The alarms buzzer stabbed my ears, rousing me from a contented slumber tothe grainy gray shadows of the silent pre-dawn morning. My hand oozed out from under the covers and I initially smacked the snooze button. Then I remembered that this was Saturday, and not just any Saturday. Parked in the garage was a new ATV, acquired just the night before. And, my first bear bait station, stocked one week ago, was awaiting my discovery two hours north. Leaping from bed, I was soon packed with 100 additional pounds of bear bait and my own supplies for the day.
Our land has a bear den on the southeast corner, I was told, and bear prints, paths and excellent habitat bore out this allegation. When the locals reported that bears were breaking into their outbuildings to pilfer feed and dog food, I decided this would be the year we would try archery bear hunting for the first time. Little did I understand the magnitude of this decision, not only in determining ideal bait sites, but also in terms of the sheer strength required by this rather small woman, to transport copious amounts of bear bait to remote forest locations by herself. The week before, I had transported bait via a wheeled deer cart, dumping myself and cart load several times and sustaining many abrasions and contusions in the process. Today would be different, with this husky ATV and my grand plans to go with it.
Arriving at our primitive camp site, I could hardly wait to ride the "Motor Horse". Lowering the trailer ramp, and cranking the engine, it was like being on an actual horse again. I own and take delight in my many piston driven devices, but the throaty purr of this one was in a completely different class. Tentatively backing off the trailer and then zipping around camp a few times, the bonding process was sweet and complete. Soon I had my tree stand, steps, shovel and tools bungeed on, and was bouncing along the wild & rough trail of the east swamp, log hopping and more than once almost tipping the beast over until I mastered the science of ballast. Walking the final 200 yards of heavy woods and swamps with my gear on my back, I arrived to find that bears had indeed hit my bait site... nay, demolished it. Logs once covering the bait were strewn about like tinker toys. Excitedly, I dug the bait pit a little bigger and erected my portable stand and step system on this traffic way which ran between the bears bedding areas and a large thicket of hazels. The next two trips gave me my aerobic workout for the day. First dragging my deer sled in with 100 pounds of larger logs to cover the bait pit and then with the same weight in baits themselves, I was spent and sweat soaked by the time the job was done. Bait preparation is much like the cooking I love to do at home, and the artful lacey splattering of molasses on the bait logs merited a few photos before I headed back to camp.
Deciding that so much hard work deserved some play time, I took the motor horse for a spin on the neighboring gravel roads before packing up and heading back home. The season opener was in four days. I was excited.
Part 2 - "The Bad"
With Bear Season opener the next day, my son Matt and I felt electrified as we bantered on the Talk-About radios between our respective trucks during the two hour drive up north. We were both loaded with hunting gear, and I was pulling the ATV. The spell was broken momentarily when a van stopped suddenly ahead of me, forcing me to swerve right and pass on the shoulder. As luck would have it, I immediately got flagged by a State Highway Patrol. After groveling, pleading ignorance and begging for mercy, the gracious officer let me off with a warning and we were on our way again. My son took notes.
Once at our 80 acres, we excitedly hopped on the ATV to go check our bear bait site, which upon inspection and much to our chagrin, had been selectively ignored by our intended quarries. With unswerving optimism, we set up my sons stand and spruced up the bait site. The usual campfire, dinner and gear prep occupied the rest of the evening and 4:30am came sooner than well ever get used to. I razzed my son because he forgot his broadhead arrows and had to use his rifle, and I decided not to tell him that I only realized I had forgotten my release once settled in my tree stand.
The appreciation of the forest at dawn is one of the many things that brings hunters into a a unity of spirit. This summer morning, the dew had settled on the tree canopy creating a delicate rain like effect as dawn crept out of the eastern sky. One by one, birds called their response and soon the amber blush of the morning sun created feathery patterns on the dozens of moss covered tree trunks surrounding me. This moment of tree stand archery hunting, suspended twenty feet up and couched in a sea of forest flora, is one I will never tire of. Our grease burn made my stomach growl, but there was nary a bear in sight. As pre-agreed, I did my customary bird call to Matt At 10:00am to signal the end of our stand time. He echoed my call, and soon we were clattering out of our tree stands and trudging back to camp, lamenting the conspicuous absence of bruins and plotting the location of another bait site. The afternoon was spent setting up that second site and then heading home. The temperature was over 90 degrees and too hot to hunt, I decided.
Part 3 - "The Ugly"
There is a hypnosis that comes over me when the windows of the truck are down, the radio is loud, and I'm on the highway going to or from my time hunting or in the woods. My gear in the truck forms a sort of comfortable nest and everyday life gets put on hold and forgotten - at least temporarily. These times pass all too quickly.
I arrived home from bear season opener, deciding to park the ATV under our back deck so my son could have the garage. Pulling around and backing the trailer into place, I could not get the hitch off the ball. Although the mechanics of the trailer and ATV were still relatively new to me, it seemed logical that if the ATV was off the trailer, the decreased tongue weight should allow the hitch to slide off the ball more easily. Backing the four wheeler slowly, the hitch decided to eject and the front of the trailer popped skyward providing an unexpected adrenalin rush as I sailed backwards into the wood pile. Ever the optimist I thought "This is good, the hitch is off". After rolling the truck forward a few feet, it again seemed logical that if I mounted the tipped trailer with the ATV until I hit the fulcrum point, the trailer would pivot like a teeter totter, level itself and the ATV would be back on top. This plan worked beautifully until reaching the fulcrum point, whereupon the four wheeler gained unexpected momentum. Ducking too late, my forehead slammed into a 2x10 support beam under the deck. But, by golly, the motor horse was back on the trailer! Quickly replacing my hat, I looked around to see if my neighbor had witnessed my debacle as he mowed his grass. Dizzy, swollen and bleeding, I tried to be cool and finish the job, occasionally wiping away an incriminating trickle of blood while stubbornly thinking I would rather die than be discovered as a complete idiot.
Later when my son got home from work, I spun my tale of woe for him, unveiling my lacerated goose egg for the finale. He burst out laughing, caught himself and consoled me, then laughed again - reminding me that I was lucky to have a hair style with bangs. He again took notes.
I used to wonder why God made me the type of person who always seems to suffer self-inflicted pain from making stupid mistakes. I figured it out today. It is so my kids will take notes and know what NOT to do!
© August, 2000