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Third Tree’s a Charm

By Darren Abersold

If I was to tell you that I shot my 2014 black bear out of the third tree I found him in within a three hour window, I’d bet you’d think, “He’s running hounds”, and rightfully so. That would make much more sense than the story I’m about to tell. However, that’s not exactly what happened and there were no dogs within miles. Sit back and let me tell you about one of the most unusual, and in the end, exciting bear hunts I have ever been on.

My morning deer hunt turned out to be a bust. I hunted a deep canyon by heading straight to the bottom and hunt uphill to an old skidder trail I knew was at its head. After getting back to the truck in the late morning, I headed to a small wooded flat I knew held bedded deer. I had also seen enough bear sign there earlier in the season to know there was a chance of seeing a bear as well. Well, it didn’t go quite as planned and when I hit the road again I was about 1/4 mile from the truck. So, feeling a bit let down and tired, I just started walking up the road at a leisurely pace looking forward to the lunch I knew waited at the truck.

I hadn’t taken more than a dozen steps when all of a sudden I heard the unmistakable sound of a bear coming out of a tree, well falling actually. First, there was the sound of his claws digging into the bark as he headed down, then the crashing of limbs as he must have lost control, and then the most alarming sound of a large animal slamming into the ground. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing as I listened to the bear running down the canyon. Surprisingly, before he made it too far, he seemed to stop. Because of the terrain I knew there was no way I was going to see him but, he still wasn’t too far away. So I just continued back to the truck still processing the fact that I had just hunted my butt off without seeing a darn thing, and just spooked a bear out of a tree within 40 yards of the road.

As I sat eating my lunch at the truck, I couldn’t get over the fact that the bear really didn’t go far and was probably within hearing distance of the road. It didn’t take long to come up with a plan. I knew that all the berries were long gone and the bears that were still around, hadn’t gone to lower elevations to eat the acorns, and were having to work hard to get enough to eat to store fat for the winter. So, I reasoned that any food they were getting, they had to tear something up to get. Whether it was tree bark, or insects from a rotten stump, they had to be pretty loud, so my plan was to go back to where I last heard him and just listen. It was worth a shot.

Once back at the spot, I stood and listened for several minutes. Nothing, so I figured I would work my way further down the road to a corner where I could hear better down in the canyon. Then, it happened again! I hadn’t taken more than a few more steps when all of a sudden that bear started down another tree just as fast as he could. This time however he was even closer to the road! No kidding. With the slope of the mountain, he couldn’t have been more that 20 yards away. This time I had a good look at him as he proceeded to fall out of the second tree within the hour. Claw, claw, claw, lose his grip, crash through a bunch of limbs, and free fall the last twenty feet to the ground. It was almost comical to watch. I managed to get the gun up this time and thought I was going to have to shoot him on the flush as he fell, but couldn’t quite pull it off before he hit the ground and tore off down the canyon. I couldn’t believe it...again!As I stood there knowing I had just blown it for the second time, he seemed to stop again not too far down the canyon. He went further this time than the last but, I doubt he was more than a couple hundred yards down in the timber.

Well, heck with that. It was on now. It was going to be dark or his death, I was going down after him. I went up to the corner and quietly dove off the canyon on the other side of a small ridge, hopefully out of sight and hearing of my cedar bark eating friend.

An hour later I was far down the canyon, standing at the crest of the little ridge that I hoped separated he and I. I stood a long time listening when finally I heard it. He was ripping into a log about a hundred yards away and on the other side of the gully. Perfect. Slowly, I worked my way in his direction figuring that as long as I could hear him; he was too busy eating to spend much time looking for danger. He was comfortable enough to eat so the advantage was mine. Finally, I could see him. He had finished with that particular log and was heading downhill on his side of the gully. Slowly and quietly I paralleled him as he worked his way down the canyon. For a long time I was able to keep him at least partially in sight but there came a time when I finally lost track of him. I just sat down and listened. At least fifteen minutes passed without anything from his side.

To my astonishment, the next thing I heard from him was his clawing on tree bark, AGAIN! For the third time within three hours, he was in a tree. This time was different though. This time I was in control of the situation. I knew where he was and he had no idea I was in the picture. Surprisingly, without me hearing him, he had worked his way over on my side of the gully and was now only about 70-80 yards away. Although I couldn’t see him at the time, it didn’t take him long to move into my sight. I watched this guy, who had eluded me twice, with certain empathy as he chewed the bark off a cedar tree. I almost laughed as I thought to myself, “Falling out of two trees in the last three hours would have flat knocked the appetite right out of me.” I watched him for many long minutes trying to decide if he was what I wanted to fill my tag with. Binoculars, then scope, then back to the binos, and I knew he wasn’t the biggest bear I ever seen, but he wasn’t the smallest either. What to do? Finally, I decided that with only one more week of deer season, and the fact that most of the bears had vacated the region for somewhere with more feed, if I wanted bear meat this year, I’d better take him.

