I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.
I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.
They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.
Watching For What Comes
My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.
We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hay-field below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North.
To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hay fields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.
Without Winter, No Spring
We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.
At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our bird bath, and I wave and say hello.
Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.
Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.
The elk is perhaps the most enduring symbol of the high country of the American West. These 20 postcards, selected by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, feature breathtaking photographic portraits of elk in the vibrant natural habitats that sustain them.
It is that special time of year again, and for many of us it can never come quite soon enough. The promise of a weather change hangs suspended in the air and the hunting season – our season – is just around the corner. For some lucky soul’s it has already begun.
It’s time to oil up that favorite rifle and send a few well-placed bullets down range. Of course, people of our persuasion rarely need an excuse to do a little target shooting, and there’s never really a bad time to brush up on the exacting skills of fine marksmanship. Besides, it is also a constructive way to get some sun on the face and some fresh air for the lungs, and it delivers a lot of bang for the buck in the fun department too.
Yet there is a most serious side to our right to own firearms, and it becomes more and more obvious every day. There are those around us who obsessively scheme to take our guns away, and they constantly pick at the edges of The Constitution and The Bill of Rights like a rabies-crazed vulture. They are a constant reminder to the fact that like any critical muscle in the body, a right must be exercised to remain toned and ready.
Let us never forget that it is an inalienable right of all free citizens of the United States to keep and bear arms, for the simple reason that we can. We earned it, or at least some of our ancestors did. My father shed blood for it – for me, and for us all. Perhaps you, or someone else in your family did too.
It is the quintessential sobering thought. This reality means that it is not always just about hunting or shooting, for to hold a gun in the hand is a great responsibility. When in doubt just recall the images of the founding fathers, who were more than happy to record their opinions on the matter under threat of quick arrest and certain death. Their foundational actions have always held the obvious solutions for times like these.
I, for one, do not take their words lightly, and they continue to ring loudly with ultimate truth and inexorable consequences. How could anyone disregard the forewarnings of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, or the thousands and thousands of patriots who laid down their one and only life for the life of liberty?
They also fought with unending fervor for the rights of those who simply wish to touch off a few harmless rounds in the privacy of their own backyards.
I sometimes think about these things with each tightening pull of the trigger, as well I should.
In the realm of what really matters it is an easy choice.
“Stand up and be counted”, leaves no doubt. Standing is the most important part, as my father used to say.
“Aim small, miss small”, I say, and pass the ammunition!
It’s time to get a little hunting in too.
“To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike especially when young, how to use them.” (Richard Henry Lee, 1788, Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights, Walter Bennett, ed., Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican, at 21,22,124 (Univ. of Alabama Press,1975)..)
“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . the very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that is good” – George Washington
“I must wonder – just exactly what do you not understand about the meaning of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed?” – Michael Patrick McCarty
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But the bear kept coming closer and closer. The bear got so close that Bella Twin thought it less risky to shoot the bear than to not shoot it. It was probably only a few yards away. Some accounts say 30 feet. Perhaps she saw it stop and start to sniff, as if it had caught their scent. We may never know.
She shot at the side of the bears head. Knowing animal anatomy very well (she was an experienced trapper, and had skinned hundreds, perhaps thousands of animals) she knew exactly where to aim to penetrate the skull at its weakest point.
She shot, the bear dropped. It was huge.She went to the bear and fired the rest of the .22 long cartridges that she had, loading the single shot rifle repeatedly, to “pay the insurance” as Peter Hathaway Capstick said. She made sure the bear was dead, and not just stunned. My father taught me the same lesson when I was 13.
Here is a picture of the bear’s skull and the .22 caliber holes in the left side.
For those curious about how to place that shot on a live bear, the place to aim is half way on a line from the center of the eye to the ear hole.
From the front, you would aim directly up the nose. If the bear’s mouth is open, aim for the back of the roof of the mouth. Aiming above the nose will likely miss the brain.
What rifle did Bella use to shoot the world record grizzly in 1953?
I wrote an article asking for help in 2014. Several alert readers replied over the intervening period. Because of their efforts, and the Internets, I have been able to find more detail about Bella Twin, her rifle, and the event. One reader was able to track down the current location of the rifle and send me pictures taken by the curator of the museum. The rifle is a Cooey Ace 1 single shot .22 rimfire.
Bella Twin used the rifle for many years on her trapline. The rifle was produced between 1929 and 1934. From a commenter at Ammoland:
Here is a quote from the curator of the museum about the gun when i talked to him via email:
” I can tell you that the rifle is a .22 caliber single shot Cooey Ace 1. I can also tell you that the rifle’s condition, which has remained as it was when Bella Twin shot the bear, leaves a lot to be desired. There is corrosion on the receiver and barrel, the front screw that holds the stock to the barrel is missing and has been replaced with hockey tape. There is a piece of rubber under the barrel – probably as a method of “free floating” the barrel. There is no finish left on the wood. The stock is missing a part by the receiver and there is a wood screw reinforcing a crack in the stock.”
