Friday, August 22, 2008

Some Up Close & Personal Bear Meetings


My vision is no longer good enough to hunt black bears. At least, not over bait where they slowly make their way to the it just before shooting time ends.

I’ll miss it, but after more than two dozen bruins taken over the past 35 years, I’ve had my share of close encounters of the best and worst kind. Here are a several short but sweet personal experiences that may make you think twice before hunting bears next month.

1. My closest call to total disaster came in Montana while hiking the mountains. It started to snow at a high elevation, and I headed back down the mountain on a faint trail. I spotted a fresh grizzly bear track in the mud, made some noise and went around a dogleg bend. There stood the bear, perhaps 20 feet away, and we eyeballed each other for seconds before he ran off. He made no offer to attack. We sized each other up and he decided to leave. That was fine by me.

2. Once while fishing at Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, I was photographing a bruin at close range, and when the flash went off, here came the bear at a slow walk. I talked to it as it circled halfway around me at a distance of less than three feet while I turned with the animal. He backtracked after catching my scent, and walked off without hassling me. Another close call that scared some of the people who were watching it, and I developed some type of status among the visiting anglers.

3. Years ago when my vision was good, I’d go in after wounded bears when the hunter was too frightened to do it himself but I always went alone. No noise and no distractions. I spotted the bear crossing at an angle, ran a short distance to cut the angle, and then had to shoot the hip-shot bear five times with a 12 gauge 3-inch magnum shotgun and No. 4 buckshot to stop the pain-crazed animal. The last shot killed the bruin at six feet.

4. I really shouldn’t count them but have walked into to bait a stand, and walked to within just a few feet of a bruin. He was waiting for the dinner bell and showed up early. He was on the far side of a log, and my bait was on the near side. He roused up when I put out the bait, stood up only three or four feet away, looked me over and walked away. He returned later that day to feed.

5. I hunted once near Higgins Lake, and somehow I got off the path on the way out after hunting and seeing a bear that was out of bow range. I walked out, realized I was off the trail, backtracked and found my trail in the dark, and I had an escort all the way to my car. The bruin walked within 20 feet of me all the way out to where my vehicle was parked. Try that on a dark night when a black bear doesn’t show up well in the deep shadows. Fun!

6. Once, while hunting bears in Saskatchewan, a sow with three cubs gave me all the grief I wanted. I had settled into my ground blind when she began growling, snapping her jaws, and swatting trees. She was only 20 feet away, unseen in heavy vegetation and finally left the area where I was and walked to the bait, shooed her cubs up a tree and came for me at a rapid walk. I stepped out, started talking to her, and she turned and went back. The cubs started down the tree, and she whoofed at them, and came for me on a dead run. She stopped 10 feet away while I held my scoped 7mm magnum rifle on her chest, and talked quietly. She popped her teeth, put her ears back, and once she started stomping the ground with her front paws, and I felt a charge was imminent. The safety was off, the crosshairs on her head now, and one forward movement would result in me killing her. I kept talking, and soon she backed off a step and so did I, giving her a chance to save face, and then I grabbed my backpack and walked 3/4 mile out of the swamp in near darkness. She didn’t follow me.

7. I followed up on a wounded bear in Quebec once, and kept jumping him without seeing the animal. I’d take the bear a ways, and lose the trail. I went back to the lodge, rested for an hour, and went back to the last blood and could find no more. I circled around, found a tiny foot-wide creek that looked as if something had crossed there. I rolled a blade of grass between my thumb and fore-finger, and found a spot of blood. I followed it up a slight hill through heavy cover, one slow step at a time with the shotgun barrel leading the way. I heard the bear growl just above me, took one more step up, and there he was, less than 10 feet away. One shot with the No. 4 buckshot took care of this wounded animal.

Some may think this is a large number of bears to shoot, but it’s wise to remember that six of them had been wounded by someone else. I’d rather follow and put them out of their misery than leave a bear, wounded by someone else, in the woods. They could live long enough to become a horrible menace to another person.

It was exciting work, and most of the wounded bears were killed within spitting distance. That kind of action will dry out your mouth, make the heart pound at a rapid pace, and cause you to wonder why you are doing it.

Then I’d think of the wounded bear, and that would answer my mental question. I did it to put the animal out of its misery.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/22 at 05:35 PM
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