Herniated Harvest

The fall hunting season was fast approaching and with news from my doctor, I was sure it would prove to be an interesting one.

I was diagnosed with yet another herniated disc and would need surgery. This was nothing new to me, as I had had the exact same surgery nine years before on a different lumbar disc. It wasn't so much the pain that bothered me, as it was the annoying numbness in my leg and foot. I even began to walk with a limp. I had visions of myself trying to climb up a tree and my leg "going out" and sending me crashing to the ground. Or perhaps just having to sit still for so long in a treestand would cause me to have to move excessively to get in a more comfortable position, hence spooking all game out of the current zip code. Or maybe the pain would overcome me and I would slip off my stand and be left hanging from my safety strap. No, I didn't think I would chance any of that this fall.

I knew that after surgery I would be laid up for awhile and probably wouldn't be in any shape to go hunting. Therefore, I postponed surgery until the beginning of October, so I could at least hunt the month of September. After all, I had gotten drawn for black bear and had planned on being out in the woods for the opening day. I didn't want to change those previous plans when good money was involved. I would just go to "Plan B" and hunt exclusively out of my Double Bull blind this fall. In a blind, I could move around much more in comfort and do so undetected.

To add insult to injury though, I was also diagnosed with double carpal tunnel syndrome. I had not worked for a couple weeks due not only to my back problems, but also because of weak hands. I was walking around with a brace on my back and braces on both wrists. Would I really be able to hunt this way? I shot my bow and was able to do so with no problems. I even passed a shooting proficiency test and made "sharpshooter" status. This was all I needed to convince me I could handle a "Plan B" kind of hunt.

Monday, Sept. 1st was Labor Day, and it just happened to be the bear opener, and in my case, the "closer" too.

The hunt took place above Lutsen, MN., off the Caribou Trail. One can't get too much farther north than when they're in Lutsen, land of moose, bear, wolves and the elusive big woods whitetail deer. With Lake Superior somewhere below me and Canada not too far above me, I was close to heaven. This is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We got situated inside the ground blind by 4 p.m. Stephanie, my friend Neal's wife, would be sitting with me and running the video camera.

There were six things on my wish list that I hoped would happen for a perfect hunt. More on that in a bit.

A black fuzzy pine martin entertained us for a short while, as it could easily get under the logs that were set up over the bait site. He snatched some goodies and ran off, leaving us to watch for movement other than just weasels.

The day was calm with only an occasional breeze that would drift by, bringing the wonderful scent of blueberry to our noses. Every time it did so, I would think about blueberry pancakes or blueberry muffins. Now I was hungry when I wasn't just moments before!

Stephanie spotted a bear at 5:25 off to the right of us. There was a huge deadfall paralleling the well-worn bear trail, between the bear and us, shielding most of his body so we could only make out its head as it slowly walked towards the bait. He wasn't moving fast and often stopped. He eventually appeared behind the bait but then walked away somewhere behind it and disappeared. We didn't see where he went, as we were 15 yards on one side of the bait and the topography behind the bait began to drop down a hill. We waited and listened for over half an hour before he suddenly appeared once more.

He entered from behind the bait and passed through a small opening between the bait set-up and a pine tree, which was next to where that huge windfall lay.

I checked my watch, 6:05 p.m. Stephanie got the camera ready while I got my bow ready. He was definitely a shooter. I waited for the bear to be perfectly broadside. He only needed to take one more step. We watched him for a total of three minutes only, and knew the time was now right.

I watched the arrow hit, a little farther to the right than I had wanted it, but it was a mortal shot nonetheless. It passed all the way through, slicing the edge of its lungs and liver. It spun around and stopped in that opening between the bait and the tree. This is where the bloody arrow was found. The bear was moving ever so slow as it finally crawled away behind the bait. I could see his feet under the bottom logs, struggling to propel him onward. He was having a very difficult time. Then I lost sight of him. I unzipped the roof window and poked my head out, in hopes that I could see the bear from a little higher viewpoint, not realizing there were pine branches strewn over the window opening. (This was actually humorous, as I got a head full of pine needles stuck in my hair.) No such luck, although I could see a poplar sapling moving, where he sat-up against. I wanted to get out of the blind to put another shot in him. Steph wanted to wait a little longer to see/hear what might happen. We waited a few more minutes and listened to some crashing of trees, then silence. I told her I wanted to get out now and look for him, before he disappeared completely. She asked if I was comfortable with that and I said yes.

We only needed to walk a few short yards behind and below the bait site, as there he lay, underneath a small downed pine tree. The pine was just a little bigger than the size you might have in your house at Christmas time. The bear knew he was about to expire, as he hid under that tree all curled up in a ball.

