SMOKELORE
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Editor's Desk

 
 

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Factors In Accuracy, Part One:
Rifles And Shooting

 by John Barsness

Annealing Cases
 by Ken Howell

Factors In Accuracy, Part Two:
Handloading

 by John Barsness

Sonora: Where Giants Walk The Earth
 by Rick Bin

Your Chronograph Can Tell You More
 by Ken Howell

Big Eyes: Seeing Is Believing
 by Rick Bin

Handloading for Long-Range Shooting
 by John Haviland

Looking Long
 by John Barsness

The Campfire Hardcore Hunting Backpack Review
 by Scott Reekers

Big Ivory
 by Ken Howell
(as told by Elgin Gates)

A New Way To Hunt Lion
 by Ken Howell
(as told by Elgin Gates)

Killer Buffalo
 by Ken Howell
(as told by Elgin Gates)

Three Types of Hunters/
The Five Stages of a Sport Hunter

 by Denny L. Vasquez

How I Killed a Bear
 by Charles Dudley Warner

Last Minute Muley
 by Rick Bin

The .300 Winchester
 by Jack Steele

Choose the Right Backcountry Tent
 by Rick Bin

Who Bombed Elmer Keith?
 by Ken Howell

     
 
 
 
 
 
  My fist-fang-and-claw fight with an ocelot  
 

Gnawed and Clawed
 Ken Howell

"SPEEDY" WAS an adult ocelot (“OH-see-LOT??scientific name Leopardus pardalis), a beautiful small American leopard that someone had "liberated" as a young cub from his native jungle somewhere in South America and brought to Towson, Maryland, where he and I often frolicked in my friend "Set" Fitchett's gun store.  We were great buddies, Speedy and I ?until one dark night in an extremely unlikely location far from his old jungle home when I got in the way of his panicky attempt to flee from a new and fearsome enemy, and our old acquaintance quickly became forgot as he reverted to his wild old mind set from his days of yore in the jungle before our “auld lang syne.?nbsp; Then I found my shoulder being gnawed and my belly being clawed viciously by a “tame?South American leopard.

In my first civilian job between my discharge from the Navy and my freshman year in forestry school, I was a supervisor in charge of several counselors to the older boys?group at a children's camp in the Maryland farm country north of Baltimore.  The camp provided a free vacation to groups of underprivileged kids from Baltimore.  At the camp, they learned a few simple crafts, a bit about the outdoors, and in general a passel of simple things that were totally unlike anything that was familiar to their lives on the sorrier streets of Baltimore.

The camp was more about having fun in the outdoors than it was about dry learning, however.  For example, Ken Dashiell, one of my counselors and an expert on the old ways and lore of several eastern American Indian tribes, did not just tell his group of boys about traditional Indian ways ?he showed 'em, even to the point of entertaining ‘em by dressing in authentic Indian garb and dancing authentic Indian dances around a big fire one night.  He entertained the entire camp, in fact, even though the scantiness of his Indian get-up (which showed a lot of bare skin that was not then commonly seen in public) scandalized some of the old ladies of both sexes on the camp staff.

To acquaint my boys with Set's beautiful cat from South America, I borrowed Speedy and took him out to the camp for a week or two.  He of course charmed everybody and immediately became such a friend of the camp staff and kids that he could safely roam freely anywhere on the camp grounds, with anyone whom he chose to go along with.  He was good company ?playful and of course strikingly beautiful.  The boys loved him.  The girls loved him.  The camp staff loved him.  He gave us no trouble of any kind, day after day.  I was able to forget about him, not to worry about him or to look after him, as I went about my usual camp duties, pursuits, and amusements.  I didn’t even have to make sure that he was fed and watered ?staff and kids were constantly smuggling food to him from the mess hall, and he could drink from the camp’s pond or stream at any time.

The camp had several nice brand-new, big canvas tepees for the older boys?group.   I loved ‘em, especially the biggest one, which I immediately made my camp “headquarters.?We had Spartan but good-enough personal quarters in the camp’s permanent buildings, and as head counselor, I had a “room?(more like a cell) of my own in one of the barracks.  But that uninsulated building got terribly hot during the day and stayed uncomfortably hot late into the humid night, so when we had set-up the tepees, I took my sleeping bag down the hill and rolled it out on the ground in the big tepee.  The counselors and their boys still slept in the barracks.

After sundown, it got cool enough, early enough in the night, to make a fire inside the tepee feel awfully good.  It wasn’t a big fire ?it didn’t have to be big to be comfortable ?so it added the pleasure of “ambience?to the convenience of light and the comfort of mild warmth in the cool of the evening and early night.

But when Speedy saw the flames leap and flicker into life, it was immediately obvious that he was seeing fire for the first time in his memory if not for the first time in his life.  He walked around it and around it, keeping a sharp and suspicious and cautious stare on it at every step.  After quite a while, he settled down beside me in obvious trust, apparently no longer leery of the fire or afraid of it, and soon went to sleep on my sleeping bag.

Our second or third night in the tepee, he was comfortable enough with the open fire in the fire pit in the center of the tepee that he went back to his old game of playing with a volley ball.  He pawed it around inside the tepee and seemed oblivious to my presence.  What I did not realize until much later was that my reassuring presence was still crucial to his comfort and confidence in that otherwise strange place.

One of my counselors came to the tepee with a problem that demanded my attention.  I laid my paperwork down and went up the hill with him.  When I looked back inside the tepee as I left, Speedy was happily pawing his volley ball around and seemed content to be left alone inside the tepee.  I was soon to learn that he was just unaware that I’d left him alone ?with the fire.

