Saturday, March 25, 2023

Book Review and Bear Defense: Salmon on My Mind

Salmon on My Mind, by Francis E. Caldwell, 197 p. Lighthouse Press, 2004

Salmon on My Mind is the last book written by Francis E. Caldwell, known to most as Frank. The book is an autobiographical account of the adventures and life journey of Frank, from the time he is returning to the United States after a tour in the Navy during World War II, to his acquisition of a dedicated salmon troller in 1959, trailing off with explanations of what happened in later years, up until 2003.

The book offers rare insight into life in Alaska from 1950 to 1960, which is the major portion of the book. The hardships and difficulties encountered in work and daily life are fascinating and instructive. They seem remote from the current reality of cell phones with GPS and our Internet based society of crowded cities and  enormous state and federal welfare/safety nets. They seem as remote as late 1800's ranch life. Biographical works by ordinary people give current readers needed perspective on our past.

Of particular interest to this correspondent is Frank's deadly encounter with a grizzly bear while duck hunting in Alaska, in 1952. It adds to the growing number of cases where a bird hunter used bird shot against an attacking bear with deadly effect. Frank and a friend, Paul White, were hunting at the head of Boca de Quadra, a bit south of Ketchican. They spotted a flock of goldeneye ducks, and made a plan to get within range of the birds. The plan involved rounding a long spit of land in their skiff, then crossing the spit to come up on the ducks. Paul was running the outboard motor. As the skiff grounded on the beach, Frank jumped out to tie up the boat to an alder at the edge of the brush.

From page 124 of Salmon on My Mind: 

I carried a Remington pump shotgun. Paul had a rusty, beat-up 30-40 Craig.  He was running the motor. As the skiff's bow ground on the beach, I jumped out, the painter in one hand, shotgun in the other.  The tide was out and it was 50 feet to the nearest alder that I could that I could tie the bow line to.

As I walked up the beach, a bear tore out of the brush and came charging down the beach straight at me. Gravel sprayed from the bear's feet. I'd never shot a bear before in my life, but I had been a hunter since age six, and I had always been handy with a gun.  Without even thinking, or knowing what I was doing, I dropped the painter, flung up the gun, held back the trigger and worked the slide action until the firing pin went click, click, click.

The bear went down in a heap, its front legs spread-eagled. I reloaded, but the bear never moved. Paul was still in the skiff, his mouth hanging open. "I'll be damned. I'll be damned," Paul repeated over and over.

Paul paced off the distances. The bear had emerged sixteen paces from Frank. The dead bear was only six paces. Frank shot the bear with three charges o number 6 shot duck loads, which would ordinarily be 1 1/4 ounce loads, at the time.  The account shows how deadly bird shot can be. Frank was shooting at the head, which absorbed most of the shot charges.  With hundreds of pellets impacting the mouth, nose, and eyes of a charging bear, it is not hard so see that some of them reached the brain.  Closely packed pellets often follow  existing wound tracks from a leading pellet, and extend it. 

Paul said he never knew what was happening until he heard Frank shoot. He looked up and the bear was going down.

Frank says the pump shotgun was a Remington. This correspondent wonders if it was a Remington model 31, known for its extremely smooth action. The Remington 870 had just come out in 1950. It has a disconnector. Either shotgun is capable of extremely rapid fire.

The detailed accounts of Frank's everyday adventures in the panhandle of Alaska from 1950 to 1960 are inspiring and entertaining.

©2023 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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