WHEN THE BABE’S in the woods, he’s the biggest thing there, and the moose, deer, and bears are no longer the star performers. He’s always been that way ever since he broke into big-time baseball as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, years and years ago. As the Battering Bambino of the New York Yankees, he took over the public, lock, stock, and barrel. He has seized the popular imagination and held it as has no other athlete of our time save, perhaps, Jack Dempsey. Three years out of baseball, the big man has lost nothing of his appeal as a public idol. He always put on a great show for the fans. Today he puts on just as great a show, even though his audience may consist of only three hunters and two guides, and the playing field is a wide stretch of Nova Scotian woods. I know because I was one of the three hunters with him in Nova Scotia last fall.
He arrived in the province with a bang. Bill Lovitt, owner of the camp where we were hunting, who met him at the steamer dock in Yarmouth, told me about it. The Babe was mobbed. He stopped traffic, and wherever he went the crowds went. His bulky shoulders towered above the swirling mob, a wide grin lighted his face, and perspiration streamed from him like water from a sluiced deck. Volleys of greetings crackled from all sides.
“Hiya, Butch!” was always his answer.
We were to hear much of that “Hiya, Butch” the next few days. The big man’s memory for names is not of the best, so he covers up by calling everybody “Butch.” You come to expect it and like it. It’s a part of the Babe. He’s just a big kid. At forty-three, he has not yet grown up. It’s doubtful if he ever will. It’s that boyish, exuberant personality of his, together with extraordinary batting ability, that has made him such a grand newspaper figure and the idol of the public.
It was the Babe’s first hunt in Nova Scotia, though he had killed deer in Virginia, and also hunts a lot farther South. The same eye that could follow the fastest ball to the plate and knock it out of the park is deadly when it looks over the sights of his .401 Winchester. He did some target shooting that first afternoon in camp—just to sight-in his rifle. He is a snapshooter, as quick as lightning, and he can drill a tomato can at sixty yards.
Playing cards at camp. From left: the author, Louis, Matthews, and Ruth. Outdoor Life
At Bill’s camp, forty miles from Yarmouth, the alarm clock clattered its summons at 4 o’clock the next morning, rousing the camp. While the fire crackled in the stove and the coffee boiled merrily, we finished our dressing, laced our boots, and examined the action of our guns. Breakfast was substantial if somewhat hurried. We were anxious to be off, the Babe in particular. Oblivious to sore muscles, hardly touching his breakfast, the big fellow was champing at the bit.
Outside the air was still, and the guide cautioned silence as we wound down the path to the lake. The guide had his birch calling horn, evidently planning to lure a moose from the forest. The Babe’s presence made it necessary to use the bateau, so with Bill at the oars and the big fellow in the stern, they got away. Five minutes later, the rest of us—Jack Matthews, Hedley Doty, Louis Vacon, the French guide, and I—stepped into the canoe. The paddles bit deep. We were off for a hunt with Babe Ruth!
Presently the canoe scraped gently on the far shore. The Babe and Bill were waiting. We loaded our weapons, Louis swung the canoe to his shoulders, and, following him in single file, we made our way along a faint trail that was just becoming visible in the dawn. Just ahead of me was the Babe, walking with the characteristic little, mincing steps that all baseball fans remember. The mist wet his face, and left little globules of water on his hunting coat. The big fellow carries his weight well, for he is in excellent health, and his love of hunting and fishing, united with almost daily golf, keeps him in the open air, and in good condition.
Silence reigned over the forest, hung heavily with the mist. We traveled possibly a quarter of a mile before Louis signaled a halt, dropped the canoe easily to the ground, and, in whispers, directed Bill to take Jack and Hedley with him. The Babe and I were to remain with Louis.
Crouching on the edge of a bog, Louis put the birch horn to his lips, and emitted the plaintive, pleading call of the cow moose. The Babe grinned, patted the forearm of his rifle, and I eased the sling on mine, straining every nerve to catch the answering grunt of a bull—but none came. The sun rose in the east, scattering the mist, and we heard a crashing in the thicket. Again Louis gave the call, and once more we waited, but at last Louis straightened up and reached for the makings.
“Dere’s beeg bull in dere somewhere, but he don’ wan’ to come out,” grinned Louis. He shouldered the canoe. “We go,” he said.
A short carry brought us to Wallabeck Lake where we joined the others. Two trips, on which the Babe did his share of the paddling, got us across, and presently we stood on the shores of the Point, a narrow strip between Wallabeck and Little Wallabeck Lakes. What a game country! It was there that Jack had downed his big buck early the first day and where I had the good fortune to get another nice head later the same afternoon.