Bella Twin was a Cree woman. She had a reputation for being a deadly shot. Her grandson, Larry Loyie became an award winning writer. He wrote a fictionalized account of the bear shooting to include his grandmother in his prize winning children’s book, As Long as the Rivers Flow. From smokyriverexspress.com:
Kokom Bella Twin is a highlight of the adventures in As Long as the Rivers Flow. The tiny 63-year-old Cree wo- man, who lived on Rabbit Hill overlooking Slave Lake, shot the biggest grizzly bear in North America.
“I had to put Bella into the book. She was being forgotten. The only people who remembered her were readers of hunting magazines,” said Larry.
In As Long as the Rivers Flow, Larry wrote that he was with his grandmother when she shot the bear. It made sense to put the story into the book, but Larry was not with his grandmother when she shot the bear. In 1953, Larry had been gone from Slave Lake for five years. I suspect his grandfather, Edward Twin, had died. Bella was 63 and was spending time with another man. Larry refers to Dave Auger as Bella’s partner in a family picture. Dave Auger was with Bella when she shot the bear.
Bella Twin and her partner Dave Auger, family photo by Larry Loyie. The photo was likely taken in the 1960’s or later, because it is in color.
In Bruno Engler: Photography, the famous photographer has pictures of Bella in front of the bear skin. When Bruno told her that he wanted to take the picture, she insisted on going home and sprucing up, and changing into nicer clothes. Engler writes:
She was dressed very simply. When she thought I was going to take a picture of her she said “No, I have to go home first.” And she came back with a dress and put some cornstarch on her face for makeup. I said “Bella Twin, you looked much better before.”
Women want to look their best in a photograph that will be shown to the world. This explains the somewhat awkward grip on the Cooey Ace 1 in the Engler photograph. Her left hand covers up the repair to the rifle.
What ammunition did Bella Twin use? The written accounts say .22 Long.
This style of box was produced by CIL in Canada from 1950 to 1956. It is probably the type of ammunition Bella Twin used to shoot the world record grizzly. Bella Twin is specifically recorded as reporting that she shot it with .22 Longs, not Shorts, not Long Rifles. I recall that into the 1960’s Longs were more expensive than shorts, but cheaper than Long Rifle ammunition.
The High Velocity .22 Long dates back to the 1930’s and uses a 29 grain bullet at 1240 fps. The High Velocity .22 Short dates to about the same period, with the same bullet as the Long, but a velocity of 1125. The difference in velocity is 1240 – 1125 or 115 fps. That amounts to a 21% increase in energy for the Long, but far short of the Long Rifle, which is almost double that of the .22 Short.
The energy figures are listed as Short 81 foot pounds, Long 99 foot pounds, and Long Rifle 158 foot pounds, all for High Velocity loads of the period. A standard velocity .22 Long Rifle is listed at 1140 fps, with 120 foot pounds of energy, or 21% more than the High Velocity Long. The modern CCI standard velocity .22 Long Rifle travels at 1070 fps, with 102 foot pounds of energy, still 3% more than the High Velocity Long.
What was the location where the bear was shot? During my research, I came across a photo of the right side of the bear’s skull. The right side has the location where the bear was shot written on it. The bear was shot in Section 24, Township 71, Range 6, W 5th Meridian. That is a section of land about 7 1/2 miles south of Slave Lake. The bear was likely shot just west of Florida Lake. A section is one mile square.
In Larry Loyie’s obituary in the Smoky River Express, Bella Twin is described as a tiny woman. This photograph suggest that she was under five feet tall.
We know the date the bear was shot, because it is recorded on the top of the skull. Most written accounts only say it was the spring of 1953. It was on May 10th of that year.
Bella Twin was only a name for most of the time I knew of her. I wondered about this famous huntress for many years. Now we know that she was an expert trapper, hunter, and a crack shot. She was a beloved grandmother who taught her grandchildren well and knew the Cree traditional folkways. She lost one man and found another. She was shrewd enough to parlay the world record grizzly into cash. She sold the skin and skull separately, and sold the old, beat up rifle as well.
Bella Twin, I salute you. I would have liked to know you. Born in the Canadian wilderness in 1890, your life stretched between worlds.
May your memory and deeds live long, told around many campfires. I will tell my grandchildren about you.
Readers who know more about Bella Twin, please share your stories.
For Some Information On Another Previous World Record Grizzly, Read Our Post About Grancel Fitz.
I might also add that Mr. Fitz’s beloved .30-06 now looks like a Howitzer compared to Bella’s .22 rimfire. It’s all about perspective, I suppose…particularly when pointing whatever you have at something as bad as a bear…
We have found the most experienced guides in the business and asked them how they hunt for brown bears and grizzlies. These guides have been on hundreds of hunts and have seen all kinds of hunters, rifles, and calibers for their particular quarry, and they pass on their experience and knowledge to the reader in this extremely interesting book. If you want a brown or grizzly bear, you are well advised to listen to what they say. Combined, these guides have over three hundred years of accumulated guiding experience!
