had hobbled the front feet and tied the rear leg of the horse to immobilize it and wrapped his denim coat around the horse’s head to cover his eyes but this didn’t deter Warhorse from living up to his moniker. He reared, strained and fought against his restraints for all he was worth – a grizzly hide was the last thing Warhorse wanted on his back.

The guide had tied the bulk of the hide securely but was still struggling to tie the arms, legs and head when all of a sudden with an explosion of energy, Warhorse broke his restraints and began to frantically buck catching the unfortunate guide square in the chest and knocking him out of breath to the ground. Now unfettered, Warhorse REALLY began to buck. He bucked and bucked and bucked in a frenzy to throw the bear off, and as he did, the hide began to unravel.

Now it is important to know that when we field skin a bear we sever the wrists and feet leaving the paws in, and sever the neck leaving the entire skull inside intact. As the partially secured load began to unravel, and as the forearms and paws of the bear were loosed and hanging down, the grizzly’s six-inch long claws began to stroke the ribs of the poor terrified horse on both sides each time it bucked up into the air. At the same time the head rolled loose and each time the horse bucked he was not only raked with the dangling claws on the upstroke but banged on the back of the head with the grizzly’s bared teeth and head. As if this wasn’t enough, the guide who had had to put up with Warlord all season finally came to, jumped up and in a fit of murderous rage grabbed his saddle rifle and began to shoot at the horse. So now the poor horse being totally demonized, assaulted each buck by the bear’s paws on its ribs, the teeth on its head and targeted by a hail of angry bullets from the enraged guide’s rifle, was violently transformed into a whirling dervish-like wraith from Hell ridden by a flailing Devil as it kicked and bucked, bucked and kicked, insanely intent on removing his hellish and demonic ghost rider.

As the fear factor multiplies exponentially, Warhorse was just warming up. As the tempo of this scene from Dante’s Inferno increased, Warhorse continued to buck off his tormentor, the grizzly sprawled on his back biting his head and raking his ribs with his long front digger claws. He lashed out insanely against all the devils in hell that besieged him and bucked and kicked even harder which of course only increased the frequency of the rib-raking claws and teeth grinding skull blows. Alas, the poor tortured soul of Warhorse was last seen bucking and kicking on a dead run far beyond the horizon into the setting sun as the guide cursed and the stunned German hunter’s jaw dropped slowly to the ground… the words of pain, shock and anguish escaping his mouth in a deathlike sigh… “My grizzly!”

Now I will say that there are many ways to train a horse, but I will have to rate this particular method as being tried, tested and true. Warhorse was found two days later with the bear still intact and tied to his back. He had overcome his fear and was now guaranteed “grizzly broke”. He spent the rest of his life in Spasizi and was always the most reliable packhorse for bear hides, after enduring his worst nightmare and coming to peace with himself, the world of the high country and the ever present Raven, eternally scanning the peaks for more amazing tales and visions from the great expanse of the Shining Mountains.