The Truth About My Work (pt.2)
The first one I ever shot was two weeks into my stay at Fort Mackay.
Shit, I even remember the exact date - Tuesday, October 19th, 2014 at exactly 4:43pm along the shore of the Athabasca River. As far as I’d been able to tell up until then, there were two separate animals doing the killing. I’d been learning a lot about them over the last two weeks. They were virtually non existent during daylight hours, but once dusk came around, they’d almost always be out. It didn’t need to be night, just low light. The smaller one seemed to be making its way along the river, attacking and killing, then completely disappearing. I’d still yet to actually get a visual on it.
The big one was much harder to track consistently. It seemed to show up further north, go on a killing spree, then vanish. I’d only been lucky enough to actually catch a glimpse of it in the middle of the road one night on my way back from McClelland Lake after investigating a potential attack (turned out to be a black bear). I could see a dead animal on the shoulder of the road, a moose I think. Then, as if out of a horror scene, it slowly crept ontop of the carcass, blood stained teeth shining in the headlights. Both my rifle and shotgun were locked up in gun cases in the backseat and unreachable.
I was about to get a lesson in just how aggressive these fucking things are.
The distance from the front of my truck to where the animal was located on the shoulder of the road, was roughly 60 yards or so. In the time it took me to grab my camera to get a photo, the animal had almost completely covered that distance and was viciously attacking the front of my truck. Stunned, I couldn’t comprehend what the fuck was happening. It seemed to focus on the noise of the engine, trying to bite through the hood at several different angles, jolting the vehicle. I threw the truck in drive and got the hell out of there, not stopping once until I got back to my motel room in Fort McMurray, south of the Fort Mackay area. The front of the truck was all kinds of fucked up. Hell, there was so much blood and fur from where the animal attacked, I’d have been surprised if it hasn’t killed itself in the process.
I made a note of exactly where the encounter took place, notified my superior, who was overseeing my operations and acting as public relations officer in case anything became aware to the public, and planned to sit over the moose carcass the next evening, suspecting that one animal couldn’t possibly clean up an entire moose in one night, and would almost certainly come back again to feed on what was left.
I am a skilled marksman, effective with a scoped rifle ( preferrably my .308) inside of 700 yards. Bearing this in mind, I was feeling confident I could set up a safe distance away from the carcass, maybe in a tree stand or something, ... something to keep me the hell off the ground, and still accurately hit the target. The next afternoon I returned and set up a comfortable 350 yards away from the dead moose. There was little traffic at all down this road, which paralleled the Athabasca River, so I also felt comfortable there would be little risk at all of any accidents, and except for one vehicle that passed the moose carcass very slowly, but kept going, I didn’t see another soul while in the stand. Nor did the animal come back that evening, too. The night was still, and pleasant and by nightfall I was back in the truck, tired, and hungry. Before leaving, I placed a trail camera overlooking the dead moose, just in case the animal came back. If it did, I’d know exactly what time to expect it and would make a move based on that information.
Tuesday, I went back to inspect the contents of the SD card and found that while two black bears, a wolf, six different coyotes, as well as ravens, magpies, and a whole list of smaller wildlife had visited the carcass, my intented prey had not returned, which felt strange to me and I made a point of making a note about it in my notebook I’d started when I’d taken on this job. The moose must have been close to 800lbs, not massive, but not exactly small either. For the animal to have just killed it, fed once, then abandoned the rest made little sense, at least to me.
It was warmer that day, and as early evening approached, a light fog descended on the lower areas. At this point I remember being so goddamn frustrated. “Go kill this highly aggressive murder machine that lives in such sparse numbers that we don’t know a damn thing about it, let alone accurately pattern them” I thought to myself. In my gut I knew I’d blown my chance to kill the damn thing the night before. What was worse was that I wasn’t even looking for it - the encounter happened by chance. I still didn’t know where the smaller one was, or where it was going....hell, I hadn’t even seen it yet.Things weren't going well.
Rounding a bend, I saw the black VW Jetta pulled off to the shoulder of the road. The drivers side door was open, the passenger side window smashed out, and the four ways on. Nobody was around as I pulled up behind it. I removed my shotgun from its case, loaded two shells with 00 Buckshot, and one with a Sabot Slug - my standard issue bear stopper. Approaching the passengers side of the car, I realized the side of the door was caked in blood, a blood trail leading up over the side of the ditch, and to what remained of Mrs Tanya Hargraves (27). It was exactly the same scene as the photos I'd been shown in the briefing - half eaten, faced mauled horribly, paw prints all around. She'd been dragged all of about 20 feet from the car before the fucking thing began to make a meal out of her.
