Bear hunting……..being successful at being unsuccessful!
It had been a few years since I really devoted 100% of my time and effort into a bear hunt. The hot summer months of August and September are for me usually spent scouting for and trying to stick an arrow in the new Washington State record mule deer or whitetail ( go big or go home right?!). Except for this year. This year I decided to put my time and effort into tagging a mighty black bear! All summer long I practiced at the range making sure the ole trusty 7mm was on. Hiking, lifting, and running trying to harness my inner Cameron Hanes. I gave up on that one real quick as I realized I was more on the same level as Stan Potts (assuming he is not a mythical creature like Cameron Hanes?) Anyway back to where I was at. Once August rolled around the fires all over the state and the honey do list kept me at home. Not a big deal the bear season is long and I had plenty of time to get it done (or so I thought). I decided on September 1st. That would be the date I would start. For 4 days I would be a lone wolf in the mountains…..like a hunting ninja if you will and I would climb to the top of every mountain and traverse the bottom of every canyon until I was successful!....or until the 4 days were up. I had commitments at home.
Day 1: Well I was so excited I didn’t get to sleep until like 2:30am the previous night so I may have overslept which caused me to get the spot I had chosen to be at that first morning two hours late. I had planned on making it to the top of a small ridge that over looked a lush valley bottom surrounded by timber and water well before daylight. As I crested the top of the ridge I immediately saw two bears take off across the valley floor into the timber…..crap I guess I wasn’t as good at being a hunting ninja as I thought. I decided to sit and glass in hopes they would make their way back to small meadow below. I sat there for about 4 hours and watched the deer come and go in out of the meadow, but no bears. At about noon I decided that I should maybe hook around and come into the timber from the back side and work my way down slowly, still hunting until I reached the valley bottom. Seemed like a solid plan so off I went. I think at this point of day 1 I will give you a brief rundown and skip right to the end. No bears, damn hot, not enough water, and soaked in sweat, tears, and the stench of defeat.
Day 2: I actually was able to get up on time! Surprising as I was pretty run down from the excursion of the previous day. With renewed hopes and a new day in front of me I quickly ate some breakfast and headed out the door. Snow!! Oh wait……ash? Yes ash. It was everywhere covering just about everything. I decided to try another spot that I had seen bears in before. Lots of berries, water, cover and the most awesome aspect of this spot was no hiking involved! Just a short drive and an even shorter walk. On the way in I came across a very fresh bear blowout. The blowout had so much force you could actually see where the pine needles and leaves were blown back. I knew this was a big nasty bear! As I rounded the corner of the trail my suspicions were confirmed…..bear a big one totally oblivious to my presence. I guess I was a hunting ninja after all. I quickly brought my gun up, found the vitals in my crosshairs and was just about to squeeze the trigger when out of the brush behind the bear came 2 little cubs. Disappointment gave way to fear as I realized I was only 40 yards away and the cubs had now zeroed in on me which alerted their mother who decided I was a little too close. After sending her cubs up a tree she put on a very impressive display of pure dominance ending with a few bluff charges. She retreated back into the brush and continued to thrash around and pop her jaws. It was at that time I started my backwards walk toward the truck. Although I had made it out safe I was a little bummed as I had high hopes for that area. I decided to hike back to the ridge from the day before and try some calling and maybe hit this spot again later in the day. I will just go ahead and spare you here. It was hot AF, I still did not bring enough water, I suck at calling, and bear hunting is stupid.
Day 3: Today the doubt was starting to creep in. I knew the spots I had been in held bears. I had been seeing some good sign, tracks, fresh scat, and the single mother and two children from the day before. I decided on a spot that was better for an evening hunt rather than the morning, but with one day left I decided to chance it. As I made my way into the area I was greeted with multiple piles of fresh scat. Remembering the events from day before I quickly went into full on hunting ninja mode. All of a sudden I heard commotion in the draw below me. I peeked over the top and looked down and was face to face with a nice bear! Of course the moment our eyes locked the bear took off like Usain Bolt and was headed for the hills. It was pretty thick and I lost sight of the bear as it made its way up out of the draw and onto the other side. I took off up the ridge a little way in hopes that the bear would present me with a shot once it was on the other side. As I made it to the top I saw the bear on the other side in the wide open just looking back making the most horrible moans I have ever heard. This confused me as I had not shot. That’s when I heard it….them. In the bottom of the draw was a tall, thick ponderosa and at the very top were 3 cubs. They must have been making their way through the draw when we met up. Well crap. After a few minutest the cubs made their way down the tree and were soon on the other side with their mom. I went up the ridge the rest of the way and found a spot to sit. I spent the rest of the day in that spot, calling, and glassing. Hoping daddy bear would make an appearance. He did not.
Day 4: The last day. Today was do or die, all or nothing. I would hit all my spots today and leave with a monster bear. At least that is what was keeping me going. Today was supposed to be hotter than the others so I left extra early so I could do most of my hiking in the cool of the morning. At first light I was back on the same ridge top as day 1. This time well before the sun started to creep up. As daylight approached the valley below came alive with muleteer feeding back into the timber before the evil rays of the sun could touch them. I sat there for a few more hours just glassing and for a short while tried calling. It was approaching 10 and it was really starting to heat up. The smoke from the nearby fires was settling in and really making it hard to see. I stood up and started the trek back to the truck thankful that it was all downhill. After making my way to the truck I was feeling pretty bummed, it was hot, I was tired and I just wasn’t seeing bears like I had the previous years. This is usually where some jack wagon will say “that’s why it’s called hunting and not killing”! 99% of the time I would agree….but this time, just this 1% time I would have smacked them. Hard. It was not an easy decision to make but I decided to head home with my tail between my legs and at least spend time with my wife and son before I had to go back to work. I made my way back to camp, packed up, and headed home.
After being home for a few days I started to reflect on my trip. Although I did not put a big bear down I was out doing what I love. The one thing that I’m most passionate about….hunting. All the sights and sounds. All the beauty that is out there in the wild. I was there doing what I love.