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Berry Patch Bear

By Darren Abersold

Anyone who knows me knows I really like to hunt bears. While I would never give up my deer hunting and other game, when hunting seasons start coming around, its bears that are foremost on my mind. To me bears offer as much a challenge and excitement as any game I’ve hunted. They are weary enough to challenge me, they make great table fare (In fact, I have a bear tender loin crock pot stew cooking right now), and although extremely rare, they are about as close to dangerous game as I will ever hunt. Their hides and skull make outstanding and classy mounts and when you tell of your hunt, it’s easy for the reader or listener to be engulfed in the excitement of pursuing an animal with big teeth and claws.

This year, however, held a dilemma. How do you write a story of a hunt that lasted about thirty minutes? That is about how long it was from opening day legal shooting light and the time I had my beautiful black bear. How do you make a story out of such a short hunt? After pondering this thought for several days it dawned on me that really, this hunt started about month earlier.

It was during the early archery season that I first saw, and almost got a shot at this beautiful bear. I had left the truck at first light and was now about 3/4 mile away when I started seeing a large increase in the number of bear scat piles. Looking around, I found that I was standing in the middle of a mega berry patch. About every third bush was a berry bush loaded with berries. Now, I’m sure it’s the same all over, but where I hunt in the Trinity Alps, when you see berries like this there are always going to be bears around.

I was just standing there marveling and imagining the possibilities of hunting bear here; when I heard something moving around just above me in the brush. Knowing it had to be either a deer or bear; I quickly sank to the ground and nocked an arrow to the string of my Samick Stingray re-curve. Just as quickly, a flash of fur drifted between bushes about 40 yds. Away, headed in my direction, I knew from that quick glance it was a bear, but couldn’t yet determine if it was big enough to shoot. Being that I have yet to take a bear with my recurve I wasn’t going to be too awful picky but, I sure wasn’t going to shoot a cub and hadn’t yet determined the bears size. I had another problem too, the wind. Considering how this whole drama was quickly playing out, I had no choice, but the wind was drifting in exactly the wrong direction. In fact, it amazed me that the bear was still headed my direction at all. I take strides to be as scent free as possible but, no matter what you do, you can’t hide 100% of it. Still, here he came.

After seeing a few more glimpses of him thru the brush I could see he was a beautiful light brown color that faded into black around his head and feet. A real beauty and, plenty big enough. Suddenly, everything went into slow motion. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe this is really going to happen.” He had turned and was now 20 yds. Away walking broadside as I tightened the tension on the bowstring. Two more steps to clear some brush and I would have my shot. Then he stopped. Not in a “oh here is a good berry to munch on” kind of stop but, a sure, solid “What the heck is that?” stop. Sure enough, a split second after, all I heard was a short disgruntled “HUFF” and off he shot up the mountain and out of my life leaving me alone with my, until then, unnoticed heart beating about 140 beats per minute.

Soon, I was able to return to reality and get up. I knew I had my bear hunting spot for this year. Opening of rifle season was only two weeks away and I knew nobody was going to find this spot. There were still plenty of berries on the bushes and this was about as close as you could get to a no brainer, sure thing. I spent about an hour finding the best spot to set up a ground blind and cleared the underbrush for silent movement. I also scoured the area around the berry patch and found that, judging from the large consistent size of the scat piles, he seemed to be the main master of this domain. This is not unusual and generally means that the bear is a male and most likely the biggest in the area, claiming this spot and running off any others. That thought was racing around in my head as I left, excited for my next visit to the berry patch.

Finally, opening morning arrived. I had camped by the truck and woke with about an hour and a half before shooting time. This would give me enough time to get something in my belly and get into my blind a half hour before shooting light. I had everything I needed for an all day stay. I was mentally prepared to stay all day both Saturday and Sunday if needed. Food, water, and patience was all I needed, I knew he would return at some point.

As shooting light filtered into the berry patch I started glassing. Maybe it was my mental preparedness of an all day stay but, I really didn’t expect to see anything right off. Casually, I just slowly swept the binos back and forth without any real intent or focus. I think it was because of this state of mind, and the fact that I hadn’t heard a whisper of anything that sounded like an animal moving, that it caught me completely off guard when my glasses picked up a very large black blob standing only 125 yds. away!         

I knew him in an instant. The naked eye couldn’t discern but, with the binos I could easily see the distinct coloring. He was unhurried and not alarmed as he slowly meandered into the berry patch. Suddenly, doubt entered my mind. Is this really him? Am I sure he is the one I want to fill my tag with? Is he really as big as I remember when he was walking thru the brush two weeks ago? I watched and watched. Probably ten minutes went by as I fought with my decision.

Finally, my common sense snapped me back into reality. I knew from his color that it was the same bear. I knew again, from the consistent size of the scat piles while scouting, that he was most likely the only bear I was going to see in this area, and that considering the diameter of the scat, he was plenty big enough. I was almost relieved that my mental battle convinced me to shoot. The little devil of doubt on my right shoulder was beaten down by the angle of “Shoot the dang thing” on my left.

Slowly, I lowered the binos and lifted my rifle. Today, I had with me my favorite bear gun, a Remington 750 Woodmaster in .35Whelen, topped with a 2X7 Leopold scope. A better combo for bear I cannot think of. Looking thru the scope I could see he was in a good position for a shoulder shot, slightly angling away. I knew the 225gr. Sierra bullet would penetrate thru his vitals and break the off inside his shoulder. Perfect! Silently I pushed off the safety. Concentrating on the far shoulder I squeezed the trigger. The report of the shot seemed quiet in the stillness of the morning. I didn’t think about it until later, but my shot was the first of the season in the area within earshot.

 At the shot, the bear flinched wildly, fell to his far side, and now broken shoulder, then recovered for a short run downhill. Within a couple seconds silence fell on the woods once again, followed shortly by a low airy, guttural moan. It was over. As I approached the bear I could see he was even prettier than I thought. Looking back, I had never really gotten a good look at him before, only a glance here and there during bow season, then a long look in the low light of opening day. He was gorgeous! Safe to say he is the prettiest bear to date and as big as any I’ve taken. To say I was happy and satisfied with him would be an understatement. What an exciting and wonderful memory.

 

P.S. I just tasted the stew. It’s fantastic! Check out my recipe at Bear Stew!