The morning came a lot quicker than I expected. It was pitch black in my shack of a room due to its lack of windows. I listened for the sounds of morning, trying to determine the time. I guessed around 8:00 and checked my watch. 9:00 A.M.;fuck. Flipping the lamp on, I rolled out of bed and quickly got dressed. I knew all the old men would give me shit for sleeping in so late, but honestly, it was kind of my vacation, so who cares? I did the quick keys, wallet, watch check, grabbed my coffee cup, and headed out the cabin. I saw smoke rising from the Bar Cabin and figured that was a good guess to look for everyone. Laurel, Buford, and Logan all sat around the wood-burning stove, coffee cups in hand and laughing at a joke I obviously interrupted. "Well, look at who decided to finally get up," Laurel said, still laughing. I smiled and nodded, "I always did hate getting up early." “I can see that. I bet your Drill Sergeants hated your ass". Laurel wasn't wrong; I was not a fan favorite, but for completely different reasons. I went to the 30-year-old drip pot and poured a cup of some of the darkest and strongest coffee I’ve ever had. It reminded me of my grandfathers, who would dump half a can of grounds into a 12-cup pot. I sat in an empty chair and listened to the old men go on about what old men go on about. I enjoyed it, it felt like a formality, I quickly learned that this was a daily tradition for the two. Every morning for God knows how long, they both come in here around 7:00 A.M., make a pot of coffee, and just chat. I hoped to have traditions like that one day, but at the moment, I was lucky if I knew where I was going to be next week. So it goes, I guess. You can't rush the final act of life.
"You were in Afghanistan, weren't yah Buck?" Laurel's question brought me out of my train of thought. "Yes sir, I was. I was an Infantryman for almost ten years". "So, what do you think of that whole evacuation ordeal”? It was something that a lot of Afghanistan veterans had a strong opinion on. My family had asked me questions on the subject for about a week. I usually would be very short and give little to no response because they wouldn't understand where my thoughts were coming from. Yet Laurel was a Vietnam veteran, and from my time spent at the VFW, I knew that we shared more with them than any other generation. "Honestly? I don't give a rat's ass about 99 percent of that country. We spent almost 20 years there. Where did it get us? 176,000 people dead and nothing really accomplished. When I was there, I felt like everyone was against us. The ANP and ANA shot at us almost as much as the Taliban. Terps were mostly corrupt, taking our money and calling their cousins with the same hand. Of course, we had some real jam-up ones, but honestly, how much can you trust a dude who turns on his own people? I realized then that we were the invading force, and by the time I got involved in the war, we were far beyond what we started there for. Why the fuck did Americans have to go out and die while Afghans sat in compounds sleeping, we fought for their country in the name of freedom and oppression but took all the cost. Sharing all the loss with people who only gave a shit about things they were told to care about. Just for thousands of fighting age males to try and get out of dodge at the last second, and we are supposed to take them with open arms? No, in my opinion, which I realize is pretty controversial, every fighting-age male should have picked up a gun and fought where we left off if they really cared about the well-being of their country. But they didn't, so why should I care? Yes, the human rights violations are grossly abundant, but we did our part. So now I only care about the Americans that paid the price. That might make me wrong, I realize, but honestly, I don't give a shit. I’m just fucking angry. Angry that it was all for nothing." I finished my rant, sipped my coffee, then stared at the floor. The room was quiet, and I felt the eyes burning on me. "That is exactly how I felt." Laurel’s response shocked and brought my gaze up to meet his. "I was there in 1969, and I remember our helicopters flying over battalions of South Vietnamese soldiers while we went out to fight with Companies of our guys. We would get hit pretty bad and fly back to base over the same troops doing nothing. It didn't seem fair to me. Then you would have to worry if your terp was really on your side the whole time. It seemed like every other week, one was going missing, or he would defect. When the last chopper left Saigon, I knew it was all for nothing. But what can you do? Dwell on it the rest of your life? No, I just made sure to honor the ones that never made it back and forget about that country. Which is half the reason I built this place. It's simple up here. Honestly, now I kind of respect the NVA. At least they had the balls to fight. Says a lot for a man who is poorly equipped and hungry to take up arms against the most powerful army in the world. A warrior is a warrior, and rats get fat while good men die". The room stayed quiet. A lot could be said about the two conflicts, he and I were no experts in either, but our opinions hold truth. I thought about how many others may have felt the same way at one point or another. "Well, I guess y'all-boys better go on and get ready to go back out. I have a good feeling about y’all getting a bear today." Laurel stood up, stretched his back, and made his way to the door. "I'm glad we had this conversation, Buck.” I stood up and shook his hand. "Me too, sir." He walked out the door, and I went back to sit beside my buddy. "That is the most I have ever heard him talk about Vietnam," Logan said to me, and I believed him. It's hard to sum up two very complicated conflicts in a conversation over coffee, but I felt like we both needed that in some way.
