Adventures from Back of Beyond

Monday, October 13, 2008

The White Bull

I once pepper-sprayed a magnificent young bull in my backyard.

Not just any polite purse-sized self-defense pepper spray that ladies might use, but this was a big industrial-sized canister of potent bear spray. Designed to be used in self-defense against wild bears, these are big cans of the hottest pepper aerosol you can imagine. I bought a canister of bear spray for use in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park. Apparently the stuff works, even on grizzlies, and even on a momma bear defending her cubs. I'd never had to use it before, but if you're spending time in the backcountry where bears live, and especially grizzlies, and you're not packing a firearm, this stuff gives you at least a fighting chance.

Output of bear spray canisters is measured in horsepower. It can easily shoot out a wide spray for a good 30 feet. The stuff, although very effective, is harmless. In about 45 minutes, the burning sensation completely wears off with no damage done.

Although I didn't need it in the Tetons, I kept the stuff handy at home, and still do today. Where I live, you never know when a rabid fox or skunk might wander in.

About a year after we'd built our house, and I'd spent over $5,000 on landscaping, the forest service opened up land adjoining our property for grazing. The grazing leaseholders are the local Indian tribe, and they run some big tough Texas longhorns out here. The conditions aren't great for cattle. Not much grass, very little water, lots of heat, and dust. These Indian range cattle are tough.

Tough, but not the best looking cattle. We got to know them as they wandered by, and gave them nicknames. One-eye, limpy, one-horn. They soon got used to us and began to wander into our landscaped yard with it's lush grass, garden, and fruit trees.

We'd try to chase them off, but the temptation was too great for them to stay away long. Our dogs would bark, but these tough range cows were way too big for our dogs to take on. The cows just got used to the dogs and didn't seem to care.

They trampled down the little rabbit fence around our garden and annihilated our plants. One peed on our grass, and created a brown dead spot the diameter of a garbage can lid. Another carefully ate every leaf off our cherry tree, gently pulling the leaves off but not damaging the twigs, like a shish-kebob. (That cherry tree was entirely leafless, but a month later when the cows were gone, amazingly leafed out and today is just fine).

We'd chase them off during the day, but they'd wait till we fell asleep and then came in to wreak havoc. We'd hear them at night cropping grass between big exhalations.

One night a big herd was right by our bedroom window chowing down on our lawn. I got out of bed, went outside, yelled and waved my arms. They all ran off, except for one. He was a big white bull, a young one, not gimpy or limpy at all. In the prime of life. He went out about 40 or 50 feet and just waited for me to go inside. I knew he'd be right back and bring all his buddies with him.

Sure enough, within about a minute after I went in, the big white bull came right back. I felt I had to do something to protect my investment.

So I took out my bear spray. I didn't really know what I was going to do with it until I got into the situation, but out into the night I ventured to face the bull. Here's what happened.

I walked out and that big bull walked parallel to me, about 30 feet away, for maybe 50 feet. He pulled a big U-turn and stopped, facing me directly. Then he just looked at me, and snorted. A dominant snort, as if to say, "yeah, I'm here. So what are you going to do about it?"

Now you've got to picture this. It's the middle of the night, and I'm facing an enormous bull, roughly the size and weight of a minivan. Those big sharp horns were at least as wide as a minivan. Oh, and did I say I was wearing flip flops? That was all I was wearing.

I tried not to show fear or intimidation, even though this thing was more than 10 times my size. I just kept a steady pace, walked towards it, and at about 25 feet slowly lifted my arm with the bear spray and let go a long burst.

The canister actually recoils when you depress the lever, that's how powerful the jet is. It was a windless night, and you know how cows are kind of stupid, you know, bovine intelligence? Well this young bull had no idea what was hitting him. He took a long straight shot in the face, maybe a couple of seconds worth, and was too stupid to turn away. And you know how cows have these big wet sensitive noses, mucous membranes, and eyes? Well he got a big ol' face full of the stuff before it was over.

There was a pregnant pause. I didn't know what to do. Nothing happened. I held my ground, which in retrospect was probably pretty stupid.

But then all hell broke loose. This bull took off running full speed, and I'm lucky he didn't run me over first of all, but also lucky he didn't run toward the house. If he did he would've probably run through a couple walls. He was blinded and couldn't see where he was going.

I listened awhile as he ran off into the darkness. I could hear him gallop off for several minutes, the clomp of his hooves accompanied by the sound of large tree limbs snapping as he pounded through the forest. This was a powerful animal.

That big beautiful bull never came back. A few weeks later I saw him standing on a hill about a quarter mile from our house. He looked like he wanted nothing more to do with me.