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Three big black bears taken by “Ambush”

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Spring 2007 – Big Bear Triple Play

         Most people believe Oregon black bears can only be hunted by means of spot and stalk, or as I prefer to call it, “spot and sneak”.  I have little experience at sitting in a tree stand or ground blind and like most folks who hunt in Oregon I have never been any good at it.  As I’ve said before, traditional western hunting means putting your boots in contact with the ground and covering as much terrain as humanly possible.  But, in the spring of 2007 I decided to try something different, a hunting tactic which most western hunters would consider a bit radical, Ambush!  Surpassing my most optimistic expectations, this change in tactics allowed two friends and myself to have our best spring bear season ever.  Each of us took big spring boars.

        Southwest Oregon’s spring bear season runs from April 1st through May 31st.  When the clouds part and warming rays of sunlight spark new growth in April and May, bears suddenly appear, moving from bedding areas to grass covered roadways, grassy openings on canyon walls and immensely green creek bottoms.  Scouting has taught me that bears utilize the same skid roads, clearings and timber, year after year.  I know unmolested bears will use the same feeding area on a daily basis once the growing season begins in earnest.  In early March I began placing trail cameras on skid roads and woodland trails which lead into these feeding areas.  I quickly enlisted the help of my friend Dave Heffner.

       Things were slow in the beginning.  Once or twice per week we drove nearly one hundred miles to our camera setups.  It was frustrating to drive that distance and discover there wasn’t a single photograph on the cameras.  Scouting further, I found feeding areas showing moderate amounts of sign and we moved cameras to these locations and the trails leading to them.  Payoff!  As the weeks passed we got more and more photographs and learned a great deal.  We discovered that multiple bears would walk the same woodland trails to access grassy skid roads, clear cuts and canyons.  By the time we decided to begin hunting in mid-April, we had hundreds of photographs of live bears.

       Dave owns several ground-blinds and we decided to use them to conceal our presence at bear ambush sites.  We took the blinds to an area of old growth forest with a busy trail leading to greenery (bear groceries).  The blinds help reduce human scent, allow you the ability for some movement, and keep you dry during spring showers.  

       The first two evenings of watching the trail were not successful.  On April 20th Dave and I set up two blinds in a heavily wooded area.  We climbed inside our respective blinds around 4:00 p.m. and began the wait.  By 6:00 p.m. I was really bored.  My lack of practice and near inability to remain seated while hunting was rearing its ugly head.  Then, just as I was about to burst, a shot rang out!  Positioned on the trail in a manner that prevented my seeing him, a big bear appeared and walked directly toward Dave’s blind.  Dave had chosen to use his Remington Model 700 with home loaded 7mm cartridges.  We had discussed the importance of making a high shoulder shot, preferably at a diagonal into the bear’s boiler room.  I suspected Dave had done that successfully when mere seconds after he fired, the bear loudly moaned, just out of our line of sight.  The bear collapsed less than twenty feet off the trail.  With only ten to eleven hours of actual hunting time, the plan had worked.  Field dressed, Dave’s boar weighed 250 pounds.  Adding in 18% to attain live weight, this solid six-footer had a walking weight of nearly 300 pounds.  

       Jazzed about this new experience, I had great incentive to put in some “bottom” time.  After two additional trips to the same wooded area my fifth visit brought success.  I was seated observing a trail, but this time my perch was simply a cloth lawn chair parked behind a large old growth deadfall.  The tree’s trunk was sufficiently high that only my head and upper shoulders would be visible.  Naturally this meant I would have to be extremely careful about movement.  

       I had taken my seat at 4:30 p.m. and after about one hour I was counting the minutes.   I impatiently looked at my watch for the last time at 6:28.  Just then, a large crow landed in a tree next to the trail.  The bird was only twenty feet off the ground and about seventy yards in front of me.  Suddenly I observed movement to my right.  Through the heavy brush I could see a black colored object moving toward the trail.  It was obviously a good-sized bear.  

       When the bear reached a large old growth log it effortlessly leapt five vertical feet to firmly land on top of it.  The bear glanced up at the crow and made a low guttural noise.  With that it jumped down and walked behind the large tree’s base (root-wad).  As it emerged into my line of sight the bear turned toward me on the trail and began walking in my direction.  I was ready to make a shot at my first opportunity.  I hoped he would stop before the unpredictable swirling winds gave me away.  

       At around sixty yards the bear stopped and looked to his right.  As the crosshairs of my scope came to rest on his shoulder I moved about four inches off center, towards his hindquarters, and slowly pulled the trigger of my Remington Model 700, 300 Win-Mag and hand loaded 165 grain Nosler ballistic tipped bullets.  The bear immediately rose into the air until he was standing on his hind feet, he turned 180 degrees and ran, but made it less than 50 feet.  In an instant it was over.  This boar field dressed at 300 pounds meaning his live weight was just over 350 pounds.  With only fifteen to sixteen hours of seat time, I had harvested a wonderful bear.

       This success meant the pressure was on for the last member of our group.  My friend Tracy Schreiner was camped about fifteen miles from my patch of old growth timber.  He had been scouting and glassing since his arrival on Saturday, making Tuesday May 8th, his fourth evening in the field.  Tracy would be hunting alone, but his wife, Monica, was at camp anxious to assist if he were successful.  

       Tracy decided to hunt on an old skid road with a large amount of new green grass.  It is located in a very isolated area, at least 30 miles from the nearest town.  This old spur is about one mile long, all downhill from the roadway.  Although it had been socked in with fallen trees for two years, I used my chainsaw to clear a path.  About two-thirds of a mile off the main road a large rock outcropping began paralleling the roadbed.  At this point the road is met by a heavily used bear trail, which leads into extremely thick cover.  The trail is used so often it has flat “paw holds”, clearly detailing each step taken by a bear.  Tracy planned to sit about eighty yards uphill from this trail and simply wait until dark.

       He sat down about 5:30 p.m. and waited only one hour and twenty minutes for action.  At 6:50 p.m. a very nice bear came into view as it walked uphill toward his position.  The mountain winds were swirling badly and Tracy was worried the bear would scent him.  When the animal reached the end of the rock outcropping he stopped dead in his tracks, then spun and quickly began to leave.  Tracy shot him high in his left shoulder with a Winchester 300 Magnum utilizing home loaded 190-grain Hornaday boat-tail spitzer bullets.   Tracy’s bear instantly dropped in his tracks, but with steep unforgiving canyons on each side of this hogback ridge, he fired a second round to ensure the bear would not move.  This too was a good boar, and although Tracy did not have a scale, he estimated the bear’s live weight would have been over 275 pounds.

         After being thoroughly cleaned by a taxidermist’s hungry beetles, Dave and I were able to measure our bear’s skulls.  Dave’s bear scored 19-7/16 inches and mine an even 19-4/16.  Each of them was just under the 20-inch minimum required for placement into Boone and Crockett’s book of big game records.   Tracy’s bear has not yet been scored.        Although I had thought about ambushing bears for many years, my bias against sitting had kept me from trying this tactic.  I have been so very wrong. Believe me, after this unbelievable spring 2007 big bear triple play, I can’t wait to try it again.

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March 11, 2008 - Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws

1 Comment »

  1. Great website Jim, congratulations.

    Comment by Bob Cotterell | March 11, 2008 | Reply


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