Sunday, August 02, 2009
Bears Make Me Question My Sanity
My vision no longer is good enough to hunt black bears. At least, not where they are hunted over bait as they slowly make their way to the bait just before shooting time ends.
I’ll miss it, but after taking more than two dozen bruins over the past 30-some years, I’ve had more than my share of close encounters of the best and worst kinds. Here are seven personal experiences that may make you question my sanity.
1. My closest call to total disaster came in Montana while hiking the mountains. It started to snow, 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.
2. Once while fishing at Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, I was photographing a bruin at close range, and the animal looked up just as the flash went off, and here came the critter 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 it. He backtracked after getting downwind and catching my scent, and walked off without hassling me. Another close call.
3. Years ago when my vision was good, I’d go in after wounded bears when the hapless hunter was too frightened to do it himself but I always went alone. No noise and fewer 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. The last shot killed the pain-crazed bruin at six feet.
4. I really shouldn’t count them but have walked into bait a stand, and walked to within just a few feet of a bruin on many occasions. The bruins would be there waiting for the dinner bell and showed up early. On one occasion the bear 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.
5. I hunted once near Higgins Lake, and somehow I got off the path on the way out of a swamp after hunting and seeing a bear that was just out of my effective bow range. I started 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. No growls, no gnashing of teeth or foot-stomping. He just acted as an escort in the dark.
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 nearby trees. She 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 feet, 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 and so did I, and I grabbed my backpack and walked 3/4 mile out of the swamp with an enraged sow behind me.
7. I followed up on a wounded bear in Quebec once, and kept jumping it 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 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 decided to do it.
Then I’d think of the wounded bear, and that would answer my mental question. Someone had to do the job, and I was there at the right (or wrong) time, depending on your point of view.