Recently, scientists have been stunned to discover what is most likely a new species of venomous, giant tarantula in a remote corner of northern Sri Lanka. It has caused quite a buzz.
Apparently, this gentleman is not slow and lumbering like most others of its kind, but lightning fast and extremely potent. It belongs to the genus of “tiger spiders”, and prefers to dwell in the trees and branches of old growth forests. It is distinctly colored and as wide as a person’s head. A quick tap from one of these guy’s is generally a “medically significant” event, at best.
It is rare to find such an imposing creature at the edges of our probing awareness, yet they were crawling about the canopy all along. It is thought that they have been on the move and hence more visible as they have become increasingly disturbed and displaced due to habitat loss. It must be quite unsettling to walk through such a forest, knowing what lies above.
Similarly agitated, American gun owners have been shaken from their drugged-up stupor of denial, only to find a small army of government agents and enemy sympathizers eagerly marching to take their weapons. It is not a dream, and the approaching forces of gun grabbers will not melt back into obscurity without a fight.
New animal species are discovered all the time. Tyrants and the enablers of authority, on the other hand, are nothing new. They have been lurking around since the beginnings of mankind, always watching and waiting and dying to strike. The venom drips ominously from their fangs, and they can feel the death-blow coming.
Well, not so fast, I say to those so eager to disarm us. Do not mistake our measured restraint for weakness, for our patience is wearing thin at the edges.
We pray that you will come to your senses and cease your diabolical advance, though we know that you can no more change your course than a leopard can change its spots.
Have no doubts that we see you quite clearly now, as your intentions are plainly obvious and no longer hidden in the shadows. We have felt you coming for centuries, and we are much more prepared than you know. If it is battle that you truly want, then you shall have it
I, like many, are terrified of even the tiniest of spiders. I know that my disproportionate fear of them is largely ungrounded, but that does not put down my overwhelming urge to panic and run at every sighting. You might think that an encounter with such an elegant horror as a giant tarantula would leave me paralyzed and huddled on the floor.
But not today.
Today I am God’s own tarantula tree, immovable and as resolute as any mountain.
Infringe upon my inalienable right to keep and bear arms, and you will conjure up an entirely different beast. I am an elemental force to be reckoned with, as are others so compelled to stand behind a line drawn so simply, yet so boldly, in the sand.
It is time to rip the suffocating arms of tyranny from our upturned faces. The hour is late. We must hold off the hovering monsters from the dark realms, and beat them back to the slithering viper pits and vaporous jungles from which they came.
Give me liberty or give me death, and give me a handgun to reach out and touch those who wish to offer me the latter.
Like our friend the tarantula, we can deliver a most powerful wallop when provoked.
“Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns, and I am here to tell you 1776 will come again if you try and take our firearms…”
Alex Jones, from the now legendary debate with Piers Morgan (which lead to his departure at CNN, by the way).
See the clip of the full debate below:
I would also be quick to add – Socialism wants your guns, World Government (like Australia) wants your guns, Diane Feinstein wants your guns, Bernie Sanders wants your guns…Hillary Clinton wants your guns…
Hunting, fishing, and other kinds of outdoor fun may have little in common with a bottle of aspirin, but not from my somewhat jaded point of view. A rugged outdoor lifestyle can leave some marks, and at this point in my sporting life I can barely imagine one without the other. It is a small price to pay for a lifetime of wild rewards.
Perhaps I have more nagging and bothersome pains than most, but then again, perhaps not. I just know that I have some issues and several points of contention with my otherwise healthy body, like a little toe that likes to remind me at every step that it is not so happy on a steep uphill grade. Or a neck and lower back that tend to tighten, burn, and throb after a short hike with any kind of weight in my pack.
We all have them, those little nicks and troubles. We nurse them along and suffer through the pain and inconvenience of it all. Making the best of it is the outdoor way, but what do you do when diet and exercise or body treatments haven’t helped?
Call me trite or unimaginative, but I choose painkillers. Nothing too strong of course, just a couple of small white pills…the breakfast of champions… a little marine candy…, and more coffee, always coffee, if I can get it.
The problem is I tend to forget it more often than not, a sure sign that many of my springs’ have already sprung which is one of the reasons that I needed the aspirin in the first place. I usually realize that I forgot it when I am far enough from the truck for my body to finally remind me that I can’t be without it, while at the same time being too far from it to endure the pain to go back and get it. Or something like that.
This can lead to a long, uncomfortable day in the field, wincing at every step while promising my burning brain to never ever ever forget such a small but crucial little item again…until next time that is.
Some things in life are simply not fair, and rarely do they change.
So, if you are like me, take heart. The remedy may be right under your nose, where is exactly where you will want to put it…and it’s called “Willow”.
A Journal of Wild Game, Fighting Fish, and Grand Pursuit