By Dr. Harold C. Lyon, Jr.
As the chill of darkness began to close over the frigid North Country, an eerie howl echoed from the mountain top to our west. Seconds later from the north somewhere high on another mountain, another coyote answered with a mournful wail, “I’m here!” Then a third from the valley, not too far from us “I’m here too!” And then, reassuring his kin, a series of yelps and cries echo from behind us, “We’re not alone!” And another assuring social connection from these survivors, “Winter is coming! Hunt now!” And in the recesses of my mind, a primal urge to answer came forth… but I censored it, “We’re hunting too!” Winter’s coming and harder, cruel times for all the survivors in the mountains, both hunter and hunted. I had heard recently from my son, Gregg, a marine just back from Afghanistan, that on the border, some Afghans also howl from their roof tops as a primitive, traditionally way to communicate with relatives on the other side of the borders.
There is something magical about the aroma of fall in the north woods – thick moss, ferns, fir and smells, rotting leaves and balsams. It is primeval. I inhaled deep breaths of it, elated to be back out hunting in the north country wilderness.
We were hunting bear from a double ladder tree stand on a mountain-side behind Wentworth Location, New Hampshire, as far north as one can travel without crossing into Maine or Canada. Jason Parent, a local man -- the best guide I know in the New Hampshire north woods -- had placed my old friend, Tuan, age 87, and I in this stand, hoping a bear would come to him that first night of the September season. Two black shapes had disappeared into the trees as we quietly approached our stand. Jason whispered, “If they got a taste…and they did, they may weaken and come right back!” According to Jason, bears can smell molasses a mile downwind…as well as they can smell us. Whoever says hunting bears over bait is easy probably hasn’t done much of it. Bears are the most sensitive and instructive creatures in the forest. They can tiptoe in on their padded feet silently.
One of the challenges of stand hunting over bait is getting into the stand early enough for your scent to dissipate. Prime time is usually the last half hour of daylight when a wise older male may make his visit, if not after dark. At 87, I wondered if this might be one of Tuan’s last hunts. I also contemplated my own age, wondering to myself if in 15 years, when I reach his age if I’d be as spry as he is. He had some difficulty getting to the stand through deadfall and I worried about his heavy wheezing as he climbed the ladder. He needed some help loading his rifle and after a short cat-nap, Tuan was alert and “ready for bear.”
When the bear came, it was higher up on the mountain. The first shot echoed out across the valley to us, just before dark, a minute after the coyotes howled. 30 seconds-- another shot. “Good sign! Killing shot,” I thought. When I hear two shots, one right after the other, I usually find it’s a miss. This had to be Tuan’s son, who Jason had placed up the mountain much higher than Taun could negotiate. It is always more exciting when one of my sons succeeds in our hunter-gather-role than when I do myself. “Passing it on” in hunting and angling is a primitive urge. I wondered if the coyotes would also go to the sound of the gun. Cunning…but maybe not that smart. I was cheered by what sounded like success. I gripped the hand of Tuan in warm fellowship and his eyes sparkled with memories of outdoor times we had shared.
In 1975, while working in the government, I visited an up-scale Viet Namese restaurant in Georgetown and the maitre’d, Ky, engaged me in a conversation which was to lead his father, Tuan, and me together as close friends for the past 36 years. Tuan, his son explained, had been a famous hunter back in his home country, being summoned to hunt man-eating tigers when a village was threatened by one. Tuan would tie a cow to a bridge on a moon-lit night, and sit out on the bridge waiting for the man-eater to make his kill, always watching for the stealthy cat over his shoulder. His prosperous business in Viet Nam had been about helping the American armed forces build bridges and roads. When Saigon fell, though he had been given plane tickets back to the US for his wife and 5 of his 15 children, the plane had left the airport early already over-loaded with desperate evacuees. Tuan’s wife, as is the custom in Viet Nam, handled the finances and she insisted on taking a special triple –locked trunk in addition to Tuan’s hunting weapons, all locked in another trunk. They drove from the airport to the harbor where Tuan successfully commandeered a boat which pulled out of the harbor just as the North Vietnamese rolled into Saigon. A Navy destroyer had picked them up from their modest boat and once on-board, the Navy had found and thrown over-board the prized hunting rifles in Tuan’s trunk, but somehow neglected his wife’s trunk, being distracted by Tuan’s cache of weapons. They were debarked in Guam and then sent to a refugee camp in Pennsylvania where they finally broke into his wife’s trunk which had small fortune in gold and greenbacks, for which she had wisely exchanged her Viet Namese currency. This became their stake in a home in Northern Virginia and restaurant in Georgetown.