Ruth (right), cuts into a roast chicken. Outdoor Life
Louis’s first choice, based on wind direction, was a long cedar swamp, running down to the water’s edge. Good, open ground on both sides, dotted with low clumps of alders and scattered rocks, made an ideal hunting spot. Louis sent Jack and Hedley down near the water, the Babe was posted atop a huge rock midway along the line, while I was assigned a stand to Babe’s right. The Babe’s rock afforded ideal cover, and he was making the most of it, crouched so that just the tip of his head showed. As I walked to my station, he turned and saw me. Reversing his hunting cap, catcher fashion, he grinned, spat a stream of tobacco juice, and shook one huge fist. I half expected him to bawl to an imaginary umpire, “Hey, why don’t yuh call ’em right?” Fearing that anyone not a ball player might misunderstand his affectionate greeting, the full moon of his face beamed with a wide grin. For the Babe, in case you don’t know it, is very considerate of others. Rarely do you find a man who has won such fame, who is so unaffected and unspoiled as the Bambino.
The guides dropped me off at the appointed place, and circled wide to enter the cedars. Presently I heard the familiar hollow sound of wood on wood as Louis and Bill beat short sticks on the cedar trunks. We call it “driving,” but Nova Scotians have changed it to “running.”
Nothing came my way, but as the “run” passed me, a single loud report broke the stillness to my left. Keeping quiet, I looked for signs of game but there were none, nor were there any more shots. After a decent interval, I ambled in the Babe’s direction to find the rest of the party gathered around the big fellow, pumping his hand. The sweat was running down Babe’s face, and he was grinning from ear to ear. Louis had his knife out. The Babe had downed a beautiful buck—an eight snagger. One shot through the neck had done the trick.
“How’s that, Butch?” yelled the Babe, dancing around and grabbing Louis. “Little bear hug, old-timer. Give Babe a little bear hug!”
Once more the Point had produced. The Babe had been in the woods less than twenty-four hours and had a buck!
With every one talking at once, it was some time before Louis got around to dressing Babe’s deer, and considerably later when we finally dragged the animal to the canoe. Outdoor appetites demanded food, and the Babe clamored loudest of all for Louis to unstrap the pack. Over a meal of cold roast ham and strong, hot tea, the Babe grew jovial.
“That’s a good game,” Babe said. “When you make a hit, you don’t have to run. How about driving us some moose?”
Lunch over, Louis took Babe’s suggestion and said we’d hunt the upper end of the Point.
Taking the posts assigned by Louis, the Babe and Hedley sought cover behind a large rock that afforded an excellent view of the swamp. Placing me on a slight rise far to their right, Louis then sent Bill and Jack on a wide swing which brought them to a good stand on the left flank. Electing to run this one alone, Louis entered the swamp at the far end, and, in a short time, I heard the hollow sound of his beating. Suddenly a tremendous crashing came from the forest, and I made out the black bulk of a great animal. The noise stopped as quickly as it had begun, and, steadying myself, I could see clearly the outline of a moose, head lowered and turning from side to side as it suspiciously surveyed the scene. Slowly I raised my rifle, my pulse pounding. Then the rifle came down in disappointment. A turn of that massive head there at the edge of the swamp disclosed the fact that it belonged to a cow.
Even as I looked, crestfallen, the cow broke cover, and I saw that she was trailed by a calf. Glancing neither to right nor left, they came straight for me at a trot. As the wind was in my favor, and my concealment was good, I was afraid I might be run down. I stood up and shouted when they were within twenty yards. Startled, the cow fetched up standing, the calf following suit. The hair on their backs bristled, and, with a snort, they turned and trotted off directly for Babe and Hedley’s hiding place. As true as the flight of an arrow, the big cow and the calf trotted for the Babe’s rock. When the animals were within fifty feet of the hiding place, up popped the Babe. In his hands was a stout tree root held like a baseball bat. Never taking a backward step, the Babe waved his war club belligerently while Hedley followed the action with his movie camera. The cow and the calf swerved slightly, and then disappeared over a ridge. We measured the distance later from rock to moose tracks and found it seventeen yards.
“That,” panted the Babe as we surrounded him, “is enough for one day.”
You couldn’t blame the big fellow for feeling as he did. When we got back to camp a half hour before sunset, we had walked about fifteen miles, and the Babe had carried a heavy canoe for part of the way, but he was still full of energy and horseplay. Bill Lovitt’s oxen, with which he carts in supplies to his camp, were feeding peacefully beneath the trees, and that give the Babe an idea.
