Death Knocks Twice

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The Caribou Hills region of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska can be a forbidding place to hunt. The mountains are windswept, treeless and extremely cold, an area only fit for Dall Sheep, while the lower elevations enjoy thick Amazon-style brush which makes excellent moose habitat. Hunters from around the world come to hunt the great bulls that seem to blend with their surroundings as if they were wearing the very best camo attire in the woods.

Rollin Braden is one of the local Alaskan hunters who grew up in this region; he knows the place better than anyone else. As a youth he scampered around the hills and riverbeds fishing, trapping and in general simply enjoying life in the Alaskan bush. On snowmobile, Rollin would search out the remote and hard-to-get-to hunting areas, memorizing locations for potential future trophy bulls.

>His late August hunt for one of those elusive and hard-fought animals began with a great deal of enthusiasm. Since he had built a small cabin nestled yards off a trail in this prime hunting territory, it was very convenient for him and his partners to load up their 4x4 truck and make their way 18 miles off the main road into it. Unloading their gear, Rollin made sure his .338 was in good working order, a gun that almost never leaves his side when he's up in the hills.

Hunting the alder thickets and scrubs, Braden had seen a great deal of moose sign that day. Tracks were present in the mud and he had seen a few cows and calves but no bulls. He decided to walk into the Four Corners area to hunt as it was not too far from his cabin and in the past this area had produced some pretty respectable bulls. As a good hunter should, he would walk a few steps and stop, listening for any sounds one of those delicious "walking steaks" would make. Camp-robbing jays and Clarks Nutcrackers fluttered overhead as he quietly tread the woods, the deep-throated ravens would make hoarse guttural announcements to their comrades as the day wore on.

Suddenly, Rollin heard the soft sound of a muffled branch breaking. His ear cocked in the direction of it, he listened in the dead silence that followed and then again more noise came from the thicket. His heart began to beat faster as he became convinced a moose stood directly in front of him. The tangles of briars, trees and bushes made it impossible for him to see far ahead so he decided to get his .338 ready to fire since a shot could unfold rapidly in this country.

Sometimes only a second of opportunity will present itself and the bull vanishes forever in a thunderous plow of breaking branches and limbs into the forest growth. A tree was in his way and Rollin stepped to the side of it to get a better look when suddenly the attack occurred. In a split-second, not one but two Alaskan Brown bears came like freight-trains snarling with intent to kill him! Braden tried in vain to get a shot off at the monsters but only started to pull up his rifle when they slammed into him with the full force of their weight. A shot rang into the stillness of the August afternoon and it missed it's mark. Rollin was knocked to the ground, then the horrible and bloody mauling began.

The bears unmercifully bite and chewed his defenseless body, huge incisors tearing flesh from bone. The rifle was hurled yards away from the force of the impact as he lay in the damp moss and leaves, helpless, waiting to be torn and shredded. He was convinced that death was imminent, one of the bears was sure to hit a vital artery and he would bleed to death in seconds.

Taught to always play dead if a bear attacked, Braden rolled himself onto his stomach. He covered his vulnerable neck with clasped hands, breathing very slow and as quiet as he could possibly muster in this terrible fight for life. He fought to control his every movement so as not to allow the bears to think he was still alive. Any movement might trigger another furious outburst from these huge animals.

His instinct was to scream and run but doing so would only trigger the predatory response in the bears and heighten the ferocity of the attack even more. So he lay there as the bears continued to sink their teeth into his flesh. He fought panic every second of the unbelievable attack, "How could this be happening to me?" he asked himself over and over.

They slammed him back upon the ground and began the nightmare all over again! Evidentially after the first attack, the bears left Braden's body in a heap of blood and walked just yards away. When they heard him trying to get up, it prompted an attack response again.

This time, the bears had either bitten or swiped with their razor-sharp claws across the back of his head because his scalp now lay in his face. His buttocks, legs and arms were also severely bitten yet, somehow by fate, the bears suddenly left a second time and vanished into the forest.

Staggering to his feet, Braden knew he was close to death and had to get immediate help since he was going deeper into shock and bleeding badly. As he rose he realized his bleeding scalp was now hanging in his face causing him to be partially blinded. He then took his red-bandana and wrapped it around his chin and tied it over his head to keep his scalp from falling further onto his face.

With an effort that only true heroes can muster, Rollin stumbled out of the woods and was found by his hunting partner who had heard the crack of his rifle but not the attack. His partner thought Rollin had spied a bull, shot at it but had missed since he did not hear the three-shots-in-a-row signal that he had bagged one.

Eleven hours later, Braden lay in an intensive care unit in Anchorage, Alaska having been transported by a flight-for-life chopper. Months later, his wounds would begin to heal. The attending emergency room doctors told him he had not only received severe puncture and lacerations but had contracted 6 different infections from the tainted mouth and saliva of the bears! A year passed by and Braden had recovered from his horrible wounds, lucky to be alive. He decided that the attack was a once-in-a-lifetime situation and began hunting again.

A few years later Rollin decided to go bear hunting and not 50 yards from his cabin, a big brownie strolled by his way. The crack of his .338 ignited the Caribou Hills sky with the deadly-aim he practiced so much after the attack and the bear fell dead. He put 2 more slugs in just for good measure and clambered down from his perch atop a 7-foot tall hunting platform. I heard the shots from one hundred yards away and came running to Rollin faster than I have ever run through 3 feet of snow.

Looking at Rollin, I was out of breath and saw he had blood running down his face. In the excitement I asked him what the hell had happened. His wistful reply was as the bear neared him before he shot, it had taken a powerful swipe at his face causing the blood and wound. I stepped closer to make sure he was okay when I saw the wound on his forehead made a perfect match for the ring on his scope.

Rollin smiled at me and proudly walked over to claim his prize.

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