I realized I could just wait for him to die on his own, which would have probably taken only a few minutes longer, but I didn't want to see him suffer and wanted him dead now, while it was still light and we could see him.

I had another arrow nocked and at the ready. His body was expanding and contracting very rapidly, almost as fast as I have seen my dog pant in hot weather, as he tried to get air in his lungs, what little he had left, so that he could breathe.

I couldn't make out where certain parts of his body were located to shoot at though. I could only see a round ball of black fuzz. I stepped closer toward the downed tree, trying to find a good shooting window through the thick pine branches. Just then the bear picked up his head, (like the movie scenes of a vampire sitting up in a coffin do), and he looked right at me. I was only 5 yards away from him. Stephanie wasn't much more than 5 yards behind me up on the hillside. I turned to her and told her to start filming again, as I was gonna take another shot. For some reason, I wasn't afraid of that bear. When he looked at me but didn't move, I knew he couldn't do anything. I released that second arrow into his body, not knowing where it would strike but entering exactly where the first arrow should have, and lodging in the bears opposite shoulder blade. He tumbled down the hill another 15 yards and gave out a death moan. Not once or twice, but 5 times. I thought it sounded rather like a cow, when it moos long and hard. I knew this time that that was the end. The bear ended up all stretched out on his back not much more than 30 yards downhill from the bait site. I was pumping my fists up and down and thanking God for a wonderful creature to have harvested.

Both Stephanie and I were very cool cats about the whole thing, as though we do this on a daily basis. I never got nervous or terribly excited, but was very calm throughout the whole process. I waited for everything to be perfect before making the shot, and only got excited after the bear gave his death moan.

Stephanie took a few pictures then we headed off on the 4-wheeler to get her husband Neal to help haul that boar out. Neal was great as he plunged right in with a knife, taking care of the field dressing. That second arrow was still in the bear, as we couldn't pry it out. Neal ended up unscrewing the arrow shaft from inside the bear's now empty belly, to pull it away from the broadhead. The broadhead was later removed from its shoulder blade at the taxidermists'. The bear was lifted up onto the front rack of the 4-wheeler with a little help from another successful bear hunter. With not being able to bend and lift with my bad back, I felt safe just helping by picking the head up.

Neal thought the bear to be at least 3 years old and weighed approximately 150 pounds field dressed. He kept remarking on how black it was. Most black bears are a bit lighter or have white patches on their throat, snout or belly, but mine was jet black all over. He said it was nice and long, the kind he preferred for making a rug. I was happy with my 1st bear, not caring that it didn't weigh 250 pounds or more. In all honesty, I would have been happy if it had only weighed 100 pounds. This bear would certainly make a fine rug regardless.

We packed its empty cavity with bags of ice and headed home. I stopped at the taxidermists' first, and watched while they skinned it out and quartered the meat for me to take to the butchers'. I was truly grateful by the way, as it was well past closing hours and they made a special trip to the shop to help me out with my bear. (Thank you Wings & Things Taxidermy!!)

The meat was put in my truck in a large cooler, packed with ice and holding until the next day for transport to the butcher shop.

As mentioned earlier, the six things on my wish list that I wanted for a perfect hunt/harvest were:

1.) Shooting an animal from a ground blind. Many thought I was crazy for wanting to be on terra firma with a black bear just yards away.

2.) Daylight. I didn't relish the idea of trying to make out vitals on a dark bear on a dark night and having to look for it in the dark.

3.) Clean kill. I didn't want a ticked-off wounded bear running through the woods and nothing for me to do but lament it.

4.) Complete pass-through. Not always an easy thing to do on a bear, with so much fat and very thick fur. Was nice to know my 47-pound bow could handle that.

5.) Close distance. I dreamed of my bear NOT running 100 yards+ off into the woods not knowing where it went. I could see this bear

6.) Death moan. I had heard them on bear hunting videotapes and heard they only happen about 50% of the time. I wanted to hear it, as confirmation to the finality of its death.

An added bonus was not having to clean it and field dress it. (Smiles big.)

My first harvest of the 2003 fall season I call a "herniated harvest", due to my back problems. I'm hoping I can have another (harvest, not hernia!) when deer season opens. If you see a D.B. ground blind in the forest, just maybe it will be me.

Neal is a great bear hunter himself and knows more than I ever will about the black fuzzy (and smelly) creatures. He said not to ever change my set-up, as it worked perfectly on such a big animal.

My set-up:

  • PSE Firestorm Lite, 47#
  • Easton A/C/C shafts, 318/560
  • Muzzy 3-blade, 100 gr.
  • HHA Sports sight
  • Trophy Taker fall away rest
  • Double Bull T-5 ground blind

May all your arrows fly true