I was invited back to the restaurant a week after meeting Tuan’s son for a dinner with the old man himself. Tuan, a delightfully animated 60-something man who spoke no English, was very excited about meeting an American hunter who could show him the ropes. Within a week, after helping him get a license and a new shotgun, he was in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a goose pit with me, knocking Canadians out of the sky – even before I could get my safety off! This guy was an incredible wing shooter! We hunted waterfowl and deer together, and unlike in Viet Nam, he learned that we had strange game laws he had to obey. He became my frequent hunting companion, sharing many outdoor adventures together. Often he’d bring delicious Viet Namese concoctions his wife would prepare, and while in the blind, he’d crank up a portable stove and steam up a bunch of delicately filled-noodles and some rejuvenating Viet Namese beef & rice-stick soup which would stimulate our pallets and brighten our days.
After knowing him for some years he called me one day to tell me in solemn tones, that he needed a bear gall bladder. He explained that most of his sons were still back in Viet Nam, though he had 5 daughters and one son with him here in the U.S., all of whom worked hard with his wife 7 days a week keeping the restaurant going. He wanted another son. His wife, at 46 was already entering menopause and he hoped that the gall bladder of a bear would enable her and him to have another child – a son, he hoped. Though I am skeptical at such homeopathic cures, I do know the power of the mind over the body and a strong belief in something – be it a cure or an athletic endeavor – can be a strong placebo! I managed to bring a bear gall bladder back from a Maine bear hunt and gave it to Tuan. He baked it in the oven for two days, put the powder in some brandy and he and his wife both drank it. 3 months later he called excitedly to tell me that his wife was pregnant! I was amazed and wondered, again, at the power of a placebo. Six months later in November Tuan’s wife had a beautiful baby – a healthy girl they named Susan. The gall bladder had apparently worked, even if producing a new daughter instead of a son. Susan is now 22, a straight A student, and working toward medical school.
Tuan’s phone call to me in New Hampshire in the summer of 2006 was another desperate cry for help. He needed another bear gall-bladder. One of his older daughters, living in Florida was dying of cancer. They believed a bear gall bladder was her only hope.
There is a disturbing black market on such organs with bears being shot out of season, the gall bladders being used mostly by Asians for various medical practices including as aphrodisiacs. In China living bears suffer torturous existences by involuntarily having their gall extracted through tubes inserted into their gall bladders in farms marketing this precious elixir world-wide. But ours was to be a legal hunt with the gall bladder being its principal trophy.
I called a successful hunting guide friend, Jason Parent, and he made all the arrangements including a warm sleeping cottage on his father, David Parent’s, land in Wentworth Location, New Hampshire. (Jason is one of the 15 Master Anglers featured in my book, Angling in the Smile of the Great Spirit - www.deepwaterspress.com)
[See side bar for David Parent’s cabins, general store, and butcher shop and Jason’s guiding business]
Jason had successfully guided my two sons, Eric and Gregg, the fall of 2005 for our first moose hunt. I had finally gotten the luck of the draw in the New Hampshire moose lottery, after applying for 12 unsuccessful years! My marine son, Gregg, fresh back from his 3rd tour in Iraq, was my “sub-permittee” and my other son, Eric, was the cameraman. Both had flown up from Virginia. Though it was a nine-day season, I was determined to shoot the moose during the first two rainy days when my boys could be with me. I didn’t want to face the challenge of getting a moose out of the north woods alone after my boys had left. Most of all, I wanted it to be one of those special shared “father-sons” adventures. Thanks to Jason and his father, we were able to shoot our moose the second evening. And with an incredible teamwork effort by the parent brothers and their father, we were able to get our moose out of a swamp and back to civilization before my boys left. David Parent gave me post-graduate moose butchering lessons! Jason has had 100% success in his moose guiding the past years and also had 100% on bear in 2005. So the “Parent Team” was an easy choice for the bear hunt. I did an Internet search on gall bladders to insure I’d not waste it in the field-dressing process. It’s a small oval organ hanging there just under the backside of one half of the liver – easy enough to find.
A few minutes after the shot, as if another reassurance to the pack, another coyote howled from the mountain top. I wondered if the “coy dogs” would find the bear, if wounded, before Tuan’s son. It was now too dark to shoot and I began the process of helping Tuan out of the tree stand, one step at a time, lowering our now unloaded weapons first on cords. I thought to my self, if I can do as well as my old friend when I’m 87, I’d be happy!
By the time we made it in the dark to the logging trail, we heard Jason coming with his 4-wheeler and he took us on-board for a ride up the mountain. Half-way up, we saw a light to our left. Tuan Jr. was still looking for the bear in the dark, a dangerous process if the shot was not a killing one. We joined him at his stand and he went back up to find his bearings. Looking in the direction he pointed, we discovered a clear blood trail angling up through the forest. 100 yards farther there he was, a prime young black bruin – dropped with a lucky shot through the neck which had broken a vertebrae. I gave the noble animal a traditional ceremonial “last bite”, or “Lezte Bitzen” by inserting a sprig of fir tree in his mouth. As a young hunter in Germany I learned this way to honor and thank a big game animal you have bagged. My father was stationed there where I passed my 5-hour hunting license exam in 1952, the first year that the “occupational forces” were required to be licensed in Germany. This honor is not unlike our own Native American customs, which I learned from my Tlingit brethren in Yakutat, Alaska. After field-dressing the bear, carefully extracting our real trophy for this hunt, the precious gall bladder, we congratulated the happy Tuan Jr, who, until we arrived on the scene, wasn’t sure his bear was down. Tuan was a happy father! I’m always more thrilled when a son shoots well then when I’m lucky myself.
