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The Buffalo Bear of Mt. Ashland

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The Buffalo Bear / Oregon’s Best Archery Bear – Ever

 

They say records are made to be broken.  Oregon bow hunter John Souza blasted his state’s 20th Century records, raising the bar for archers in the new millennium.  With an official score of 21-12/16, John’s bear is the largest bear taken with a bow in the history of Oregon, surpassing the record set by Ray Cross in 1989.  In fact, only one rifle hunter has taken a bear with a bigger skull. The bear that formerly held the number two slot was taken in 1900!

 

John is the owner/operator of a dive shop in southern Oregon, specializing in teaching underwater skills.  He stays in shape by spearing fish, playing cat and mouse with Dungeness crabs and prying shell fish from barnacle covered rocks in the frigid waters of the Pacific.  But that’s his “day job”.  For recreation he trudges up, down and across the rugged mountains of southwestern Oregon.  Armed with a stick and string instead of a spear and net, the prey he seeks is a bit larger.  Having spent decades pursuing elk, deer and black bear, John is an accomplished archer.  And gentlemen, he is fortunate enough to have a spouse who not only enjoys hunting, but she is his biggest competitor. 

 

While scouting public land in the rocky, dry terrain of Oregon’s Applegate Unit in Jackson County, John discovered a waterhole containing an elk wallow.  Located in a transition zone on the side of a large canyon, at a point where the timber (coniferous trees) meets large patches of oak trees, an active spring is almost impossible to find in this arid country.  Famous for its late fall and winter rainy season, the northwest is generally bone dry from July into October.  Only a small number of creeks and springs have water during the late August through late September bow season.  While deer are hiding from the sun this time of year, cow elk endure their estrus cycle and crazed bulls wear themselves thin.  John knew he had a real gem when he found a wallow, encircled by a large quantity of elk, deer and bear tracks.

 

On the morning of September 20, 2008, John parked his truck on the mountain long before the sun chased away the night.  He had a two mile downhill, side hill and uphill trudge in pure darkness to reach the waterhole.  Swirling winds forced him to journey well below his destination before making a straight-line approach, causing even more walking.  About 6:30 a.m. he sat with his back to a large oak blow-down, just 22 yards from the elk wallow and the main game trail.  Situated comfortably, he nocked an arrow and waited for light to come peering over the crest of the mountain.  The air was cool and crisp, a perfect morning to harvest a big bull elk.

 

By 7:00 a.m. the shooting light was adequate and John decided he would attempt to get things rolling with some calling.  Hoping to appear as two different animals, he first sounded off with a calf call, followed immediately with an imitation of a cow elk mewing.  After three or four sets of calling there was a loud snap from the breaking of a heavy limb, just 100 yards into the brush.  Having no doubt the sound was caused by the movements of an elk, John prepared to shoot.  Thrilled he may fill his elk tag so quickly, he gave two calf elk calls, “just to say hello”.

 

That did it!  He heard the animal running toward him.  He could see the movement of legs at ground level, moving quickly, causing his adrenalin level to rise a bit.  That was when the confusion began.  Rather than hearing a grunt, mew or bugle, John heard a “woofing” sound as the animal approached.  When it cleared the brush and was suddenly facing directly toward him, standing motionless at the waterhole, John’s brain was thrown a curve ball. 

 

His mind was in high-gear attempting to comprehend the information being uploaded by his eyes.  For the life of him, John couldn’t understand why a buffalo was at the wallow.  His thoughts kept repeating, “Buffalo.  Huh? What the heck…?” until suddenly the hard drive between his ears slammed to a stop and exclaimed, “BEAR! Not a Buffalo!  Bear, Really BIG Bear!”

 

It was extremely tall with long legs and a head that looked too big for the open end of a five gallon bucket.  There was a large hump on top of his neck and shoulder area, making him look even larger.  He was so immense he simply didn’t look like other black bears John had seen.  Danged if he didn’t look like a buffalo standing there ready to fight.

 

With an expression of anger on his face, disturbed there were no elk to be had for breakfast, he “woofed” a couple more times and drank from the waterhole.  John said there was plenty of time for him to calm his nerves.  He thought about the nice bear rug in his home, and the long standing agreement with his wife, that he would not shoot a bear unless it was much bigger than the one in their house.  He laughed to himself thinking, “I believe this bear will qualify.  She wanted bigger…”

 

John began making a mental checklist in preparation for the shot.  The bear slowly stepped forward and as luck would have it he turned to his right and stood broadside.  Fixed at full draw, John waited until the buffalo’s…bear’s left front leg went forward, fully exposing his rib cage.  Depressing the trigger on his release, the string of his Matthew’s Switchback bow sent an Easton T-LOK broad head silently through the 18 yards of airspace between man and beast.

 

When the arrow entered the bear’s body, he turned his massive head toward the entry site, snapping and popping his teeth, at the same time charging forward at full speed.  The bear was now heading straight for John and he braced for a collision.  John said he placed his bow in front of his body and for an instant he wondered how badly he would be hurt by the wreck that was about to happen – a wreck with a very big, very much alive and extremely angry giant of a black bear.  A fraction of a second before he slammed into John, the bear inadvertently veered to his right, avoiding the crash.  The hunter was breathless.

 

Running just over 150 feet, the bear stopped and began looking around, primarily focusing on the waterhole.  One can only imagine what this predator, the king of this mountain, was thinking.  He was now 52 yards from John.  Limbs and branches created an extremely difficult if not impossible follow-up shot opportunity.  But, good fortune stayed with John.  The bear stepped out from the tangled mess and forged ahead.  The second arrow hit solidly in the main body cavity and the bruin ran over the top of the ridge and out of sight. 

 

Both arrows had passed completely through the bear.  The first was covered with frothy blood and the second with rich dark blood.  Using his cell phone, John called his wife and some friends.  He knew an animal this size, over two miles “downhill” from his truck, was going to require the assistance of as many folks as he could muster for the event.  He returned to his truck to secure his archery equipment and wait for backup.

 

Finding the bear’s trail on brick hard, stone dry ground was not easy. A bear’s thick coat of hair and heavy layers of fat often absorb or block blood at an injury site.  Before finding a clear trail, the hunter and support group spent thirty minutes on their hands and knees attempting to locate blood sign or tracks.  Leave it to a woman, Kim Souza discovered the barely perceptible droplets of blood that put them on the bear’s escape route. 

 

Once over the crest of the ridge the bear ran about 80 yards to an old skid road, then turned and travelled down the mountain at a steep angle.  Approximately 250 yards from the location of the second shot, the searchers found scuff marks leading off the skid road and up a steep bank.  The monster of a bear had collapsed about fifteen yards above the old roadbed. 

 

John said the bear was so heavy he was barely able to raise its head off the ground.  With the help of his wife, John Gilbert and Dave Heryford, they utilized a two wheeled game cart and actually got the animal to the truck intact.  This feat required five and half hours of strenuous labor. 

 

After field dressing, John Souza’s bear weighed 389 pounds.  Bear experts say you can attain a bear’s live weight by adding 18% to the field dressed result.  Doing this, we can estimate the big boar would have tipped the scales at 460 pounds as he was crashing towards John like a locomotive.  Nose to tail he measured an incredible seven feet – three inches and his front pad was eight inches across! 

 

When John Souza sent me pictures of his magnificent trophy, I had to chuckle.  Looking at the enormity of this critter with an unusually large hump on his neck and shoulders, I wholly understood why this bear will forever be known as “The Buffalo Bear” of Mt. Ashland.  Congratulations John!

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws | 4 Comments