A Dinosaur Safari is a Matter of Luck by John R. Canter

     Diary of Albert Winston, of the Kope-Marshal Expedition, Sunday, the Second of September:

We have seen the first signs of tracks since our expedition began some four weeks ago. Mrs. Kope and Mr. Marshal, well-read as they are, insist on inspecting every set of tracks they come across in the hopes that it is their quarry. Often I must persuade them, by the number of toes, the shape of the impression, and other attributes of the style of the animal’s gait, that, no, they have not found their tyrannosaurs. And not a juvenile, which might indicate some closeness, finally, to their quarry, but usually some therapod, or other mid-sized carnivore, instead, which is at once uninteresting to them and altogether still dangerous to us. “Only a T. rex will do,” Mrs. Kope insists, to which Mr. Marshal adds, “And a bull at that, a full-sized male, or larger.” This specific quarry, though common among these typically more suicidal big-game hunters, has driven us all over Texas in search, and only now the first hints that our luck may be beginning to change.

I reflect in this evening’s entry, as I have done in years past, on the nature of luck in my line of work. It is quite rare for someone like me, a bush-guide to rich fools willing to seek the dinosaurs of America as trophy-prizes, to have been in this business this long. While the reasons that I stay are my own and nuanced (and shared elsewhere), the reason I persist is largely due to luck. Many in my field refuse to admit to such a perceived deficiency: most are too quick to puff up their chests and say such non-sense like, “I was instrumental in the success of the Drinker expedition: they couldn’t have managed without anyone who knows Montana as I do,” or more boastful still, “Perhaps you’ve heard of the enormous styracosaurus head mounted on Chairman Morgan’s wall in New York? That was my handiwork: I lead them strait to it!” or other such claims. Many of us demand that our talents, our years of training and grit to read the wilderness and the temperaments of the terrible beasts within it, be considered the providence of good study, natural intelligence and reflective of the character of hard work. And some of this is true, but all too often luck plays a far grander role in the success of any hunt, as so many failed or would-be guides seeking the patronage of deep pockets simply cannot deliver consistently. In my experience, only the lucky survive.

I had trepidations before signing on for this expedition. Part of this was hearing of the passing of poor Jane earlier this year. Her routine raptor hunt was cut tragically short when she was attacked and killed, not even by the deadly leaping feathered lizards, but by a frightened stampede of iguanodons. Her terrified patrons had not even the consideration to give her a proper burial before fleeing back to civilization, and her skeleton doubtlessly remains crushed and stamped into the earth were she died, even now.

I’ve heard a dozen such stories in my career, of talented, smart people done in by the capricious wilds and simple poor odds in this deadly occupation. I know one day we all must die, but it is my hope, after some years draining the pockets of wealthy big game hunters imagining massive trophies that I can retire, and pass peacefully in my sleep with the quiet dignity of being surrounded by grandchildren, and not ripped to shreds by a half-dozen raptors or gored by a ceratopsian horn.

Mr. Marshal calls me now; he thinks he is friendly sharing with me his stories from high society around the campfire, but they bore me completely. His money compels me to smile for another night and guide the fool another day.

     Diary of Albert Winston, of the Kope-Marshal Expedition, Tuesday, the Fifth of September:

Mrs. Kope has shot and killed a mid-sized parasaurolophus, which we intend to use as bait to draw out the monster we seek. At Mr. Marshal’s insistence, they pose for a photograph: to belay suspicion that their quarry was simply a purchased head, they wanted documentation of various parts of their hunt. This, naturally, requires additional equipment by way of camera, plates, and other elements for both storage and transportation, and partly the reason for our slowed progress. I reminisce about those days when I was but scrapping by to find clients, taking on an adventuresome man, a Mr. Jonson if believe – we traveled light, satisfied after only three days of hunting to bring home a pterosaur he had shot, and though we agreed to return early he paid me in full. I realize in this reflection that I have neglected to maintain correspondence with him in the passage years.

