Northern Idaho, fifty-kilometers south on I-95, he stepped out on the gravel of the shoulder. Hiking out of the forests, he knew he had his ancient Volvo somewhere in the area. Looking around, he was about a half-mile south of where he went in a dozen hours before.
It was a nice day in the northern panhandle to collect the data from the different stations that were placed around in the hundred-twenty thousand acre study zone, a fraction of the healing scar left the by the Great Fire of 1910, also called Devils Broom Fire. Five of the undergraduates had gone in, Bruce Kissenger was the first to come out of the hike. A few inches taller than the others, his stride had taken the toll on the others. Gil Van Zant, Andre Sondergeld, Reedah Wilson (herself a bit of a mountain goat.)and Doctor Ru’khu Ng, the oldest of the group that often show them up by out-walking them all.
Bruce could see the others catching up to him when he saw the chilling sight.
A lot of wolves, at least, he counted quickly on the undulating mass of grey and tails losing count. Fifty at least.
And they were coming up the path at full speed.
“RUN! Oh good God RUN!” Bruce waved at the team. “Behind you.”
Gil, bringing up the rear looked and turned, echoing Bruce’s warnings and the group began to run. The wolves were a mile off and running fast but making a direct line to the group. Caught out in the open like this, they would not stand a chance if the wolves surrounded them.
But three hikers carried a side-arm. If need, they could open fire. Bruce carried the heaviest, a foot-long barreled revolver chambered for the mighty Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum cartridge.
It was not a quick-draw gun by any stretch of the imagination and it took him nearly five seconds to draw it out of the holster that resided between his backpack and his lumbar region.
It was a poor weapon against a pack of wolves bent on an easy meal.
Fully loaded, the big wheel-gun only held five rounds, and reloading was not a lightning-speed effort.
Still, if he could get them to line up, he could take a pair of wolves with a single shot, perhaps twice that many.
The hysterical thought ran through his mind of a four-for-one shot.
But he still carried it with one chamber unloaded and hammer down. It was an old safety habit. Popping out a cartridge from his belt, he slid the bullet cartridge into the empty chamber as Reedah came up next to him, panting from running with the heavy backpack.
“I say drop our packs here. Where is your car?”
“Half-mile up that way.” He pointed. The wolves were less than a quarter-mile off and coming fast. “We turned left one rock too soon back there. Get that pistol of yours out.”
“Like what am I going to do with it. I have an officer’s model with a seven plus one. Gill has a longslide with nothing else, so we have the same number of shots. “ She looked at him and drew her small auto-loader.
Her math was correct, combined, they could shoot their weapons until empty and still did not match the numbers of the canis lupis irremotus that ran towards them.
“I,” Gil gasped struggling with his pistol and the holster. “Have never seen wolves chase humans and out in the open too!”
“Gil, we don’t have enough firepower to win this outright, maybe we can divert them. Professor Ng, what do we do?”
“Climb a tree!” The Professor pointed to one with low hanging branches.
“What about our backpacks?” Reedah asked as the professor sprinted past— without his pack and gun in hand. “Oh!”
The group made the tree when the wolves caught up — and ran past them in a full run.
“Look! They are tuck-tailed.” Gil pointed out. “Something has them spooked.”
“I don’t know what would spook a pack of wolves like that.” Andre said. “There is documentation that a pack can take down a full-sized moose or caribou.”
“Keep climbing.” The professor said, looking down the path. “Oh crap, keep climbing!”
“What?” Bruce asked. “What is it?”
“BEAR!” The Professor pointed. “LOTS of them!”
Down the path a dozen bears, golden-mantled in the sunlight and giant, ran up the path like a toothy tsunami, not making a sound other than the crashing through the brush as each tried to pass the other.
“UP! UP!” the humans began to shout at each other, the lead bear’s mass approaching a quarter-ton. The largest land predator in the lower forty-eight states, smaller than their coastal cousins. These were the apex predators of the area.
“I’m stuck!” Andre yelled. “Oh my god, help!” Andre yelled when the galloping group of grizzly bear closed the gap, a branch caught the loop of his belt on the back of his pants.
And followed the wolves, running past, followed by the mix of deer, a wolverine, and groups of smaller bear.
But no smoke in the distance.
“Professor, what is going on?” Bruce said as he tried to re-holster his horse-pistol. Succeeding on his third try.
“Bruce, can you stop waving that thing around, you’re making me nervous.” Gil said. “You brought that big ol’ thing, you should have brought the rest of the tank.”
“It would take care of anything I thought we might run across, including bear.”
“You could try.” Gil retorted. “Me, I would rather make a lot of noise with it and try to scare a bear off, unless you can shove it down the bears throat and pull the trigger.”
“With your little autoloader, you would need to…” Bruce was drawing a breath to continue the argument when the Professor interrupted.
“Enough. Seriously, enough.” The teacher shook his head while he climbed out of the tree. “We have more than we need to report just for that little episode.”
“What scares a freakin’ GRIZZLY?” Andre asked. “Not counting a whole village of them.”
“I, for one, am going to the car.” Reedah commented while she picked up her pack. “You all can stand around and discuss this, but I shot video with my phone.” She smiled and held up her Android phone. “Five minutes worth.”
The men looked at each other stupidly then picked up their backpacks and set off in Reedah’s wake, still arguing over what they just witnessed.