The neon glow of my pin sites had faded to gray, so I abandoned my bow for the Model 7, .308 that hung within arms reach on a nearby tree step. The rifles light gathering scope would give me that last ten minutes of legal shooting time I needed in this canopied patch of forest with its bear friendly understory. The many shadows of dusk became bears in my mind as I slowly scoured the forest floor for movement. The grasses of the swamp began to move slightly and my hands tightened on my gun for a left handed shot. Poised and ready, I watched that same old old skunk come waddling up to my bear bait pit and drag his rump on the ground to leave his mark.
Almost completely dark now, I called it a day, first lowering my gear by rope and then plodding off to my waiting ATV 100 yards away.
Meanwhile, one quarter mile away and across the Big Swamp, someone was watching the sun go down while praying that a bear would appear and that the sunset inspired mosquito hoards would go away. It had been a hot a butt numbing six hours in the tree stand, situated fifteen yards from the artfully arranged bait offerings. In the zone, and with eyes peering out from a face mask, she watched the donut munching red squirrels at the pit make a sudden exit as the woods become quiet. From the dense forest brush, the black nose of a bear appeared, eating the trail of marshmallows that led to the bait. Not being a gun hunter, the .357 magnum Ruger on her hip suddenly seemed very reassuring. Nose down and in full view now, the bear looked at the bait and then proceeded to walk up the ATV approach trail.
She reminded herself to be patient because the bear had no idea she was there. He might come back. After walking up the trail, the bruin returned, pawed the bacon burn, circled the pit and ate donuts pieces abandoned by the squirrels. She readied her release and bow for a seated shot as the bear began pawing and tossing aside the heavy logs covering the pit. At times the bear seemed half in the pit as he feasted on its contents. The moment was right, and she drew as she had done hundreds of times in practice for this moment. The arrow leaped off the string and connected with a perfect heart lung shot. The bear jumped and whirled, trying to nip at the stinging intruder, then ran full bore into the thick woods.
Within seconds, she heard the death moan, hung her bow and rushed back to camp to get the gear needed for tracking the animal.
As I drove back to camp in the dark from my own bait site, I watched my hunting buddy and friend Deb come bounding out of the hunting shack with her arms gesturing wildly and a huge smile on her face.
"I shot one!" she exclaimed.
"Where, when, how big?" I replied excitedly.
"Decent size, he came in at 8:20pm ... I heard the death moan .... I heard it ... and he ran and dropped pretty close to my stand!".
I was so excited I could not think. After over three months of trail blazing, scouting and baiting, our hard work had paid off with the taking of a black bear the second day of the season. I congratulated Deb and we dashed about to get tracking and field dressing gear together.
This was Debs first bear season, and her first bear. While I had not seen a bear yet this year, I felt as proud as if my son had or I had taken the animal. We hitched up the Otter Sled and gear, and sped off to the kill site.
Reaching her bait site in the dark, we found frothy blood everywhere. Deb remembered the bear spinning around, running down the ATV trail and then crashing helter skelter into the thick cover. It took a few minutes with flashlights, but we found the blood trail and followed it as it wound through the tall tangled brush. I had my .357 loaded and ready in the off chance that the animal was still alive and needed to be finished.
We found the fletching half of Debs arrow, then the broadhead half, both bright crimson with blood. Deb forged ahead of me, with her spotlight, practically leaping upon each new spray of blood. She kept reminding me that if we stumbled upon the beast and it was still alive, she would drop to the ground and I would shoot it. The blood trail went in a circle and seemed to end.
Suddenly, there was her bear collapsed against a log and looking quite lifeless. We both gave him a nudge. Rolling him on his back, the air intake created a growl effect through his vocal cords, and we both jumped back. Thinking the beast was still alive, Deb yipped and ducked, and I snapped to a quick Dirty Hairy stance with legs apart, arms straight out with both hands clenching my aimed revolver. Realizing the beast was done, and we relaxed and laughed with relief.
Neither of us had ever field dressed a bear or even watched another person do it, but Deb dove in and got the job done like a surgeon. She finished up in 25 minutes, and we both laughed when she commented that bear innards didn't smell as bad as deer innards, but that the bear did have "dirty man smell".
We also discovered that we had not only failed to tape our trail in but had forgotten compasses in the excitement. I stayed by the bear in the dark while Deb took the spotlight and searched for the blood trail, or any trail. I knew this woods pretty well, and I felt we were near my big pine tree stand. Deb spotted our FireTape trail markers in the distance through the thick brush on the main ATV trail 50 yards away, so we were home free. Fortunately, the bear dropped just a few yards from the pine tree approach trail, so the drag out was not as bad as it could have been.
We were both so pumped with adrenalin that we almost flew back to camp.
What a day!! After cleaning up we took many photos.
The temperatures for early bear season had been in the 80s and 90s, so staying scent free had been a challenge. After making a commercial for ScentBlocker, Debs uniform for bear hunting was her 3D Leafy Lite suit donned after a solar shower at camp.
Baiting had been a sweaty, messy and grueling chore, but seeing the bears on my Buckshot35 infrared camera spurred us on though the costly and physically challenging process of baiting. We were using the typical fare in our pits... pastries, meat scrap, sweet corn, scent lures and whatever else might have been getting old in our refrigerators and freezers. We had a friendly competition going, each using this or that secret ingredient at our bait pits. It was a long process that paid off in the end. Preparing for bear season took three months of preparation, obtaining various baits from around the state, storing them, and spending many weeks cutting ATV trails to the bait sites come rain or shine. The shared work and planning, as well as having to compete with many other hunters for bait and bears, made our success that much more sweet.
After several more bear hunting days together, Deb went on to Wisconsin deer hunting with her husband, while I continued my quest for the elusive black bear. In between, I arrowed a buck and a doe the week of Minnesota archery opener. Never being one to admit defeat, I continued to bear hunt in the evenings however, each time trying a new tactic to bring those wily nocturnal bruins out before legal shooting time. I do not admit defeat easily.
© October 2001