I pushed the safety on my shotgun off and walked slowly to the opposite side of the road. It was there that the scene of another attack unfolded and where Mr Jordan Hargraves (31) had met his end. Based on the bloody paw prints crossing thr asphalt from where Mrs Hargraves was found, my best guess was that it had killed her quickly, then chased a stunned Mr Hargraves down and killed him as well. I found his jacket stripped into ribbons on some rocks opposite the car, and then blood. Then more blood, and then more, for about 110 yards up the ditch heading towards a creek that passed under the road. In the creek, and despite the impaired visibility, I could hear something moving in the shallow water. If my memory serves me, the creek wasn't more than 15 ft wide. I suspected that the animal was down there in the creek consuming Mr Hargraves almost immediately based on the blood trail, and not wanting to give it any indication of my presence, as well as being completely prepared, I did two things.
1. I went back to my truck, got my sidearm and holster, as well as my .308. Dailed the scope back, and chambered a round. I figured based on what I DID know of the aggressive nature of these things, three guns are better than one, and if by some chance this thing got on top of me, I could unload an entire magazine from my Berreta into it.
2. I took my Tac Boots off, and approached in sock feet. The boots are heavy, and gravel on the road tends to grind underneath them. They're not meant for stealth, and seeing as how the need to be extremely stealthy was of the utmost importance, sock feet were the best bet to accomplish this.
I approached the creek again, this time from the right hand side of the road - the same side that Mrs Hargraves' body was located, whereas the suspected animal was on the leftside. When I reached the creek, I listened for a moment and sure enough I could still hear movement. Sometimes it was subtle, but other times it was violent thrashing and splashing. I crept slowly until I could see down into the creek bed. From the road, my position was elevated so that I was roughly 20ft above the creek. Peering down, I could instantly see the shape on the animal. It was 40 yards upstream, and as I suspected, feeding on what remained of Mr Hargraves. I layed down slowly into a prone position, slightly increased the power on my scope, and centered the crosshairs on the animal, which seemed inaware of my presence, just as I'd hoped. There was no breeze at all, as far as I could tell, so the possibility of this thing catching my scent was low.
The crosshairs steadied, the animal turned broadside. I touched the trigger and the rifle buckled. Immediately chambering another round, I looked through the scope and saw that it had gone down hard. A twitch of the leg, a slight quiver of the body, but that was it. No fierce showdown, no climax, nothing. I shouldered the rifle, and grabbed the shotgun, not knowing if this thing was playing possum. As I approached, it was clear it was as dead as dead could be.
I had been instructed that when I did kill one, or if I came across any victims, to call a private number and that a crew would deal with the "clean up" process, and so I did. The woman's voice on the other line told me to hold tight, and the "crew" would be dispatched from Fort McMurray about an hour away. In the time it took them to get there, I photographed both Mr and Mrs Hargraves, measured the animals' body length and girth, as well as the length of the canines. It was coated in much more dark brown fur than the dead one during the briefing, which had been a dull grey colour. It's canines measured almost 3.5" in length - something that shocked me given that its body length was 4'9" from nose to tail.
It bore no markings. Its upright ears (think wolf or german sheppard) had Deer Ticks in them. The belly was almost completely without fur, muscular. It was the eyes that really caught my attention. One was flamey yellow orange, pupil almost round with sharp fingers flicking around it. The other was completely green and very human-like. It lacked something the other did not, which I fully realize is hard to explain, but this eye didn't seem to be sitting correctly in the eye socket. Not having a pair of gloves on me, I leaned down and with my pen, gently poked this eye.
To this day I will never forget the feeling of complete confusion I experienced when I realized that the animals' right eye was fake.
Over the next 6 years and countless dead ones later, I'd find all kinds of strange things like this. Mostly tattoos, but sometimes piercings, too. None would shock me later on, but that eye...the sound of plastic pen tapping against what I think may have been glass. There was no way to know exactly where this would lead to.
The crew eventually did show up. I gave them a debriefing on what had happened, how I'd responded, and eventually learned the identities of the victims, as you already know. The animal weighed in at roughly 144lbs, and I was relieved to learn that after that evening, there were no longer any attacks north of the fort.
South of the fort was a different story. The small one was still killing, and it seemed it was getting closer and closer to Fort McMurray as well. A week later it was less than 3 miles from town, had killed two fishermen, a gas station attendant, and had severely mauled a young man named Tyler Hutton. He survive his injuries, but would become a study case and horror story in his own rite.
That night I lay in my hotel bed, unable to sleep.