Read CHAPTER XIII - THE SAFEST WAY OF “SHOOTING” A GRIZZLY. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

Meanwhile, how fared the ambitious big-horn hunters?

They had started out, filled with a determination to accomplish something, even if it took a couple of days. Indeed, the guide had said to Thad before leaving that none of them need worry if the party failed to show up at nightfall. The distances were so great, and the mountain climbing of such a stupendous character, that they might have to put in the better part of several days reaching the feeding grounds of the animals, and getting the coveted chance for a shot or two.

When noon came it found them climbing steadily. They were entirely out of sight of the valley where the camp lay, so that they could have no knowledge of what was happening in that quarter. But so set were the boys on what had taken them forth, that for the time being they felt perfectly satisfied to quite forget other matters.

“Talk about your wild country,” remarked Step Hen, when they all came to a little stop to eat a “snack,” and rest, so as to be ready for a further climb; “this sure takes the cake for me. Why, that poor little Blue Ridge country ain’t in it. You could put it all in a pocket, here, and it wouldn’t be missed.”

“Well,” remarked Smithy, who was bearing up under the strain in a manner that would have pleased the scoutmaster, could he have been along to notice it; “you want to be exceedingly careful how you say that before our hot-blooded Southern chum, Bob White, unless you’re ready to get into a war of words.”

“Oh! excuse me,” chuckled Step Hen, “I wouldn’t be guilty of hurting Bob’s pride even a little bit. I know he thinks that Land of the Sky country better than most other places. Well, it takes a lot of different people to make a world, don’t it, fellers?”

“That’s right, it does,” remarked Davy Jones, who had managed to snap off several pictures as they came along; but was trying to save most of his exposures for things that would count, live subjects, in fact.

“How much further do we have to climb, Toby?” asked Smithy, trying to appear rather indifferent about it, though the others just knew he must feel the strain more than any of them; because Smithy had never been much of an athlete, and up to date had yet to play in his first baseball game, strange to say.

“Wall, that depends on a good many things,” the guide responded. “Fust place, we don’t know as yet jest whar the sheep might be feedin’. I’m headin’ for a place whar I seen ’em more’n a few times, when I was prospectin’ through this kentry.”

“Oh! so you had a touch of the lost mine fever, too, did you?” quickly remarked Smithy; for up to the present time Toby had never so much as admitted this fact; but now he grinned and went on:

“Why, yes, I’ve taken my look, and had jest the same luck as all the rest what thought they could pick it up. But about them big horns, boys; if they don’t happen to be whar I’m headin’ fust, then we got to go another two hours. But chances are, we’ll find a flock in one of them places, an’ git a shot afore nightfall sets in.”

With this comforting thought, then, the little party once more started out, after an hour’s rest and refreshment. Smithy was doubtless feeling considerably better. He never complained, even while he limped sadly at times; and once came near losing his grip, when swinging across a bad place in the trail; so that he might even have fallen, only that the ready guide threw an arm around him, having been keeping conveniently near.

Smithy was proving one thing, at least; he might never turn out to be much of a hunter; but he surely possessed his father’s spirit, when it came to game qualities. And when he went back home, all the maiden aunts in creation would never be able to bring that boy back again to the docile habits that had marked him heretofore, thanks to woman training. Smithy had had a taste of real outdoors, and would never be satisfied again to live in that old “sissy” rut.

It was about an hour after the stop that, without warning, the little party suddenly came upon a monstrous grizzly bear, slowly making his way diagonally across the track they were following.

At sight of them the animal reared up on his hind quarters, and seemed to be trying to make up his mind whether he ought to attack these queer two-legged creatures, or go on about his own business.

Step Hen half raised his gun to his shoulder; but instantly the guide clapped a hand over the lock. There were no convenient trees in which they could take shelter from an enraged grizzly; and Toby Smathers knew too much about these animals to have any wish to find one rushing at them, wild with rage from a wound.

“Snap click!”

“Got him that time!” said a delighted voice.

Of course it was Davy Jones. He had swung that kodak of his around, calmly focussed on the grizzly as the animal reared himself up to a terrible height, and then pressed the button.

And perhaps after all that was the safest kind of “shooting,” when it came to a matter of grizzly bears. Even one of this ferocious species would hardly offer any serious objections to having his likeness preserved, for future generations to gaze upon.