Through the scope he presented an unusual target. He was standing on one limb and was stretched out with his front legs above his head gripping another limb. That is a very different target than a broadside bear on the ground. Where do I aim? I knew it would be easy to aim too far forward but, how far is too far back? Finally, deciding on a spot, I calmly squeezed the trigger. At the shot, he completely let go and free fell the twenty or so feet to the ground, seemingly rolling down the hillside a ways. “Well, that’s it.” I thought but, as I sat there letting things calm down a bit, I heard him to the left of where he should have been. About a minute later, I heard him down the hill and to the right of the last place I had seen him fall. He was making a gurgling sound. I thought to myself, “Gurgling generally means a lung shot but, he should be dead with shot.” It was at this time, I feared my shot might not have been as good as I thought.

Fifteen minutes later and no further sound, I went to where he hit the ground. No blood. I followed his tracks sliding down hill to the creek ten yards down the hill; still no blood. I couldn’t believe I might have missed him. I knew I didn’t, and the gurgling sound? What the heck was going on?

Finally on the other side of the creek I finally found some blood. It wasn’t much or was it the normal frothy blood of a lung shot, but bright red. Not good. I have followed this type wound before.  He bleed for a while, then nothing. That’s exactly what happened. I slowly picked through the scant blood for twenty yards up the hill, then to where he had seemingly turned downhill, then nothing...at all! I just couldn’t figure it out. I carefully scanned the area for an hour close to where I found the last blood but could not find anything at all.

The sun had shaded the gully long ago and as I looked up to the mountain tops I could tell darkness was only a short time away. I had looked below and above where I last found his blood and had just lost it. I was standing in a thicket, above last sign of blood, when I decided I needed to get out of the canyon. I didn’t want to trash the area anymore and the last thing I wanted was to be floundering around alone in the dark with a wounded bear. I’d come back in the morning and certainly find him a short distance away. Little did I know, the adrenaline filled bear was lying in wait just twenty yards away from where I was standing. Luckily, my path out led me away from that spot...for now.

I didn’t sleep much that night. I just could not figure out what went wrong. My sight picture looked good in my memory. I wasn’t worked up. I didn’t flinch. What happened? The only thing I could figure was that I might have shot to shallow in the body. Maybe I figured in his long hair too much into my sight picture and shot him through the brisket instead of deeper into the lung area. If that was, in fact, what happened, I knew that first, it was a very ugly wound that would most likely kill the bear after a long and horrible day or two, and second, there was a very small chance I would ever find him. Those thoughts made for a sleepless night, even though the stars were brilliant that night, they offered little comfort.

In fact, I almost had myself talked into not even going back. It was a long way down that blasted canyon but, I knew I owed it to the bear and myself to at least try. I’d deal with my guilt only after I gave it my best to find him.

I started down the canyon by headlight. Just at daybreak I was at the spot of last blood. Even though I had covered the area below the last blood last night, I figured logic dictated that he would have gone that direction so that’s where I started. In ever increasing distance from last blood I made half circles, eventually finding an old road. It circled around in the direction that if the bear did go uphill and, made it far enough, he might have crossed it so I followed it around for a good distance. Nothing, it didn’t appear that the bear had made it over the hill and cross the road. Was this good, or bad? I didn’t know. So, back to the last blood I went to start my search uphill. At this point, I was more than a little disappointed. I thought for sure that the bear had gone downhill and that I would find him a short distance from where I quit looking last night. Now I was at least two hours into my morning search and dishearten to say the least.Following the same pattern of increasing half circles uphill, in short order I found myself in the same thicket I had quit the search last night. Now you need to know, this thicket was only about thirty yards off the creek and maybe twenty yards from last blood. I had stomped around this vicinity last night. No blood, tracks, nothing.....

Suddenly, all hell broke loose. My bear was within fifteen to twenty yards and very pissed off. He just came unglued. Trashing brush, growling, and there was that gurgling sound again. My heart jumped into my throat. If a person was ever going to be attacked by a black bear this was it. It’s either a sow with cubs, or a wounded bear.

Damn, I was down in the bottom of this hell hole canyon, alone, in a thicket, with a wounded bear that was very much alive. Had he decided to charge, I would have heard him coming but would have never seen him until he was at arm’s reach. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen. He seemed content to just let me know he didn’t appreciate me approaching him. After I realized he wasn’t coming for me, I managed to gather myself enough to quietly back out of the thicket and work my way around and above the thicket to a spot where I could see better. I stopped beside a large pine tree and rested my rifle against it pointing in the direction of the terror. The whole time he was putting on an incredible and unbelievable show. I thought I had managed to get into a spot he might come without him knowing where I was. I was wrong. He came my way all right but, as he cleared the thicket, he looked directly at me. Damn! He was only thirty yards away and knew exactly who and where I was. His brows lowered and he vocalized his disapproval as his eyes locked with mine.  Luckily, I had his shoulders in my scope and a quick and well placed shot for my 257 Robert's ended his suffering before he could decide to fight his opponent.

As I watched him to make sure it was actually done, my emotions were fully disjointed. In the end, my suspicions were right. I creased his brisket and opened an ugly wound but never entered the lungs, to my immense relief I didn’t have to ward off his charge with my .257 Roberts. I felt sorrow for his night of suffering; however, relief set in because I didn’t give up. Finally, all I could do was just lean up against the pine tree and thank God for one of the most incredible bear hunts I have ever had.