I don’t mean to compete with William Faulkner, the great Southern novelist, who wrote a famous story about a bear hunt in Mississippi, but I think my story about a bear hunt in Mendo is pretty amazing. See if you don’t agree. First, some back story. Tom Allman was the sheriff and things were even wilder then than they are today. I was growing in the National Forest and didn’t like the idea that I had no locked gate and couldn’t do a whole lot to deter thieves.
Then I met up with Warner and started to grow on his land, Cerrutti Mountain Ranch, which had been in his wife’s family for years. I made bank on that property. Once, there were miles of paved road, paid for by the logging companies, all the way to Warner’s, but the road fell into disrepair. By the time I arrived it was mostly dirt. In the 1930s, there was a hunting lodge on the property and a bar down at Lake Pillsbury. Big wigs from the city would come up to hunt, drink and party.
Warner drove a tank in the army, chauffeured generals around and could fix any kind of vehicle, including cable cars in San Francisco when they broke down. He had 50 caliber rifles and huge military vehicles. He and I would do target practice together. We shot at a stuffed animal: Winnie the Pooh from 200-yards. One day at Warner’s, I had the first of several encounters with Roy Atraveno, known as Lil’ Roy because of his size. I thought he was a thief come to steal my crop. He had a high-powered rifle and a side arm. “What the fuck!” I said to myself. “He must be a ballsy mothrfucker.” He pulled a gun on me and said, “If I was gonna rob you, I’d tie you up, do what I wanted to do and then release you when I was finished.” He took a deep breath and added, “I’ve been huntin’ up here at Warner’s goin’ on thirty years. I don't give a fuck about you or your pot plants or any other growers.” On the second encounter with Lil’ Roy, he told me, “You’re better off with me here. So back the fuck off.” The third time, he asked nicely if he could borrow my all-terrain Yamaha Rhino 650, which had four-wheel drive and a mini-dump bed.
A big brown bear, maybe 500 pounds, had poked its nose into Roy’s trailer, sniffed around, came up to the foot of his bed and woke him. That was too close for comfort. Up there the saying was, “a bad bear is a dead bear.” Roy was a weapons’ expert and a hunting guide. He taught cops how to deal with rogue growers who were running wild in the woods.
I lent him my Yamaha. He went off to hunt the bear with a Winchester 300 mag. He found the den twenty feet off the ground in a humongous mountain oak. He sat there for hours and waited for the bar to come out. When I saw him the next day, he told me, “It got to be so dark I couldn't see my own hand in front of me. I told myself to leave and come back another time.” He returned to the den and did what he never should have done— took his wife and son with him. “I want to learn my son, Adam, how to kill a bad bear,” he said.
Outside the bear’s den, he put the rifle on the ground and lifted his son up on a big log. Next thing, he heard his wife say, “Oh, he’s beautiful,” and knew that she’d seen the bear. Lil’ Roy reached for his gun, aimed and shot the bear in his right shoulder. The bear fell to the ground with his back legs churning. Roy shot him again, in the left shoulder, and watched the bear tumble off an old loading dock for loggers. Roy followed the trail of blood through the woods and found him. The bear was alive. Roy shot it five more times. Made sure it was dead, winched it onto the back of the Yamaha and dragged it out. He told me, “I didn’t like that one bit,” and gave me one bear claw, though I didn’t especially want it. I asked Roy, “Were you really gonna kill me when we first met?” He said “Nawh, but I would have shot you in the leg.”
That’s my Mendo bear story, Mr. Faulkner. I haven’t seen Warner for years. Lil’ Roy is raising hell in Redwood Valley and in the mountains. I’m told there are still big bears in the forest.
(Jonah Raskin co-authored Oaky Joe Munson's Marijuana Adventures and Misadventures.)