CRUNCH TIME! This was the second time that I had gotten a chance at this bear, in the last four hours! To say that my heart wasn’t about to jump out of my chest would be a total lie. The words that kept running through my head were, “Be a ‘Finisher’ you’ve worked too hard to blow this now!”2009 Black bear
During the late winter months I got a wild hair, and decided in the spring I was going to do a DIY spring black bear hunt in the high country of southwestern Wyoming. Over the duration of the next two months, to say I was busy would be an understatement. I spent countless hours reading everything I could find about bears, bear baiting, bear habitat, behavior and anything I could get my hands on about black bears. Hours were spent searching for the ideal bait and studying Google Earth, to find that “perfect” spot to set up a bait station.
With all of the decisions made; where to place the bait, what to use, and how to get it there, I was ready for season to begin.
On April 29th, I left home at 2a.m., to go to work, so I would have enough time to pack in, in the afternoon. I met up with my Mom, Dad, and Charles on the mountain, she would hunt horns while we packed bait. Due to snow and mud, we were only able to get within three miles of the trailhead, with the pickups. From here, we used four wheelers to reach the trailhead with the bait, barrel, tree stand, and trail cameras.
Previously I had built a cart to carry the barrel with. Due to the lightweight construction, the excessive weight of the pre-baited barrel broke a wheel off of the cart! This mishap left us with a mile (straight uphill) and one SERIOUSLY heavy barrel of bait to go! Well, my dad seems to always come up with something to make due in times like these. He a got a long pole, and two tie-down straps, we tied the barrel to the pole, one guy in front, and one in back, we were set! So we thought.
Needless to say, when we got back to the trailhead, eight hours later, we were tired, sore, and hungry. I cannot even begin to let those two know how much I appreciated their help. They broke their backs (almost literally) to help, and without their help, I could have never pulled it off. The bait was set, the tree stand up, and the trail cam was waiting. The only thing left now was for some ol’ hungry bruin to find it!
I decided to give this some time to happen, so I elected to wait until the 5th of May before returning to check the bait. It was hard to stay away from the bait, but I knew it would take some time for the bears to find it, and I didn’t want to disturb the area anymore than I had to. Let me tell you the days spent waiting, were the longest of my life!
As I made the decent off of the ridge, into the saddle that my bait was positioned in, I was chock full of excitement and anticipation, to see if my bait had been hit. As I came around that one last spruce tree and into view of my bait, my heart sank L, it had not been hit. All of the homework, and back breaking work, I was certain it would have attracted some customers, but it hadn’t. My dad made this trip with me, as he was just as excited about it as I was. He told me, “ Don’t worry, they’ll find it, keep your head up.” That was all it took, from that point on I was determined to make everyone’s hard work pay off. I made a promise to myself that if I didn’t connect on a bruin, it wouldn’t be from lack of effort. We cooked up a batch of “Bear Crack” that would have made the great Cameron Hanes proud, reset the camera, and headed down the mountain.
This scenario just kept repeating itself, like a bad dream every time I checked the bait. I was beginning to believe that I was doing something wrong. One afternoon when I got home, I stopped by the local mechanic shop and talked to Slim, a seasoned bear hunter that was very generous with tips and advice. After I told him my situation, he told me “Just keep doing what you’re doing, welcome to bear hunting.”
On May 11th, I once again shouldered my “Too Heavy” pack and headed up the mountain with a hefty load of bait, bear crack makings, and the propane stove. Half way up the mountain, I came around a large pine and had a face to face with a bull moose! His velvet clad antlers were starting to make their way out past his ears. After about a two minute stare down he had decided he didn’t care much for this hunter, and trotted off out of sight. Wow, that was exciting! Defiantly not a sight I would have seen if I was sitting at home. With the sight of that bull fresh on my mind, I finished my trek to my bait. I rounded that same old spruce tree, that so many times had provided me with disappointment, and FINALLY! My bait site had been ravaged by a bruin! The barrel had been tipped over, and the trail camera was ripped off of the tree.
The adrenalin that was running through me was amazing. Just the whole scene was enough to give me chills. I slowly walked over and looked at my poor camera lying helpless at the bottom of the tree. When I picked it up, I noticed a dirty, sticky paw print on it. I thought to myself, “Must be camera shy”. I tied the camera back on the tree with what was left of the tattered straps, re-baited the barrel, and climbed into my tree stand.
I’ve never been one to sit long but have recently found that while in a tree stand, I do some of my best thinking. That night I had plenty of time to gather my thought, while waiting for the big boy. I thought about my wife and son at home, and how lucky I am to have them. I was caught up in my thoughts, when I heard snow crunching. Slowly a heavy set dark cinnamon colored bear materialized out of the proverbial ‘’Nowhere”. He was very cautious, walking only a few steps at a time, he would then stop and scan the area with ears perked up, looking for danger. My excitement level was through the roof! I was sure this bear was as good as mine. Things headed south. I blew my chance at that bear, but that is a whole other story in itself.
