Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened On A Bear Hunt

STONINGTON - Some hunting trips are destined for failure from the git-go. There are certain times in every sportsman’s life when little goes as planned, and outdoor writers are as subject to this unusual phenomenon as anyone else.

A bear hunt nearly 20 years ago is a case in point. It wasn’t that my bear guide hadn’t done his job; his baits had been in place for two weeks, and bruins were coming daily to feed.

imageIt was just the little things that kept going wrong. The trip started out bad and quickly got worse. Anyone who has hunted black bears know how it works. Plan for every eventuality, and things still get messed up.

One problem began by losing two stories off my portable computer as I began preparing for the hunt. I then dropped a hard plastic bow case and cut my finger. I finished loading the car, leaving droplets of blood on everything I touched.

Several hours were spent driving to the Stonington Peninsula east of Little Bay de No from Gladstone in the Upper Peninsula, and the drive was frustratingly slow. Whitetails were on the move, and they constantly darted in front of my car and there were several near misses.

My speed was moderate at best, but the critters acted as if they were possessed by a death wish. Two does narrowly missed becoming a statistic.

I was joined by a photographer who shall remain nameless. His goal was to record on film me arrowing a bear at spitting distance. The pressure was on both of us, and to make matters worse, he had never seen a wild bear in his life.

I hoped to accomplish my lofty goal without making a fool of myself by completely missing the animal. Shooting a bear can be difficult enough without the added pressure of having someone try to capture the moment on film.

Opening day rolled around, and it was cool for Sept. 10. We used a three-wheeler (I hate those things) to drive three miles back into a Marquette County swamp, and I placed the photographer on the ground 20 yards away before climbing into a tree stand overlooking the bait. The collection of doughnuts were 12 yards away, and only 10 feet from a nearly impenetrable swamp.

It dawned on me, and the photographer on the ground, that he couldn’t get me, the tree stand and the bear in the photo from his ground position. Besides that, I was concerned about an approaching bear winding him and blowing our chances. We changed that problem about 10 a.m., and created a newer and perhaps worse problem.

He began to climb into the tree stand and froze halfway up the tree. He told me, in a panicked whisper, that he had never climbed a tree in his life. I climbed up around him, got onto the tree stand and pulled him up. Not being a tree-climbing kid in his youth, he was petrified with fear. He would have to stand the rest of the day while I sat on the edge of the platform, and if or when a bear came, he would shoot photos over my shoulder while I came to full draw and shot at the animal.

In the meantime, two people in one stand meant we were as cozy as ... well, let’s just say we were cozy. My only back support the rest of the day was against his leg which was shaking uncontrollably.

My back ached and he was cold, He shivered and shook in the 70-degree weather, and just before dusk I spotted a bear 70 yards away moving toward the bait. I whispered for him to be motionless and quiet because a bear was coming to the doughnuts.

The bear circled the bait, and the photographer was shaking so hard with his finger on the motor-driven Nikon that he twisted off six shots of the back of my head. The bear evaporated, and 30 minutes later we trudged from the swamp to the three-wheeler.

“Can I drive the three-wheeler back?” he asked. “I’ve never driven one before.”

Warning signals went up. Against my better judgment I agreed, and got on the back. He gunned the engine, went down the bumpy two-track trail and lost control at 10 miles per hour. He started heading for a ditch with four feet of water in it, and I bailed off the back. He buried it in the swamp, and turned to me on dry ground and asked: “What do we do now?”

I told him that I wasn’t going to do anything but he was going to turn off the ignition, put it in neutral, and pull the machine uphill and onto the trail. He said he would get wet, and I agreed that he most certainly would get soaked as a penalty for driving so recklessly.

Eventually he got the three-wheeler up far enough so I could help. I drove us the rest of the way back to our pick-up point without further incident. He was even colder now because he looked like a drowned rat. His teeth were clicking like castanets.

An hour later we bellied up to the guide’s table. Heaping mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy, thick slices of medium-rare roast beef, vegetables and dinner rolls were topped off with apple pie and ice cream.

The photographer had a 15-mile drive back to his motel. I bid him farewell with a stern warning to watch for deer crossing the narrow road. He was urged to drive very slowly and pay attention to the road-side edges.

An hour later he called, and said he was less than two miles from the motel where he was staying when a doe bounded from a homeowner’s yard, crossed the road and he slammed into it at 30 miles per hour. The deer was dead and his car was a mess.

Both headlights were shattered, the grill and front bumper destroyed, the hood crumpled and the front fender looked as if it had lost a duel with a wrecking ball. The radiator was leaking and he was a mess. The photographer was a mental wreck, and asked if all outdoor filming trips offered such problems.

I replied that so far, in my humble opinion, the biggest excitement of all was stuffing my belly at dinner. He didn’t think it was funny when I mentioned that thousands of whitetails are hit each year by vehicles, and it happens to many folks who often drive in deer country. Especially those who drive too fast.

I’m not sure he was convinced that taking photographs of me was much fun. The bears didn’t show, he didn’t get the photos we wanted and a big doe had wrecked his car. But then, some trips are destined for failure.

He learned, on his very first outdoor experience, that animal movements are beyond our control and that Murphy’s Law always applies in the outdoors. It’s just a shame he had to learn that lesson the hard way.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/08 at 10:20 AM
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