Jim's Outdoor Blog

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A Bear Season of Firsts

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Good  Friends  and  First  Bears

It was only the second day of our hunt, but by late evening we had seen a half dozen bears.  Oregon hunters can’t use baits or hounds when bear hunting, so hunters’ glass clear-cuts and walk old roads to locate bruins.  As we drove from location to location in the last week of May 2005, bears seemed to be everywhere.  My good friend Jay Myers of West Linn, Oregon had never been bear hunting and had never seen a bear in the wild.  With just a few hours actually in the field, he had now seen six in two days.  He was spellbound.   

We left the truck around 6:45 p.m.; each walking separate directions on antique grass covered logging roads.  Jay would be walking downhill towards the turnaround, at the dead-end of his road.  To his left the mountain climbed nearly straight up with exposed rock outcroppings the length of the road.  Mere inches off the right edge of the old roadway lay purgatory.  Steep canyon walls stretched several hundred yards to the creek in the bottom.  Four to eight feet tall brush created a nearly impenetrable barrier.  This blockade of green may be heaven to a fleeing bear, but it would be pure hell for humans attempting to recover a dead or injured animal.

Jay carried a Ruger bolt action 25-06 with hand loaded 140-grain sierra boat-tail hollow points, topped by a 3×9 Leopold scope.  Since we would be less than one mile from one another across the canyon, we agreed to switch on our pocket radios if one of us fired a shot.  I suggested to Jay that he could not walk too slowly.  If the wind changed direction or his footsteps were overly loud, he would never know whether a bear had been present.  I told him that if he saw a bear it would be in the roadway in front of him, probably grazing on new spring grass.  I cautioned that if he shot a bruin, he should not hesitate to fire a second or even a third time if the animal was not solidly down for the count.  The object was to prevent the bear from diving into purgatory off the right side of the road.  With a handshake and wish for luck we anxiously parted company.  Jay wondered how he would react if he came face to face with a bear.  I knowingly worried about all the things that can go wrong while bear hunting. 

Forty-five minutes into my walk I heard a shot from across the canyon.  I quickly retrieved my radio and switched it on.  I waited for a long sixty seconds before trying to speak to Jay.  I called to him, but got no response.  Now I worried he had shot the bear and it had skydived over the edge.  My mind’s eye pictured the bear cannon-balling into the darkness of the chasm.  Another minute or so passed until I heard a second shot.  Within seconds my radio crackled. “Jim?”  I answered, “Go ahead – did you get him?”  Amazingly calm, he replied, “I did.  I got him.  I have one down.”  I’m sure he heard my cowboy whoop and holler without the use of his radio!  I rapidly made what seemed a much longer walk – uphill to my truck. 

When I reached Jay and his first-bear I could not have been happier.  His bear was quite large and its gorgeous black coat glistened in the days fading sunlight.  I could not have been more excited.  What a thrill it was to be present with such a close friend and his taking of such a marvelous black bear.  I estimated the bear weighed 260 to 300 pounds, so I called it 280.  The bear measured 6’2” from nose to tail and its front pad was 5-1/2” wide.   

It was fully dark by the time the bruin was resting in the bed of my truck.  We were twenty miles from camp with hours of labor ahead of us, but what pleasurable work it would be. 

Another close friend had scored a huge bear just seven weeks earlier.  2005’s spring bear season was the year of “firsts” for my friends.  For his first bear, Trace Schreiner of Newberg, Oregon took what will probably be the largest bear of his life.  It was certainly the largest bear in my camp in 2005. 

We made camp on April 1, 2005, opening day of bear season.  The first few days it rained quite heavily and we had seen only a glimpse of a single bear.  Trace had never harvested a black bear and I began to worry our trip would end without success.  On April 5th the weather cooperated and I suggested we pull out all the stops and hunt the entire day.  Trace had to leave for home on the 7th and the forecast called for additional rain beginning the next day.  With sandwiches and drinks we left camp before daylight.  We wouldn’t see a bear until the end of a long day, only thirty minutes before darkness halted our quest.   

Tired and disappointed we decided to call it quits and headed for camp.  About a ½-mile from dry clothes and fresh coffee I spotted Trace’s first bear.  Less than two hundred yards from the roadway my mind registered something black behind the draping branches of an old moss covered Oak tree.  The vegetation was two to four feet high, a mass of green.  The black spot simply seemed odd in that scene. 

I asked Trace to drive forward a little further and then stop the truck.  With Trace carrying his .308 caliber rifle and me towing my video camera, we slowly and cautiously walked up the old road.  The black spot had disappeared, causing me to wonder if I had simply seen a shadow, or had it truly been a bear, which had now moved.  We stood our ground and waited.  Within moments I observed a very large bear moving slightly closer toward our position.  He was barely visible in the tall grass and brush.  I motioned to Trace and he quickly spotted the bear.   

My Cabela’s range finder told me there were 173 yards between us, and this bruiser of a bear.  Then it happened, the bear spotted us and froze motionless in his tracks.  I whispered to Trace that it was now or never.  I raised my video camera and began filming while Trace desperately searched for an open path in which to send a 180-grain Nosler partition bullet.  It was at that moment this bear did something I’ve never seen a bear do when he was aware of human beings in the woods.  He simply sat down and watched our movements.   

If all had been normal, Trace would never have gotten a shot.  I would expect a bear to instantly vanish into the brush when he became aware of men so close to where he stood.  But this old bear was king of his domain.  He looked alert, prepared to run, but it appeared his curiosity had the best of him.  He simply sat down and stared. 

The bear’s head, neck and upper chest were the only visible body parts.  Trace made a great shot, striking him dead center in his neck.  The bullet functioned perfectly and the bear was down. 

I was dumbfounded when we reached the bear.  It was very large.  Although it was April 5th, this animal was obese.  It was obvious that he was the ruler of this small slice of the Oregon Coast Range.  In some years the weather is so mild along the coast that black bears find no need to hibernate.  With fat up to five inches deep along his back, it appeared this bear had not lost weight over the rainy days of winter.   

This great bear measured 6’10” from nose to tail.  Due to his size and weight, we were forced to skin and quarter him where he laid.  We later discovered the head and hide weighed 96-pounds and with most of the fat removed, the hindquarters still weighed 111-pounds.  There is little doubt this bear would have tipped the scales at around 400-pounds.  Not bad for a first bear!  I told Trace he is now ruined for bear hunting.

 As for myself, I think I had more fun than either Jay or Trace.  I was thrilled to be sharing their hunts, when good friends took their first black bears. 

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

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