Wendat boys began hunting as soon as they could hold a bow and arrows made of pointed sticks. The stone tipped arrows were difficult to make, so they were not wasted on inexperienced hunters. Willow, Otter and Loon meet their match when they tried to hunt a large animal with pointed sticks.
Click through the gallery below to see photos and illustrations by artist Tom McNeely featured in Enemy Arrows by Will O’Hara
Excerpt from the book
Willow was the first to notice the bear prints in the snow, not far from the frozen lake. The tracks led out of the forest and into a gully where the bushes became a thick tangle of vines and thorny blackberry branches.
“Over here,” he called to his friends, his breath visible in the cold winter air. “Look at the size of these!”
Otter and Loon rushed to his side.
“They’re like snow shoes,” said Otter in a low voice. Loon put his moccasin inside one of the bear’s footprints.
“They’re bigger than mine!” he shrieked.
“Not so loud,” said Otter, pulling his friend away. “These are fresh. It could be nearby.”
“Let’s follow them,” said Willow, heading off in the direction of the tracks with Otter and Loon close behind.
Halfway up the other side of the gully under some fallen trees was an uprooted pine tree. The tracks ended at a narrow opening under its roots, which had been plugged tightly with branches and leaves. There was no snow on the branches—they had been put there since the last snowfall only a few days earlier. Although the snow around the roots had been churned up by the bear, there were no tracks leading away from the trampled ground where the three young hunters stood.
Willow had his bow pulled back as far as it would go, with one pointed stick aimed at the opening. His face was tense with fear.
“It’s in there,” he whispered to the others.
Loon took a step toward the bear’s den and listened, but there was no sound from inside. Otter motioned to the others to move back. They climbed to the edge of the gully and squatted in the snow, staring at the bear’s den.
“What do we do now?” asked Loon, his slight frame trembling under his bearskin robe.
“What do we do?” repeated Otter, running his fingers over the point of an arrow. “We came here to hunt and now we’ve found a bear asleep in its den—so close we could reach in and strangle it without waking it up.” He was silent for a moment as he thought about their options. “What do we do?” he repeated. “We kill the bear and take it back to the village.”
“And try to eat it before it eats us,” added Willow.
“Before it eats us?” echoed Loon, his face contorted by the thought of imminent death.
“Yes—and it might,” said Otter, squaring his wide shoulders. “This is the first time we’ve found a bear on our hunts. If we kill it, everyone will know we’re real hunters, not just squirrel hunters.”
“We are real hunters,” said Willow, trying to keep his voice down. “Except we only bring back rabbits and birds and bullfrogs,” said Loon, looking back at the bear’s den.
Otter continued. “What would they say if we went back to the village to get more skilful hunters to help us?” It was a question that needed no answer. The young friends thought silently about the dangers of hunting a bear on their own. They knew a sleeping bear is dangerous when disturbed from its winter sleep, and they all knew how ferocious bear could be. Still they couldn’t stand to have others hunt it for them.
“We all agree then?” asked Willow. “We’re going to hunt this bear ourselves?”
“There’ll be enough fat for everyone in the village,” said Loon, with a forced smile.
“And the hunt will be ours!” said Otter.
Loon let out a warbled call in celebration.
“Not so loud,” said Otter, putting a wet rabbit-skin mitten over his mouth. Loon leapt to his feet to escape but Otter grabbed his foot, pulled him down and jumped on him, pummelling his shoulders while Loon tried not to laugh. Willow hurled himself on the pile, yelling at them to be quiet. By the time they stopped wrestling they were covered with snow.
Willow sat on the ground and looked again toward the overturned pine tree. When the others were still, he asked, “How do we get this bear before it gets us?”
They talked quietly about the best way to kill the sleeping bear. They discussed the possibilities of fire, water, spears and arrows. No idea was too far-fetched to consider. They talked until the winter sun had reached its highest point, and at last they had a plan.