When my bear-hunting partner for the week informed me that he had died twice (seriously, flatlined two separate times), only one thought came to mind: “Check, please.” Well, we were finishing dinner, and if anything happened in the wilds of Adirondack Park, I didn’t want a guilty conscience for not buying the man his last meal, even if it was a plate of chicken fingers.
Our base was Old Forge, N.Y., on the southwestern edge of a vast wilderness. In town, bears can easily be found looting the Dumpsters of restaurants. When crossing local roads, they seem almost as docile as the stars of Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree. But we weren’t looking for just any nearby bear. Our bear would be found in beech stands along precipitous ridges. Getting to the bruin meant 2,000-foot vertical climbs with gear and rifle in hand, then huddling in the cold rain waiting for it to meander by. At least, this was my fantasy.
In reality, happening upon a wild bear in the Adirondacks is like finding a 400-pound needle in a 6.1-million-acre haystack. The task was made even more difficult by my constant fear that I would drive my new friend past the limit to flatline number three. Over several days I participated in what was possibly the world’s longest nature walk. Up and down mountains, through swamps and bogs, along rivers and streams. In all that time I saw just one set of tracks, and they might as well have been fossilized.
Nature hikes can serve a purpose, though. During a moment of reflection while nursing a twisted ankle in driving rain, I remembered that hunting is supposed to be hard. In the challenge there is value. So, every year, between simpler hunts, I return to those vast woods and wander around with a rifle on my shoulder.