“I think I’ll bulldog that steer,” he said.
He stood looking at one of the oxen for a moment, then grabbed it by the horns. The ox tossed its head, but the Babe held on.
“Hold still a minute, won’t yuh?” he begged. “I won’t hurt.”
He braced himself and so did the ox. The Babe got his great shoulders into it, and strained. So did the ox. The ox’s eyes bulged, and looked wild. The Babe’s eyes bulged, and looked wilder. The ox started to give a little, and the Babe put the last ounce of steam into it. With a bellow, the ox went over onto its side. As it scrambled to its feet, puzzled, the Babe wiped the sweat from his face.
“Just as I thought,” he said. “All it takes is strength.”
Picking a fight with an ox. Outdoor Life
That night in camp, talk raged. The Babe loosened up, and told endless yarns of his days on the diamond, and of his hunting. He loves to hunt and used to own a hunting preserve on a farm in Sudbury, Mass., but sold it. He is fond of hunting quail in the Carolinas and Georgia, and makes many trips South. In spring and summer he likes to fish. In between, he plays thirty-six holes of golf every day. Those sports, with some radio work and personal appearances, keep him busy and happy. He enjoys life and lives it to the full. He wastes no time grieving over the fact that he’s out of baseball, for he’s having too good a time. Frank Stevens, caterer at New York’s ball parks, and Howard Chandler Christy, the artist, are his favorite hunting companions, and they’re together a lot. In his New York home, he has the walls lined with hunting trophies.
All of us were anxious for a shot at a moose. As we had only one more day left, Louis planned it with unusual care. Early in the morning, we sighted a pair of big bucks that had lingered too long on the barrens. Doty blazed away. It was a nice, running shot, and, after we’d hung the meat, we worked our way for hours into a country that became wilder with every step. It was getting well toward noon when Louis called a halt, placed Hedley with me behind a clump of hackmatack and deployed the Babe, Jack, and Bill in a skirmish line to our right. We were in a big swamp, just the place for moose. Louis said he’d run the length of timber, and with that he left us.
Ten minutes passed and Hedley whispered, “Moose! Two bulls coming up ahead!” After a while, I could just make out, about 250 yards off, dark flanks and sun glinting on tremendous antler tips. Knowing that Louis was working toward the end of the swamp and that he should come out above the feeding bulls, I waited, figuring that, when he started them, they’d have to come down in front of us and that would give us all a chance. But I guessed wrong, and, before I could raise my rifle, the big animals slipped away. Louis had come out below them instead of above!
Did the boys ride me! “Hell,” said the Babe, letting fly a huge stream of tobacco juice, “one muff doesn’t mean the ball game.” And then to Louis, “Come on, I want to have a look at that bear trap.” The night before, Louis had told him of the trap in which an occasional bear was taken. It lay in the direction of home, so the Babe started off with Louis while Bill, Hedley, Jack and I chose a more roundabout way in the hope of stirring up something.
The sun was dropping rapidly behind the western ridges when we reached the canoe. Yet when we looked across the lake, we couldn’t see a light in camp.
“That’s funny,” said Bill. “Babe and Louis ought to be in before this.”
But just then we heard a muffled war whoop from our rear.
“That’s the Babe,” said Jack.
“Judas!” said Jack, “What do you suppose he’s got now?”
“A bear, probably,” chuckled Bill starting off in the direction of Babe’s voice. We found the big fellow a quarter of a mile from the lake, sitting beside a small, black bear. Louis told the story of the bear.
He and the Babe had reached the roots and dead trees near the trap, and, rounding a big boulder, Louis spotted the bear about 300 yards ahead. It was fooling around the bait, but had not ventured too near. Then the Babe saw the bear, and grew excited, but Louis insisted that they circle around to get closer. When he thought they were close enough, he told the Babe to shoot. The big fellow raised his rifle, but as he did, his foot caught in a snag, and he fell sprawling. The bear started to leave, but the Babe kept shooting, and one of the shots dropped the bear.
It was a grand finale to a grand trip. The next day, when we bade good-by to Lovitt’s camp and took the boat in Yarmouth, traffic again got twisted up. Then, while we were visiting in an office in Boston, the Babe, sweating as usual, went over to a window, and threw it up to get his lungs full of fresh air. Across the street was a large office building. In two seconds, some one in the building had recognized the Babe, and every window was filled with clerks, calling “Hello, Babe!” The Babe grinned broadly.
“Hiya, Butch!” he bellowed.
Whether the Babe’s in the woods or in the city, he steals the show.
This story originally ran in the March 1938 issue. Read more OL+ stories.
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