They were gone when I tramped the forests of upstate Pennsylvania. The dangers for a young hunter were getting lost or falling over a tree down on the path. It was a passion that consumed great quantities of time from early fall well into the winter. A matter of providing and joy surrounded by wilderness and solitude. But no more. A well marked trail now is just fine and with a camera not a rifle.
But in the early winter of 1753, 14 year old Thomas is counted upon to scout ahead, find a safe camp and hunt for food to supply his crew. Across the northern tier of unsettled forest and mountain along the Susquehanna, the elk and deer feared man less than the other hunters in the forest. Young Thomas has to defend his downed elk and himself when skilled hunters outnumber and include him in their supper plans.
From my historical action/adventure novel, CAPTAIN’S CROSS:
Thomas leaned his rifle against a tree and flipped the yearling over on its back. He took out his knife and pulled the small honing stone from his possibles bag. Sharpening the knife, he had the feeling something or someone was watching him so he slipped the stone into his bag and the knife into his scabbard while reaching for his rifle. He had to take a half step to get his hand on the fore stock and he turned his head to look up the hill behind him. His body shook with a chill at what he saw.
Draco had been trotting alongside Bear’s draft horse, only stopping to drink when they crossed a brook or stream sliding down toward the river. The next time Bear happened to glance down, the dog was gone. They worked up and down the hills beside the river and around the briars in the flats moving northwest. The trail sometimes led up and over the hills, cutting off the extra miles of the winding riverbed. Having been this way many years before, Ben chose and some of the climbs they took and some they shunned for the flatter but longer trek along the river. They were coming down toward the river again when the dog vanished and Bear figured the camp must be near.
Thomas shot the black wolf closest to him with the pistol and readied the rifle for the gray a little farther out and to his left. He hoped the shot would scare them off and give him time to reload the pistol but the pack was only scattered for a moment, then reformed their circle of Thomas and the dead elk. Thomas slipped the empty pistol into his belt and as the gray made its charge, he dropped it with the rifle. That shot again scattered the pack and they hovered and did not seem to move back toward him. He set about reloading the rifle and decided that given the chance he would slip past the dead elk and run, leaving it to the wolves. But the pack didn’t seem to see the difference in the dead elk and him. He could hear their teeth clattering and yips and growls but they didn’t howl or bark. Their eyes were what frightened him to the bone. Flashing and so intense. Absolutely wild and raw. They began to move closer with another black one taking the spot left by the dead gray. He was cut off again.
Shouting at them, they all stopped. He pulled the pistol and tried to reload it, but he was trembling so much he had to stop and then try again to slip the powder and shot into the barrel. He got the ball rammed and was trying to prime the pan when the nearest wolf stepped and then leaped at him. Tucking under it and as it rolled over him, he swatted at it with the pistol, striking it hard and drawing a high pitched yelp from the wolf. Another ran to him and tried to grab his arm holding the pistol. Thomas shifted and the wolf clamped onto the barrel and pulled the pistol from his hand. The rifle was crooked in the elbow of his left so he swept the sword from his belt and struck the wolf a hard blow as it was almost at his feet. The wolf slumped and tried to crawl away through its own blood.
Thomas stuck the sword in the ground in front of him and picked up the pistol. The wolves held back long enough for him to prime it and he readied it to shoot the wolf nearest him. Several had spun back and moved between him and the river, cutting him off even further. Only three were on the uphill side and one filled the gap where the game trail cut through the trees. A standoff and it was getting darker now that the sun had almost set. And wolves can see quite well in the dark, unlike people.
When Ben heard the sound of a rifle then the pistol, he knew Thomas might be in trouble. He left Bear with the pack horses and charged ahead. Around a sandbank covered in dying summer bushes, Ben saw the hobbled gelding in the small meadow. He raced the mare past him and cut into the trees. The mare slowed to weave a path as the ground rose away from the river.
Thomas flinched as he caught sight of a flash of gray fur coming at him through the trees. He pulled the cocked pistol up and aimed as Draco burst through and leaped on a wolf with a great roar. Thomas jumped sideways at the sound but recovered in time to bring the pistol around on a charging wolf coming down the hill. He fired and missed. The wolf caught him full on and at chest level, knocking him backwards onto the dead elk. Thomas took a vicious bite to his shoulder and cried out in pain. His rifle was entwined in his left arm between him and the beast so he slammed the pistol hard into the wolf’s head and the animal’s blazing eyes shut and fluttered. Thomas bashed the wolf again and again and the animal slid off and fell.
Draco now had two wolves at him but brought around the limp dead wolf in his mouth and put it between him and the two coming at him. The sounds were incredible to the scrambling Thomas as he tried to get up and find a grip on his rifle. The fury of Draco and the wolves about him provided Thomas with no clear target. Draco was slinging the dead wolf aside and bared his substantial set of teeth toward the two coming after him.
Thomas plucked the short sword from the ground in front of him and charged at the group. The two wolves were intent on Draco and did not see Thomas coming. The wolf nearest Thomas fell hard under Thomas’ first blow and the second wolf spun and ran up the hill after the rest of the pack, retreating out of sight. The quiet was broken by Draco panting and Thomas struggling to gulp in air.
“Damn,” was all Thomas could manage to get out. Draco sniffed the two dead wolves nearest him, lifted his leg on one of them and trotted off toward the river. “Thanks, I guess,” Thomas said to the disappearing dog and turned back to the elk.
His shoulder throbbed and was bleeding quite a bit. Thomas gathered a double handful of cold wet leaves and stuffed them against the bite. He snugged his buckskin shirt back over the leaves and pulled a leather strap from his bag. He tied the strap under his right arm and up and over his left shoulder, tightening it over the lump of leaves. Suddenly dizzy, he had to sit down next to the elk to drink some water and gather his thoughts. While he sat, he reloaded the pistol and watched up the hill in case the wolves decided to return. He rechecked the prime on his rifle and set about finishing the gutting and quartering of the elk.
The job was half finished when he heard the noisy approach of a horse and saw Ben leading the mare up through the trees toward him. Ben walked up and saw the wolves on the ground. “You alright?” he said in French.
Thomas half smiled and said, “I’ll need some of Bear’s magic potion. Took a bite to my shoulder.”
Ben helped Thomas finish the elk and loaded the meat up on the mare. They walked back to the meadow in silence, but Thomas said, “Very frightening, damn close thing if not for Draco coming in to help. Too many wolves and not enough of me.”