All or Nothing

There was a full moon and not a breath of wind. A cold front had just moved through and for the first time this season, the temperature dropped below freezing. Ben Leslie and his two sons, Jesse and John, were about to set of on a bear hunt. Ben had been looking forward to bear season since the end of last season, and he was determined that he was going to be the first one to find a hot trail.

 

Jesse was eleven years old now, and this was his second year of bear hunting with his dad. John turned ten last September and this would be his first hunt. Jesse was quite a bit bigger than John, but John was resolute and just as feisty as they come.

 

Ben was a large, rough man and had been logging and hunting in these mountains nearly from the time he’d taken his first steps. Ben’s father was as mean as they come. He worked Ben hard and gave him little freedom. It was the way his father had treated him and his brothers and he figured if he could handle it so could his kids.

 

“Come on boys lets get into the woods, we’re wasting time. You want to get a bear don’t you?”

 

“I’m going to kill me a bear today Pa,” John said.

 

“Well, you’d best keep-up or you’re gonna take your little ass back home,” Ben growled roughly.

 

Ben had four dogs on leash and kept a steady pace. The boys nearly had to run to stay up with him; they knew that Ben wasn’t going to show them any mercy. If they couldn’t keep-up then he would send them home and it would be a long time before they would be invited on a hunt again. In fifteen minutes time they’d walked nearly a mile, mostly uphill, when the dogs got on a fresh trail.

 

“The dogs are on a hot trail boys; let’s get after ‘um.”

 

The pace picked up to almost a run but Jesse and John was staying close; at least for now. John was so full of energy and determination that he stayed of his fathers heels. Jesse was beginning to fall back; he was hoping that they’d leave him behind. He knew wouldn’t have any problem finding his way home, but he also knew that he’d never hear the end of it; from John or his father.

 

An hour after they’d left the house, still on a hot trail, they came to a creek. Jesse had fallen way back but he would catch a glimpse of John and his dad, once in awhile, so he kept going.

 

“John, you go up stream and look for sign,” Ben commanded, “and Jesse you go down stream. I’m gonna take the dogs cross the creek to the other side.”

 

“Jesse ain’t with us
Pa.” John said.

 

“Well we ain’t wait ‘en on him; you head up stream, and holler if you find tracks.”

 

Ben crossed the creek with the dogs hoping to pick up the trail. John was up stream a hundred yards or so when he found some large bear tracks coming out of the creek. He took off running back down to find his pa when he saw Jesse coming over the ridge. Ben was just coming back across the creek just as Jesse caught up with them.

 

“Where’ve you been Jesse? If you can’t keep up, then you might as well go on back home and help your ma with the cooking and cleaning, leave the hunt ‘en to me and John.” Ben grumbled.

 

“I’ll keep up Pa, I promise.”

 

“Pa, I found some big tracks up stream, they was coming out of the creek and heading back up the ridge.” John interrupted. “They looked fresh.”

 

“Let’s get on him boys,” Ben said.

 

They took off running up stream and got on the trail John had found. When they reached the top of the ridge and started down the other side, Jesse hollered, “There he is
Pa.”

 

“If you’ve got a shot, take it boy.” Ben snapped excitedly.

 

Jesse brought his gun to his shoulder and fired off a round. The shot rang hollow and Ben knew that Jesse had missed him.

 

“Damn it boy, what the hell happened?”

 

“I don’t know
Pa.” Jesse replied; his head hanging.

 

Ben took to running even faster than before hoping not to let the bear get to far ahead of them. John was right on his heels, but Jesse just stood there and waited until they were out of site, then he turned and headed home.

 

The day passed and night fell. Ben stopped and said, “We’ll bed down here for the night.” Ben had spent more than one night in the woods hunkered down with his dogs to stay warm. John wanted to build a fire but Ben said it would run the bear to far away.

 

Next morning, well before daylight, Ben and John were up and running again. About two hours after the sun came up the trail had become so hot that Ben turned the dogs loose. The four dogs took off running and barking after the bear and Ben and John ran to keep in sight of them. As they topped the ridge, they saw that the dogs had treed the bear, and John was going to get first shot.

 

“Take careful aim boy, and squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it.” Ben instructed.

 

John brought his gun to his shoulder and fired. The bear had been hit and looked as though he was going to fall from the tree. Ben and John moved closer and could see that the bear was still alive.

 

“Take another shot boy.”

 

John took careful aim, fired again and this time the shot rang true and the bear fell.

 

“Good shot son.” Ben said proudly. “Your first hunt and you killed a bear.”

 

John was so excited that he couldn’t say anything. Once they had dressed the bear, they would drag it out of the woods to the closest road and Ben would walk, or hitchhike, to the house to get the pickup truck.

 

Once they had the animal out of the woods and loaded on the truck, they drove into town to show off John’s first bear kill. They put the bear up on top of the dog boxes in the back of the truck and John sat on the bears back; proud as could be. All the locale hunters who’d already come out of the woods, and all the old timers that could no longer hunt, were there. They patted John on the back and made over him like a hero. He was the youngest boy in the area to kill a bear since Ben killed his first, at the age of eight.

 

That year would be the last that the boys would hunt with their father: Ben was killed in a logging accident two weeks later. Jesse was bitter about the hunt where John got his bear, and John was relentless in his teasing of Jesse. The boys had become enemies, and though they hunted in the following years, they never hunted together.

 

Twenty years has passed, and Jesse and John are still bitter enemies. So much so, that any time they run into one another they fight. Each now has their own group they hunt with, and the method of bear hunting has changed drastically since they were children. They drive the fire roads through the mountains, and use CB radio’s to stay in touch with their respective group members. They have radio collars on their dogs so they know where the dogs are while they are running the bear. They have a platform on the front of the trucks where they chain the dogs. They ride the roads slowly until the dogs pick up a fresh sent then they turn the dogs loose for the chase. Once the dogs have the bear treed, they head out on foot to make the kill.

 

John and his group take any bear they think they can get away with. All John cares about these days is the kill and the bear’s gallbladder. They sell the gallbladders illegally for a hefty sum. Jesse and his group on the other hand hunt by the law and, with some respect for the animals.

 

Jesse and John try to stay away from one another while hunting, but one day last year during bear season, they were hunting when they met on a narrow road on

Piney
Mountain. Both groups were concentrating on the same bear. John got out of his truck and started walking toward Jesse.

 

“What the hell are you doing here Jesse?”

 

“This is a National forest John, and contrary to what may think, you don’t own it!”

 

“As far as you’re concerned I do,” replied John. “We hunt here all the time. Now, if I were you, I would turn around and get the hell out of here.”

 

“Go to hell John.”

 

John threw down his cigarette and ran toward Jesse. They fell to the ground fighting, and Jesse was getting the better of it when, John pulled his knife and stabbed him. Jesse tried to push John off of him but John kept stabbing him until Jesse was no longer moving. Frank Payne—Jesse’s best friend— was watching from Jesse’s truck and got on the radio, called for the game warden, and told him what had happened.

 

John was sentenced to life in prison for killing his brother, and was also convicted for killing animals for profit. He would be eighty-two years old before he would get out…that is if he ever got out.

 

D L Ennis

Copyright © 2003

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