I nodded, thinking the plan sounded simple. It was, until somebody got out of line. It wasn't me.
I did, and missed.
At the shot the bear dropped, wheeled and ran. I pumped the Ithaca, found the animal in the crosshairs and wrapped my finger around the trigger. Charlie grabbed the barrel: "Don't shoot! You'll hit a dog." I watched the bear run away, embarrassed at both my poor marksmanship and my hasty decision to try another shot.
We were supposed to fly home that day, a fact everyone reminded me of: "We'll miss our flight now" ... "Way to go, Scott" ... "Where'd you learn to shoot?"
Finding the bear again took hours. At one point we sped around a corner and slammed on the brakes-the road was full of horsemen.
"It's not dog season," one of them sniped.
"Trouble beaahh," groused Phil.
Finally the beeps stopped. We set off, and the baying of the hounds grew louder with every step.
The dogs howled and ran about beneath it, but the bear was 30 feet above the ground and wasn't going anywhere this time.
Phil grabbed my arm and led me uphill, level with the bear. It was huge, its coat thick and shiny-black. The handler pulled off the dogs, then Phil said, "Okay ... steady ... shoot 'im."
I shouldered the Ithaca and pulled the trigger. Boom! The bear rocked back on its haunches.
"Give 'im another," yelled Phil. I pumped and fired again. Boom! The boar slumped forward on the limb, its legs dangling on either side. "Again," yelled Phil. The last slug hit it in the side of the head. It hit the ground with a thud, and the dogs swarmed.
Phil slapped my back: "Ya dun it, boy."
Everyone surrounded me and shook my hand. In a daze, I smiled and accepted the congratulations. The boar taped 6 feet 6 inches. Phil figured it weighed 500 pounds. At the check station we learned no one had yet killed a bear that big in Maine in 1979. It was my 15th birthday.
As expected, we missed our flight and caught a plane the next day. In Arlington, Andy and I were greeted with some dismay by our mothers. Seems our prowess with wrist-rockets had landed us in a heap of trouble.
That spring at a friend's house the two of us purchased a bag of steel shot-rocks just weren't sufficient ammo anymore; we needed the ballistic accuracy that could only come from smooth, round steel balls. We decided to test the product on a school bus coming down the road. A couple of solid whacks suggested we'd hit our target.
Imagine our concern later when someone knocked on the door. "Holy smokes, guys, there's a cop out there."
Our friend fended off the police while Andy and I snuck out the bathroom window. The next day we learned we'd in fact hit a window on the bus, which also carried kids. Our friend did his best to tell the police that the shots had not come from his house, even though kids on the bus said they saw two people in his yard. We coaxed him into lying as long as he could, but while we were in Maine he gave us up-that's when the cops knocked on Andy's door. His mom answered.
"We're looking for Andy Titus and Scott Olmsted, ma'am. We understand Andy lives here."
"Yes, yes, he does," said Judy. "I'm his mother. He and Scott are best friends. But they're not here. They're in Maine hunting bears."
The cop must've figured we were hunting bears with wrist-rockets, because he muttered only two words in response: "Tough kids."
I called the man that week. "Scott, old buddy, how you doing?" Seemed like the same old Charlie, but his voice was faint. I went to see him. We filled in nine years' worth of life, then got to the point. Charlie said a doctor had missed the cancer for months. Said he'd endured hellish months of chemotherapy, but lately he'd felt pretty good. Then he played a voicemail from the oncologist: No sign of the scourge could be found in the latest scan. It was good news, but Charlie wasn't convinced he was out of the woods. He'll spend the rest of his life knowing the cancer might reappear.
The experience made me think of all the people who have shaped me.
From my father I got my first taste of the outdoors, my intellect and sense of humor, my love of people and a wanderlust that ensured I'd travel far but never forget my roots. My mother taught me humility and a respect for others, and she taught me to love. The Boy Scouts taught me honesty and self-sufficiency. In the Marines I developed discipline, leadership and perseverance. And I learned the craft of journalism from educators, mentors and peers. But I've bragged for 30 years thanks to one man. Thanks, Charlie. Thanks for taking a boy under your wing. Thanks for making sure I became a hunter.