Currently the bait is laid not far from the numerous tracks that appear, by our combined knowledge, to almost certainly be of a tyrannosaur. While debate rages amongst the arm-chair natural philosophers in the universities back east about whether T. rex is a predator or scavenger, we field guides know it is fully capable of both, with individuals preferring one strategy or another. The carcass rots in the sun even now, growing fetid while we sweat nearby in the cover of underbrush. Luckily the wind shall waft the scent a good distance to-day, and it has already drawn smaller scavengers: crows, rats, small raptors, and of course endlessly buzzing carrion flies. Unfortunately we must remain down-wind of it, so that the beast smells the carcass and not us, lest our presence make it wary to show. Mrs. Kope complains endlessly about the smell, as though that will solve the problem, despite the need to lie quietly in wait. I have convinced them to see about choosing this T. rex as their quarry, though they are concerned that the monster is not as big as they would like to shoot. I am steeling myself for their rebuke that it is not big enough, and that our hunt must go on elsewhere; I recall a similar job years ago when a patron shot a modest triceratops, only to decide that the brute was, “lacking in proper gigantism,” and left the carcass to rot, not even bothering to take any horns as a prize, a tragic waste.

     Diary of Albert Winston, of the Kope-Marshal Expedition, Thursday, the Seventh of September:

The luck I have is luck I will accept: I am still alive, but by way of tyrannosaur, both Mr. Doyle Marshal and Mrs. Susan Kope are not.

The carcass eventually worked after more than a day and a half, its terrible stench doubtlessly a lure for miles. When the terrible lizard king did approach, it was of fantastic size, larger than I had ever seen, and beyond the description of any story I considered credible before now. Absolutely no less than 11 feet tall and perhaps some 40 feet from deadly jaws to deadly tail, and unquestionably too large to be the source of the tracks we followed. But alas, a female. Deciding a beast of 15 tons was still justifiable sport, the two hunters lined up their hunting rifles to take aim at the beast as it feasted warily on the scavenged carcass.

Their rifles, being hefty things, were enlarged elephant guns, each a so-called Tyrant-Shooter. Short of some field artillery, no individual man or woman is likely to fire anything more powerful. Sadly, power does not always translate into reliability, and the mighty things of the world are often high-maintenance. Despite their professed expertise in studying dinosaurs from books they are – were – no marksmen, and when they fired they only managed one glancing sting, the other blast missing completely.

The tyrannosaur was understandably startled and angry. Of fight or flight, the monster chose the more aggressive action; Mr. Marshal, while failing to manage his gun in the natural panic of facing down Earth’s most infamous land predator, was consumed bodily in the creature’s jaws and tossed aside as a cat does with a toy. With a horrified scream, Mrs. Kope drew its attention, and received a mighty slap from its tail in response as it turned around. She was struck whole in the torso and flew a dozen feet through the air onto some rocks. I am still flinching recalling the crunch of her cracked ribs and spine; she died instantly, and slumped to the ground.

I watched from hiding, under the cover of the underbrush, as the female curiously prodded Mrs. Kope’s dead body with its snout. Despite whatever fanciful stories you may have read in the pulp literature, humans are not a natural part of any dinosaur’s diet, and we are usually only eaten because we enter their world as an easy opportunity for them to have a meal. Likewise, the T. rex, having a much larger carcass of choice, returned to it to feed, while I laid in wait motionless. Only after several hours of feeding and the onset of dusk did I dare to consider moving from my hiding spot, the creature well-fed and dozing; she even turned and clearly saw me, but did not care to give chase or even stand up as I slipped away.

I will spend a day or two here, until the scavengers and danger move on. If I am to be any proper human, I must give them some sort of burial. They were fools, damned fools, and now they are dead, but it has been by the investment and hobby of those like them that I am able to make a living this way, for as long as I can survive. I believe I owe it to these people, my former patrons, to give them a sending-off, meager as it may be for ones used to finer things. Otherwise we too are not but savage beasts.

Once again, luck and chance have decided who has lived and who has died.

For my part I am still alive. For now.

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2 thoughts on “A Dinosaur Safari is a Matter of Luck by John R. Canter

  1. Alex

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    Like

    1. I’m glad to hear that you liked my writing. The style is meant to seem like it was from the past, so it uses English that is not common today. I post on WordPress: it lets me to put up stories whenever, although sometimes I post stories that I wrote a while ago and have sitting around. Thank you for your feedback, and sorry for replying late.

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