It was a fairly easy drag from where the bear fell to Jason’s 4-wheeler together we hoisted it on the front rack and within 30 minutes were back at the cabin. After taking this snap shot of the happy hunters, we hoisted the bear onto a hanging pole, and drank a toast. After Dave Parent gutted the bear, surgically removing the internal organs including the precious gall bladder, nested safely in the underside of the liver, he skinned the bear, being careful to save the hide and especially the paws, which are a gourmet treat if prepared properly. We drank several toasts including one to Tuan’s ailing daughter who’d get her medicine. Tuan, his son, Tuan Jr, a grandson, Minh, and another daughter, who had recently arrived from Viet Nam to visit her aging father for the first time in 50 years, had accompanied Tuan on his drive north from Virginia.
Tuan Jr insisted on doing all the butchering according to his cultural tastes. He took great pains in dressing out the bear’s paws. (See the recipe from my friend, Steven Dean, in the side-bar for cooking the gourmet delicacy of bear paws, which Tuan’s daughter later did.) That evening Tuan’s daughter prepared the heart, cooking it less then 10 minutes, and we feasted on it rare -- one of the most tender, tasty dishes I’ve ever had. The next morning my friends breakfasted on the kidneys, and I dared only a taste of this exotic organ, dipped into fish sauce, too rich for my palate! Nothing was wasted.
Oddly enough, a week later another hunter friend bagged a bear and told me of field dressing it, gall bladder and all, and leaving this prize in the woods. He told me the general area to look in, so I gave it a try the morning after he shot it. An hour later, luckily I was able to find his set-up, and just under the entrail pile was a fresh liver with gall bladder attached. I had beaten the coyotes to the prize! Tuan’s ailing daughter would get two gall bladders -- enough for a strong dose of powerful medicine – or a potent placebo.
I’ve experienced the miraculous birth of a precious little girl – ostensibly from the optimism of her believing parents who had taken this powerful medicine 22 years ago. Perhaps the healing mind of Tuan’s daughter, facilitated by the strong positive beliefs of her family, will enable her body to respond as well to this gall bladder medicine. All I can do is hope and pray for another healing. Tuan and his family also pray…and prayer is a confounder in this real life research as prayer heals as well. Time will tell.
As I headed back up to the cabin to sleep, I heard them reassuring each other again across the dark, cold mountain. “I’m here!” “I’m here too!” “We’re hunting here!” “We’re not alone!”
SIDE BAR 1: Steven Dean’s Roast Bear Paws Recipe
2 Large Bear paws (Skinned)
1 cup flour
3 Tablespoons Shortening
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 onions, sliced thin
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup tomato juice
1) preheat oven to 350 degrees
2) dust paws with flour and brown in shortening. Remove to a casserole dish, and sprinkle with seasonings.
3) Cook onions in shortening till tender. Place around paws and lay bacon on top. Pour 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup tomato juice over paws.
3) Bake covered for 4 hours.
double the recipe for four paws
[SIDE BAR 2: David and Jason Parents’ businesses]
Dave and Brigit Parent have a well equipped general store -- The Dunston General Store, comfortable heated cabins with kitchens, and a complete butchering shop for your game in the town of Wentworth Location, New Hampshire, just south of the entrance to the Dartmouth College Grant, (a huge timber management land area and excellent game habitat where we used to hunt when I was on the Dartmouth faculty). They are only a mile from the Maine border on Route 16 as far northeast as one can be and still be in New Hampshire. You can reach them to reserve a cabin at (603) 482-3133 or 482-3889.
Jason Parent and his brother, Duston, are the best northern New Hampshire guides I know and will work hard to make your hunt a successful one. Jason guides for both salmon/trout fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee in his well equipped fishing boat he keeps at his Paugus Bay Sporting Goods shop in Gilford, NH on Lake Winnipesaukee, as well as for hunting moose, bear, and deer in both northern New Hampshire and Maine. Jason will also guide for turkey hunting in the NH Lakes Region. Contact Jason Parent at: (603) 267-9476. His email address is: NHGuides@hotmail.com. His web site is: http://www.nhguideservice.com/
Photo caption: from left to right: Tuan Jr. Tuan’s daughter, Tuan’s grandson, Minh, and Tuan at age 87 with their north woods bear with “Letzte Bitzen” in his mouth. Photo by David Parent.