“Keep still, all on you!” warned the guide, who was holding his own rifle in readiness for instant use, should the bear conclude to charge them. “We ain’t lost any Mountain Charleys to-day, as I knows on. Big horns is what we kim out after. Let him take hisself off, if he will, and a good riddance too, I says.”

Which the enormous beast finally concluded to do. Perhaps he had had his dinner, and was not feeling in a particularly aggressive mood. No matter what the cause, all of the boys heaved sighs of positive relief when he shuffled away, looking back over his shoulder several times.

“Just like he wanted half an excuse for getting his mad up,” explained Step Hen. “He had a chip on his shoulder, all right. And I guess I’m glad you didn’t let me start in on him, Toby. I might a missed knockin’ him over for keeps; and then what a nice pickle we’d all been in. Excuse me from tacklin’ a moving mountain like that, when trees are as scarce as hens’ teeth.”

“And I’m real glad, too, you didn’t fire,” admitted Smithy, who had turned somewhat white during the minute of dreadful suspense, while he stared at that monster squatted in their path. “I was ready to back you up; but then what could you expect from a greenhorn? I never wished so much that I’d taken to this sort of thing before, as I did when that fearful beast was looking at me, just as if to say, ’you’re the tenderest of the lot, Smithy, and I think I’ll choose you, if I have room for any more inside me.’”

The other boys laughed at his words; but on the whole they thought Smithy had carried himself rather creditably, all things considered. And each knew, deep down in his secret soul, that his own heart had seemed to stand still; while his blood ran cold, as he stood there, awaiting the decision of the bear.

They glanced around rather fearfully for some little time after that; but as nothing was seen again of the mountain terror, they finally concluded that the incident was closed.

Again their thoughts went out toward the singular game they had come after. Many an ambitious hunter had sought to shoot a big-horn sheep in the Rockies, day after day, and was compelled to give it up in the end as useless, so Toby had informed them. The conditions were generally very difficult, and the game so shy. Besides, their sense of impending danger seemed to be abnormally developed; and on account of the rocky formation of the slopes where they found bunches of grass in the crevices, it was often next to impossible to stalk them from leeward.

This being the case the tired boys were thrilled to the core when Toby finally announced that he had had a glimpse of the game. Of course they became wildly excited, and demanded that he show them. Creeping carefully up to a certain outcropping rock, they peered around its edge. And for the first time in their lives Davy, Step Hen and Smithy found themselves looking upon the queer animals that seem to live in the wildest parts of the Rockies, taking delight in bounding from crag to crag, and baffling the skill of the most experienced chamois hunters to get within gun-shot of their lofty eyries.

There were seven or eight of the sheep, and as they were really just within gun range the boys could get a splendid view of them. They admired the tremendous curved horns greatly, and Step Hen quivered with eagerness to say that he had shot a Rocky Mountain sheep all by himself; while Davy clicked his camera several times, so that he at least might have a picture, in case they could get no nearer.

“I can’t be sure of even hitting one from here,” whispered Step Hen, turning appealingly to the guide. “Ain’t it possible to creep up closer, Toby? Oh! please fix it for us, won’t you?” just as though the guide had it in his power to do anything they wanted.

But fortunately the lay of the mountain allowed Toby to arrange it; and he soon mapped out a route that they might crawl along, keeping well hidden from the feeding sheep, and getting gradually closer.

Besides, it happened that luck was working overtime in their favor; because the animals happened to be feeding toward them. Now only two or three could be seen, nibbling at the tufts of grass, or leaping across some small fissure that tried to block them from other tempting pastures; and then again the whole seven would be in sight at the same moment.

After advancing slowly and carefully for some time Toby made motions that they dare not go any further. He also let them know by signs that, as the sheep were still coming in a line toward them, all they had to do was to lie quiet, and wait until the right moment.

That was a period of great excitement to the scouts, two of them clutching their guns in hands that would tremble in spite of them; while the third was trying to find the best spot to hold his kodak, with a view of snapping off a picture just before the critical second came for shooting.

Step Hen and Smithy had even gone so far as to select which of the seven sheep they hoped to get; and as they lay there, peeping out from their rocky shelter, it can be taken for granted that each of them had eyes for his particular quarry only.

And then finally Toby touched the shoulder of the kodak owner, as a signal that he had better be getting to work.