It was around noon when we packed out for our second day of hunting. Our plan was to take a longer route to the ridgeline in an attempt to stir the bears up with our intrusion. Maybe get them up searching for food a little earlier and also help us identify some other game trails along the hike. It also could give us a little bit more time to set up for the evening. I felt electricity in the pit of my stomach. It’s the same feeling I get right before I turn my cards over on a sure thing. Lucky. Even though I wasn’t going to be the one pulling the trigger today, a win for my partner would be a win for me. Hell, just being here was good enough. You could say I was invested in this event, tuned tight, and wired for the event. Every print, trail, or crackle of leaves I was aware of. All senses fired up, it felt primal, but I knew it wasn't. I was carrying a bolt gun and walking pre-known trails on land that people had been hunting on for generations. Still, the mind likes to infatuate at moments like these, which makes it feel more exciting than it was. I mean, it still very much was a bear hunt, which is cool. About halfway through the trek, we came across a small green shed. "That must be Buford’s stand.”, Logan whispered back to me. Buford had told us he had a stand out here and that bears hated the damn thing, always trying to tear it apart. Like they knew or something. As I crept behind Logan, the reality of what we were doing set in. All over the front of the shack were deep claw marks. Not just one set, but multiple varying in size and length. The corners of the cabin where the plywood meets were torn apart at the base. It looked as if it had been sealed and broken many times, and around the latch of the door were nails facing out in no particular pattern at all. "It's to keep the bears out. They know how to work the latch and will rip the thing to shreds inside". The chance of getting killed by a Black Bear is very slim. Of the last 20 years, only 25 people have been killed by the North American Black Bear. It was low, but not zero. A healthy respect is needed when doing these types of things. This stand was a reminder of that.
We got to the overlook around 2:00 P.M. The hike had left me a little winded, so as soon as we were fully set up, I downed a whole bottle of water. "Thirsty”? "Hungover", I replied, panting and still swallowing parts of the drink. Thank God it wasn't hot, or this would have been much worse. The hours went on much quicker that day. We sat quietly, exchanging whispers of bad jokes and pinches of tobacco. Before I knew it, the sun was starting to come down. A flock of some kind of pheasants came in with a loud flutter, picking and eating away at the fruit. I watched them through my scope, counting them to occupy my mind, "1...2...3...4...5". By the time I was done, I had counted around 30 of the little bastards. "Do they just fly around all day and save this for their end-of-day course?" I said mostly to myself because how would anyone fucking know that? As soon as the thought left my head, the birds simultaneously shot up in the sky with a sound similar to scared pigeons. Logan tapped my leg in quick succession, his eyes huge. I shifted my rifle to where the beginning of the game trail for the apple trees was, and there he stood. Looking like a very large dog and moving surprisingly quiet was a maybe 2-3-year-old bear. "Holy shit, this is it." my brain repeated. I took a breath and waited. Our original plan was that if Logan shot and missed, I would be in charge of ensuring the bear didn't get away, so I trained my crosshairs on the Bear and waited for Logan to take the shot. I made a quick glance at him and nodded my head, letting him know I was ready. I knew he was going to wait till it was completely off the trail, so we had probably about 20 seconds to take the perfect shot. I heard his safety click, and the world around me drew to complete silence. For a second, I smelled the mud of the wadis in Kunduz; then the shot rang out. It impacted high on the shoulder blade, and the Bear took off down into the draw towards the stream. Logan quickly cycled the rifle and fired another shot, impacting this time in its hip. I knew that would stop the Bear because I had seen wounds like that before. It flipped forward onto its back as if being stopped at full momentum. When it hit the ground, it bit at the air wildly, trying to find the source of its pain and how to make it stop. Through my scope, I watched till it stopped moving. It had been years since I had watched anything die. It felt odd, and at the same time, it felt like nothing. After all, it was just an animal, but still, it left a taste of pennies in my mouth. Logan slapped me on the back, "HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE THAT"! It brought me back to reality, to the now, the woods grew back, and my senses returned. "That was an amazing shot brother, for real man, that was awesome." I smacked a smile on my face and jumped up. "Holy shit man, that was intense." "Oh yeah man. Congratulations, really, I knew we would get one today." "You’re next brother, now let's go drag this fucker out the bushes." Logan grabbed his bag and threw it on quickly, very obviously amped from this experience, which he should be. It was not every day you successfully hunt a bear, and it really was a hell of a shot. I just felt…indifferent. Logan headed down the trail in a quick step. I grabbed my pack off the ground, took a look down at the Bear, and followed him.
William Bolyard is a self-proclaimed “half-decent writer and full-time Dirtbag”. He enjoys drinking, gambling, rock climbing,hunting and about anything that involves a board. He has published one book titled, Sober Man’s Thought's. In his spare time he tries to keep Dirtbag Magazine afloat, which has turned into a full time job. Mostly because he owns it.