That night when I climbed out of my stand and down the mountain, I was very disheartened. I just kept thinking that I may have blown the only chance I might get. One thing I’ve learned from this season is that in Wyoming, there is not a bear around every other tree like there may be in Alaska or Canada. It hurt to know that I’d come so close to tasting sweet success, only to fail. These are the experiences and moments that builds us as hunters, and is a necessary part in a hunter’s life.
The days to follow were very uneventful at my bait. At this point I really was starting to think that my only chance had come and went. I continued my baiting duties religiously . Then it happened! One night after checking my lethargic bait site, I climbed back up on the ridge to glass a little. At two miles, I spotted a nice blonde color phase bear. I had nothing to lose and I couldn’t believe I was going to get a break like this. I bailed off of the ridge, and hot footed it across two more, to close the gap. As I climbed up the last ridge, a 45degree grade, the one the bear should be feeding on top of, I felt the wind kiss the back of my neck. Needless to say, when I topped out the bear was gone. STRIKE TWO! Wow I thought to myself, I’ve worked so hard for this and everything keeps going wrong. I once again headed back to the truck in the dark with a cold drizzling rain. I got to the trailhead and had to scold myself for feeling sorry for myself, I had to remind myself this is hunting.
June 4th, this was the 15th trip I’d made up this mountain. I stopped halfway up and sat down, staring across the drainage I’d just climbed out of. I contemplated giving up, throwing in the towel right then and there. Season had been open for over a month, I’d been rained on nearly every day, I was missing my family, and my legs, back, and mind were way beyond tired. The numerous days of leaving home at 2a.m. to finish work in time to hunt the afternoon, were wearing on my body and mind. I was almost at my limit……Almost! Once again I told myself, this is DIY public land hunting, it’s just the way it is sometimes. I picked myself up and continued on to my bait. I climbed down the mountain that night with nothing to show but a visual in my mind of a un hit bait, and the lasting memory of watching a cow elk, with twin newborn calves. A couple more trips to check the bait had no better results.
June 11th, I had four days left in the season. I was starting to feel some pressure. Tag soup is not my favorite, but I was seeing some in my near future. Around that same old spruce tree I stepped, words cannot be put on paper to describe how I felt to see my bait site torn to pieces. I quickly retrieved the SD card from the camera, slipped into my rain gear, and climbed into the tree stand. I had just settled in and started looking at over one hundred images on my card viewer, when a commotion in the timber quickly got my attention. I readied my rifle, looked up and saw a dark figure slipping quickly through the trees, about 125yards away. By the time it cleared the heavy timber, it was at only 90yards. I was very surprised when out popped a beautiful chocolate brown bear. This bear knew something was up, at 90yards it shielded itself with low pine branches while it scanned the area. I will always believe this bear heard me climb into the stand, and was investigating what was coming to steal its bait. After about two minutes the bear turned and walked back into the timber, never offering me a quality shot. I had so much adrenalin surging through me, it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have to try and pull of a shot. The next four hours went by painfully slow. I was left wondering why it hadn’t come all the way in, if it’d be back and if I’d be able to keep my composure when it came right down to it.
I didn’t hear a thing, but when I looked to my left, a familiar dark figure got my attention. There, in the same spot, doing the same thing, stood the same bear. This time I told myself that I had to make this happen. After about two or three minutes of scanning the area, it decided to wander back into the timber. At that moment my mind was in overdrive, I vividly remembered reading in Cameron Hanes’ book about his buddy Roy Roth being a “Finisher”. I so badly wanted that right now. I flipped the safety off and told myself, “If given a chance, finish this.” The bear was moving to my right, when I flipped the safety off it made a clicking noise and the bear heard it, this caused the bear to spin 180degrees, it now was facing right to left and had moved into a shooting lane. I had but a fraction of a second to draw down pick a spot and squeeze the trigger.
As I heard the last branches breaking, shortly followed by a death moan I’ll never forget, I knew it was over. I sat there for a moment, almost in disbelief at what I’d just accomplished. I had done my homework, stayed persistent, and went the extra mile, and had just taken my first
Black bear, all in the beautiful high country of Wyoming. I was pumped! A short blood trail, photo session, and a tough skinning job later and I was packed up and ready to head down the mountain, that I’d learned to love and hate at the same time. Just as I got my pack on and headed towards the truck, the sky opened up and started to rain. I didn’t mind. On my journey down the mountain, for the last time, I reflected back on my amazing season. I thought about how the emotional highs and lows made me come so close to giving up, how I’d missed my family, and how I’d experienced things that few ever get to. This was one of the toughest hunts I’ve ever had both physically and mentally. The reward when I succeeded was among the sweetest. I reached the truck well after dark I was soaked, sore, and happy to get that extra heavy pack off of my back. It was all worth it and I couldn’t keep a smile off of my face.
I like to give extra thanks to my dad and Charles, thanks to them this all happened. Also to Slim, who unselfishly offered tips and advice. My wife and mother also deserve thanks for always taking care of things at home, also thanks to them for helping pack the bait gear out. Once again thanks to everyone involved while I traipsed through the mountains running down a dream and a lifetime of memories that I’ll keep forever