Once, not long ago, four Iroquois hunters spent the winter together trapping in the north. They had good luck. When they brought their furs to the trading post at the end of the season, they had more than enough to buy all the things they needed for their families. In fact, there was just enough left over to buy a new rifle.
They had a problem. Although they hunted and trapped together as brothers, for all of them belonged to the Bear Clan, they did not live together. One hunter was from the Nundawaono, the People of the Great Hill, the Seneca. His home was to the west. One was from the Gueugwehono, the People of the Mucky Land, the Cayuga. His home was to the south near the marshes by the long lakes. One was from the Onundagaono, the People on the Hills, the Onondaga. His place was in the very centre of the lands of the Great League. One was from the Ganeagaono, the People of the Flint, the Mohawks. His home was to the east. Now that they had finished trapping, each would be returning home. It was easy to divide provisions among four people, but how could they divide the rifle? Finally it was decided. The man who told the tallest story about hunting would take the gun home.
The Mohawk hunter spoke first. "A man was walking along. He had been hunting all day, but his mind wasn't on his hunting. He'd used up all of the bullets for his old muzzle loader without hitting anything. As he walked, he ate some cherries he had picked. Eat one, spit the stone into his hand. Eat one spit the stone into his hand. Then he saw, right in front of him, a big, big deer. But he had no bullets left. He thought quickly. He poured powder into the gun, took the cherry seeds, loaded them and fired at the deer's head. The deer fell down, but it got right up again and ran away.
"Some years later that same hunter went out again hunting in the same place. Again he had no luck. Near the end of the day he saw at the edge of a clearing a tall tree covered with ripe cherries. Ah, this man thought. At least I can eat some cherries. So he put his gun down and began to climb up into the tree. He had reached the lower branches when the tree began to shake back and forth and the hunter had to hold on with both hands. Then the tree lifted straight up into the air and he was thrown out. He looked up from the ground and saw that the tree was growing from between the antlers of a huge deer which shook its head one more time and then ran away into the forest. And that," said the Mohawk hunter, "is my story."
Now it was the turn of the Onondaga hunter. "One time my uncle was out hunting. He had only one shot left in his gun and he wanted to make it count. He came to a stream where he saw a duck swimming back and forth, back and forth. Just in front of the duck there was a large trout and it was leaping from the water to catch flies, leaping, leaping, leaping. On the other side of the stream there stood a deer. It had its head up and it was standing still, sniffing the wind. Further back on a small hill was a bear up on its hind legs, scratching its paws on a tree, up and down, up and down. My uncle got down on his belly. He crawled close to the stream, took careful aim and waited. When everything was just right and the trout jumped again he pulled the trigger. His bullet went through the trout and killed the duck. It ricocheted off the water and struck the deer. It went through the deer and killed the bear. My uncle was a good shot. The amazing thing--I know you will find this hard to believe--is that when he went to skin the bear he turned it over and found it had fallen on a fox and killed it." The Onondaga hunter paused for breath. "And that fox had a fat rabbit in its mouth."
The Cayuga hunter was next. "Many seasons ago my grandfather was out hunting and saw a deer. He started to chase it so he could get closer for a better shot, but he ran so fast he went right past the deer. When the deer saw my grandfather go by him, it got scared. It turned around, jumped as hard as it could and sailed right over a stream. My grandfather jumped too but when he got halfway over the stream he saw he couldn't make it to the other side so he turned around in mid-air and jumped back. By now the deer hid behind a hill on the other side of the stream so my grandfather couldn't see it anymore. "Now my grandfather was angry. He wasn't going to let that deer get away! He put his gun between little maple trees and bent the barrel. The he aimed and shot. The bullet curved right around the hill and struck the deer.
"When my grandfather saw the fallen deer he got real excited. It was as if it was the first deer he'd ever shot. He started to skin it right away, But the dear wasn't dead. Just when my grandfather reached the horns and was about to pull the skin off, the dear jumped up and began to run around. My grandfather tried to grab the deer, but it was too slippery. He chased it around and around. Then the skin got caught on the bark of a hickory tree. The dear backed off and pulled real hard and the skin came right off over its horns! The deer ran away, leaving my grandfather with nothing but its skin." The Cayuga hunter looked up and look a deep breath. "And if you don't believe my story, you can just go to my grandfather's lodge. That skin is still hanging there."
Now only the Seneca hunter was left. He looked around at the other three. Then he smiled and shook his head. "Wah-ah," he said, "I am sorry. None of us Senecas ever tell tall stories about hunting."
The other three hunters looked at each other. Then, without another word, they handed him the gun.