When he discovered that he was alone inside the tepee, he panicked.  His earlier suspicion of the open fire became utter terror, and he fled ?or started to flee.  He was poised to leap through the round doorway of the tepee just as I stooped forward to come back inside.  He sprang, but I was blocking his way out, blocking his escape from that fearsome, mysterious fire.  He sank the claws of his front feet into my upper arms while he clawed at my belly with his hind claws and bit into my upper shoulder, near my neck, and began gnawing at that shoulder muscle.

I don’t know why he wasn’t gnawing at my throat ?which I would’ve expected of a genuine life-or-death attack.  My neck was bare and was thus totally vulnerable.  My heavy, tough shirt gave my shoulder a little protection ?not much, but enough to be thankful for.  Under the power of his husky jaw muscles, Speedy’s churning teeth hurt like the dickens, but they did no serious or lasting damage to my shoulder.

My first thought was that he was just playing rough again.  In our old day-time frolics, he often got a bit too enthusiastically playful, and his claws came out.  I could calm him down with a slap.  But this time, not only were his claws out ?he was using them a good bit more vigorously than he ever had used them before, and for the first time in our friendship, he was gnawing at my shoulder ?and with a bit more than a playfully “soft?mouth.

I slapped him, but he didn’t calm down or even take it easy with the gnawing or the clawing.

I took hold of his collar, wrenched him off my shoulder, and using the collar like the handle on a heavy briefcase, punched him in the nose with all the strength of my best jab, and flung him to the ground.  Again, he showed beyond any doubt or misinterpretation that he’d gone back to the fierce instincts of his wild nature ?he sprang back onto me and resumed gnawing at my shoulder and clawing at my belly with his hind claws while he held on to me with his front claws.

I took my turn going into a wild panic.  Patrick McManus’s “full-bore linear panic? was out of the question ?there was no way that I could get away from Speedy, nowhere for me to flee to.  I had to deal with this wild attack, not to get away from it.  I grabbed Speedy’s collar again and flung him to the ground again ?a good bit harder, with no thought of playfulness or mere discipline this time.  I was scared.

I was carrying a big surplus U S Navy battle lantern, and my wild exertion made its powerful beam go everywhere into the night except where I desperately needed to be able to see.  That situation added to my panic.  I steadied the lantern again and shone its beam into Speedy’s eyes as he crouched obviously ready and intending to spring onto me again.  I kicked him in the face, and again the beam of the battle lantern went all over the place and left Speedy unseeable before me in the dark.

And I’m here to tell you that night ?especially that night ?out there in the country, the dark so far from the city lights was frighteningly total! Speedy was a bit less visible than a lump of coal in a black bag inside a black cow.

Up to this point, Speedy’s attack had been soundless ?no friendly purr, of course ?but no snarling or growling, either.  Now, in the darkness before me, a scary sound came, I thought, from his throat.  As time went on, I could tell that what I’d first thought was a low, threatening growl was actually a bubbly gurgle from breathing through a bloody nose.  Some of his fight had gone out of him, but not all of it by any stretch of interpretation.  He was now angry, if not still panicky.  I had replaced the fire as his enemy.  He was clearly still ready for personal battle, still capable of a bit more than a handful of fight.  I wondered how much longer this fight would go on, and I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to last long enough to win it.  Our struggle seemed to have taken a lot more time than I’m now sure was no more than a few seconds.  I knew that I couldn’t make a night of it if Speedy regained the vigor that my kick in his face had taken out of him for a moment.  He wasn’t as big as a collie, but he seemed to me to be as strong as a York weight-lifter.

I took hold of his collar again, with a tighter grip this time.  He began to twist and to squirm, trying to get at me and resume or to continue his attack.  I could not hope to control him or to hold him off for very long with only this grip on his collar, so I looked around, found his leash, and after a bit of fumbling and further struggle, I snapped it onto the D-ring on his collar.  Then I flung him to the ground again.  The leash went taut as he hit the end of it and the tightening of his collar choked-off his breath for a moment.

He quickly gathered himself into a crouch again and resumed the attack.  But I was ready for him this time ?I stepped aside at the last instant and let his leap carry him past me.  I braced myself for the yank that I knew would come when he hit the end of the leash again.  Then I yanked on the leash to upset his footing and swung him around on the end of the leash a couple of turns before I let him hit the ground again.

That little maneuver didn’t calm him down, either.  He landed hard and rolled over and over, but he soon got back to his feet and again crouched and sprang.  So we continued this frantic dance while we moved closer and closer to the camp headquarters.   At last, I was able to unlock the storeroom.  I flung him inside ?leash and all ?and locked him inside the storeroom for the rest of the night.

With a little anxiety and cautious uncertainty, I unlocked the storeroom the next morning.  My old playmate Speedy greeted me with his familiar welcoming purr, and we were old buddies once again.

But for pretty much the same reason that a scalded cat shuns even cold water, the timid city fellow who ran the camp worried about the possible risk of having Speedy around the camp youngsters any longer, so he had his driver take me and Speedy back to Set’s Sport Shop, where I left my feline buddy behind.  I never saw him after I left him there with Set, so we were never able to frolic again.  Fifty-few years later, I’m still glad, of course, that he wasn’t a lion or a tiger!

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Copyright ?2000-2007 24hourcampfire.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved.