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A Very Special Bear Hunt

By Darren Abersold

Here in California, it’s illegal to use bait as a means of attracting bears and the use of dogs to hunt bears was outlawed two years ago so, I’m left with hunting them by pretty much the same way as deer hunting, scouting for sign, looking for food sources, and finding natural trails etc. What I have found is that it’s not that tough. If you are in an area that has a fair number of bears, you should be able to come up with a plan of attack that will put you in a decent position to shoot a bear.

 

Archery season starts in late August here in Calif. and, as usual, I was planted in a stand overlooking a berry patch. I had been sitting about two hours and the sun had just dipped behind the distant mountains and shaded my draw. In full camo and face mask, I patiently watched as time ticked on. Suddenly I heard some rustling of leaves on the ridge behind me. I turned in my stand and saw a beautiful fair sized chocolate colored bear on the ridge. This was one of the most beautiful bears I had ever seen. It was a dark rich brownish red color over its body that faded into darker and darker brown on its legs ending in almost black feet. What a sight. I watched for several minutes as he sauntered around behind my stand. I could tell he was going to circle me and come out on the opposite side so I turned back forward in my stand and waited for him to come into my peripheral vision. After a short wait, I saw movement, not out to the side, but right at the base of my tree. He had come right to the base of my ladder stand and was now looking right up at me with a curious “What the heck?” look on his face. What a rush! This was the closest I had ever been to a bear that’s still alive, and it was incredible but, he was not done yet.

 

Slowly, he put a paw up on the second or third rung of the ladder. Then, he put his other paw up to meet it. There I was, looking down on a bear not eight feet away, looking up at me with a meek “I just don’t get it” look on his face. I could tell he was just curious and I never really felt in eminent danger, but I also knew that there was not room in my stand for the two of us and something needed to be done to prevent it. So, not so slowly, I bent over at the waist and stared straight down at him. That did it! His “I don’t get it” look instantly changed to an “Oh Crap!” look and he was down and running in a flash. He did stop for an instant at about twenty yards to look back and process what had just happened but never offered a good shot angle. Then he was gone. Incredible!

 

Had that been the only encounter with Mr. Blackie for the season I would have counted it as a great season, but I’ll be danged if the same thing didn’t happen again during rifle season. I was once again in a stand, a different stand, when I heard a rustling of leaves off to my left. I was close to the top of a ridge and knew there was a chance of game topping the ridge and being close, but didn’t really expect to see game from that direction. Again, decked out in camo and face mask, I turned to see a black animal heading down and towards my stand. In an instant I could see it was a bear, but the brush prevented me from telling if it was a shooter or not. In short order I could see it was a small bear, too small to shoot. In fact, my first thought was, “where’s momma?”, but as it turns out he was alone. The next thing I noticed was that this little guy was just covered with burrs. I mean covered! His (or her) coat was jet black, but with all the burrs, from a distance, it would be hard not to think it was a chocolate colored bear. Head to toe. It was awesome! Anyway, he proceeded to give me an equally incredible show as the first bear. There was an old downfall tree in front of my stand that lay facing downhill. This little guy walked around and down in front of my stand, walked right to the far end of the log, stepped up on it, and proceeded to walk right up the log toward me. What a fantastic performance. When he stepped off the log, he was not more than five feet from the base of my tree. He proceeded to walk right to the base of the tree and look right up at me. What an amazing experience! Even more than the first time, I felt perfectly at ease. One, I had a rifle this time and two; this little guy didn’t have a clue as to the mess he might be in as I watched him ten feet below me.

 

It was so fun to watch his thought process unfold. He had stopped with one front foot off the ground, just kind of hanging there in midair. Two times he slowly looked up at me then back down with a kind of blank stare on his face. It was like he was saying, “There’s something about this that just isn’t right.” Then, after the second look, I think he figured out that “whatever it is, I don’t think I want to be part of it”. Slowly, ever so slowly, he started to turn and lower his foot to the ground. It must have taken him ten seconds to do this, but as soon as his foot hit the ground, he was off just as fast as his burr studded little butt would carry him. But, unlike the first bear he did not turn to try to figure things out. Last I saw of him, he was hot footing it over the ridge 150yds. Off. Needless to say, with all his commotion, I didn’t see a deer the rest of the evening, but I didn’t care. To be sure, I’m out there to kill an animal, but after an enjoyable experience like that, who couldn’t count the evening a success. So, so far I was having a phenomenal season, and I haven’t even got to the day I got my bear. It too was nothing short of amazing. So, without further ado…

 

There is this one drainage or canyon if you will that I have always wanted to hunt. I just knew there were bear there. In fact, I did know. I had seen plenty of sign coming from there all season. The problem was, I could never figure out a way to the berries and creek at the bottom that would allow me silent access with the wind right. I could tell by the lay of the land about where I wanted to set up, but just could not figure out how to get there.

 

Then one day I was walking the same trail as usual to get to another spot further up the drainage and I stopped, once again, to glass this spot. I wanted to hunt this spot bad. Looking down towards the creek, I nearly fell over. Right below me was a game trail that seemed to lead right to where I wanted to go. Why I had never seen it before, I don’t know, but there it was, my trail to paradise.

 

With nothing to lose, I started down the trail towards the creek. I was dumbfounded. The trail led me right down to almost exactly where I wanted to go. Within a few minutes of reaching the creek I had located a great trail that led from where I figured the bear/s would be bedded on the far ridge to the berry patch and water in the bottom. I mean a GREAT trail! I was a no-brainer. It was time to think. Immediately I knew I was there at the wrong time. The wind was wrong, uphill. If I wanted to hunt this spot tonight, I would have to wait until the thermals were going downhill which would not happen for a few hours. Quickly, I made an impromptu blind about ten yard off the creek and about fifty yards off the main trail that was on the other side of the creek bed. Still not believing I was actually in the canyon I had so long wanted to hunt, and seeing that it was everything I thought it would be, I started back up out of the drainage.

 

I was about half way out when I heard a shot. It was about two ridges away in the direction I was going and away from the creek. This kind of surprised me. I knew there was another person or people, in the area, I saw their truck parked at the trail head, but until now I had never heard any shots save my own in the three years I have hunted this area. There is a road a couple ridges over that I see people on, but nobody had gotten any shots while I was there, and I’m there a lot.

 

Anyway, the shot was far enough away that I figured it would not hinder my hunt this evening so I continued up the ridge towards the main trail. I was just about to hop up on the trail when I heard it. “It” sounded like a huge boulder was rolling down the hill right towards me. Then I saw them. A sow and two young cubs were running full tilt right towards me. My first thought was “Those SOB’s were shooting at that sow with cubs!” My next thought was, “Oh crap, they’re getting really close!” By close, I mean within about twenty yards with mom in front and the cubs close behind.                Instinctively, I brought my gun up with the safety off and stepped out from behind the tree that separated me from the sow. With fear in my voice and my gun pointed right at her head, I said “hey” in the calmest voice I could muster. I’m not even sure that is what I said, but whatever it was, it worked. The next thing I saw was a sow at about thirty feet sliding towards me, a huff from said mom, and two of the cutest little bear butts heading back the way they came, followed thankfully by momma.

What a rush!

 

To say it didn’t shake me up would be a lie, it did. I think I could have killed her if I had to, but that is the last thing I would have wanted. Things just unfolded so fast that if she would have chosen to attack instead of retreat, I would have had time for only one shot. Wow! I just sat down and wondered what else could happen this season? (I found out later that one of the other hunters shot a big boar that was trying to get at the cubs I had seen. I saw the hunter with the bear before going back to my stand. He was certainly the alpha male of the area.)

 

A few hours later I was back in my blind. The thermals had my scent drifting safely down away from the way I expected any game, in particular bears, to come from. I sat in my cleared out spot of earth and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe that I am actually hunting this canyon and how easy it was to get here.” I was almost giddy as I settled in. Not fifty yards away was as good a trail as I had ever seen in this area. I just knew that if I could just get here, I could kill a bear here. The trail led from a brushy canyon down to the creek that was just loaded with berries. I’m not even sure what kind of berries they are, but I do know they were in every pile of bear scat that I found.

 

I had only been there about twenty minutes when I heard the bear. Bears make a very distinct sound when they come walking down through the dry leaves. It sounds like…well a bear walking down through dry leaves. Deer don’t make that much noise, Squirrels can’t make that much noise, there is just no mistaking it. It’s a bear. As I readied my rifle, I noticed the bear in the brush off to my right about 80 to 100 yards out. As I watched and listened, it was obvious that the bear was not going to use the fabulous trail I was watching. This stupid animal was just busting brush and headed for the creek upstream. Why in the heck it chose to bust brush instead of using my beautiful trail, I’ll never know, but that’s what was happening.

I could just catch glimpses of him as he made his way through the brush. It looked like a pretty good bear, big enough for me to take given the chance. Finally the sounds quit, meaning he had made it to the creek bed. As time passed, I thought I heard him leaving upstream.

 

“Well, this stinks.” I knew if I took a step to chase him that he would hear me in the leaves and be gone. All I could do was to sit quietly and hope. This was the fifth bear I had seen today and it was not beyond the scope of reality to think that another bear might show in the next few hours. As the next ten minutes passed, it was almost unbearably hard not to just get up and look for the brush buster. Maybe he was still just upstream a bit. Maybe I could just slowly sneak up there for a look.

 

Then, I heard a splash in the creek, right in front of me! I mean Right in Front of Me! Only ten yards if that. That bear had chosen to go down stream instead of upstream and the deep creek bed had prevented me from seeing him. Now he was ten yards away without a clue I was there! My heart was pounding from the sudden rush of adrenaline. My mind was racing! Think! Think! Think! In my mind I knew it was just a matter of a few seconds before the bear would catch my scent as he passed down stream.

 

There was one small divot in the creek bed shoulder that allowed me to see the bottom. I aimed my Remington 750 Woodmaster at that point and the bear walked right into it. As soon as he walked into the cross hairs of the Leopold 2-7 I squeezed (yanked) the trigger. The impact of the big 35cal. 225gr.bullet from the 35 Whelan plowed through the back ribs of the quartering away bear and exited out the front shoulder. The big bear tried to run, but it was over before he made it even a few yards. There he lay, mere spitting distance away. I just could not believe it.

 

This season had already had more incredible memories than one man should be allowed, and then this. As I walked the ten steps or so to my bear I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. I sat over this bear for quite some time giving thanks to the Lord. Why He chose this year to give such blessings I’ll never know, but it is a season I will never forget and always be thankful for.