Last week on Facebook, we asked:18 Sitka diehards posted their tales. You all voted. Here is the story you chose...
Andrew Clark was 12 when it happened.
He sat on the back of the four-wheeler as his 14-year-old cousin piloted it through the pre-dawn dark. It was cold. Ear reddening, finger stinging cold.
This was their first time bowhunting on their own. Back at grandma's house, they'd shoveled down their oatmeal amidst warnings and well-wishes from the adults. The thermometer outside read 30 degrees, and they left the house feeling warm and full and very tough.
A mile or so into the ride, things had changed. Their fingers and ears ached with the mid-November air, and the oil black night sat ominous on a frosted white earth. Andrew pulled his blaze orange beanie down over the tops of his ears, and a mix of pride and fear and excitement filled him at the newness of the experience. Nothing in the world existed except that which the four-wheeler’s headlights called into being.
They stopped at the gate to the hunting lease and signed in, just like grown up hunters would do, then drove on until they reached Andrew’s hunting grounds, which he chose because of a clear cut where whitetails would feed and because of a shooting stand with a door through which he could fire his bow.
He hopped off, took up his bow, and listened in the darkness to the four-wheeler putting away.
His father, a former Green Beret, always said there was no need for a flashlight in the woods. You let your eyes adjust, and you can see everything just fine, he'd say. Besides, the light only gives away your position. And so Andrew carried no light.
He felt confident enough. After all, he was heavily armed with a 50 pound pull Martin Tiger, paired with the menacing arrows and broadheads he’d purchased at Wal-Mart. He’d chosen the broadheads because of their orange and blue packaging –Auburn’s colors, he reasoned, that ought to be a good omen. War Eagle!
His eyes adjusted, but still he couldn’t see the silhouette of the shooting stand against the sky. He walked by memory, pulling his blaze orange beanie over one ear, then the other, trying to warm them. He stuffed one hand into his jacket pocket, carrying his bow with the other, then switched. Were he able, he would have seen the plumes of his breath, pouring from his mouth like gunsmoke.
Eventually, he did come upon the ladder to the stand. He climbed the rungs and eased open the door. Inside it was impossibly dark. He groped for the chair he knew was there, found it, took a seat and knocked an arrow. Home safe, he figured.
He waited for light to come and thought about what his parents must think of him, how impressive he was to go it alone in the woods, and about the other 12-year-olds he knew and how he was probably tougher than all of them. Satisfied, he leaned back in the chair.
And that’s when something inexplicably sharp cut across his face. Then again. He ducked, and a hot mass of fur landed on the back of his neck. A torrent of claws came around from both sides, scratching his ears and his face and his tightly closed eyes. The animal was hot with fury, warming his frozen skin.
Then came two more claws, wrapping around his torso, and hissing and squealing and shrieking and barking – all from a snout somewhere above his left ear. Then the biting.
Andrew’s arms flailed about, trying to defend against the assailant. He snatched the arrow off his bowstring and wielded it mightily as he kicked open the door and leapt, plummeting to the earth. Perhaps the animal came dislodged in the freefall, or maybe when Andrew’s body bounced, but the next thing he knew, he was flat on his back, alone, clutching the arrow and ready to thrust it deep into anything that would try him.
And that’s when he caught a glimpse of the raccoon’s tail as it waddled behind a tree and into the darkness beyond. For twelve seconds, he wasn't just some kid in the woods. The beast in the darkness had crowned him King of the Wild Frontier, foisting upon him a living, biting, shrieking Davy Crockett hat.
Andrew sat heaving, taking stock of his condition and watching the light gather in the east. His head grew cold, and that’s when he noticed his blaze orange beanie was missing. He searched the area and went back up into the stand, but it was gone. The raccoon had taken a souvenir.
Three hours later, he was hatless and well-exfoliated when his cousin came to pick him up. They rode back to their grandmother’s house, where the adults thought he made up the story to cover for being reckless and falling off the four-wheeler. They took him to the doctor, who cleaned him up and said he didn’t need stitches.
Today, Andrew is in his early 30s and his wife likes to buy stuffed animal raccoons, supposedly for their son. From time to time, she will sneak up behind him and dig her nails into his back. He says that one day, this will give him a heart attack.
And it turns out that bowhunting in general is bad news for Andrew’s face. Just last week, he was practicing with his thumb release, somehow lost control of it, and punched himself in the face. This time, it did require stitches…
Andrew was armed with this Wal-Mart-purchased Satellite broadhead, circa 1992.
The hunter then... and now.