By: Laura Scharich
Dave and I were heading back to a favorite bear hunting camp for my third bear hunt. I was so excited. I got hooked on bear hunting in 2013 even though it took seventy five hours in the bush to get my first bear. I had managed to get some video of small bears and had a bear destroy my ground blind the first night so it was still an eventful, memorable, and long hunt. Dave chose to do some fishing up there instead of bear hunting and our friend, Jeff was going to meet us for the weekend. Dave had an elk hunt planned for September that he was looking forward to.
This year I wanted to hunt one of the tree stands. I bought a portable, collapsible ladder for myself because I am unable to manage the steps and rungs in the existing stands. Our outfitter always provides two stands per hunter so I had a tree stand and a ground blind. I really liked the location of the stands. The ground blind was productive for me the previous year and I was also familiar with the spot where the tree stand was because it was one of Dave’s stands the year before.
We arrived three days early and checked out my blinds. The bears were hitting the bait at both of the stands. We put a couple of trailcams up to see what was coming in. There were a few bears hitting the barrels at night and in the day time. We saw a sow with a year old cub, a young male and a nice big boar on the trail cam near the ground blind. That nice big boar also visited the tree stand, even though it was more than a mile away. He was easily identified by a white blaze on the left side of his chest.
A black bear’s size is very hard to judge when the trail cam is high in the tree. I tried to get an idea of how big he was by looking at his ears, snout, shoulders and front paws. He seemed to be as big, if not bigger, than the bear I took last year so I was encouraged that he may stick around. Bears like to tear up trail cams and for two nights we were lucky that the worst that happened was one of the cams was turned sideways and I think it was a squirrel that did that. We decided to take the cameras down during the actual hunt and not push our luck.
I was anxious to hunt both blinds and couldn’t make up my mind which one to hunt first. Dave suggested I flip a coin. The coin toss determined that I would hunt the tree stand first. We decided it was a good choice because of the weather too. Even though I needed a northerly wind for both blinds, it looked like the prediction would not be so much in my favor but it is what it is. Opening day was Saturday and the weather was supposed to be sunny and hot. Sunday was calling for an occasional thunder storm. Good choice. Tree stand on Saturday and ground blind on Sunday. Dave and Jeff, planned to fish a lake that was located a few miles north of where I would be hunting so they agreed to follow me in around 3:00 pm. They helped me carry my gear in and bait the blind on their way to their fishing spot. They said they would meet me at the end of the three mile two track after dark when they would be on their way back from fishing and my hunting hours were over. They left after I was settled and securely strapped in the tree and wished me luck. Dave has never been completely comfortable leaving me in the bear woods alone. As he was wishing me luck, he took a picture of me in the stand and blew a kiss before he walked out of the woods.
It was time to cock my Camx crossbow and load a Ramcat tipped arrow. I checked out the bush as far as I could see and slowly secured my backpack so it wouldn’t fall to the ground. I had to attach my camera to the camera arm that I brought in and installed on the tree the day before. The camera was located to my right so I raised my crossbow and aimed at any shot I might get to make sure the camera wouldn’t be in the way. Having checked and rechecked the video function and exposure settings as I aimed the Nikon towards the baited blue barrel, I slowly attached my Go Pro camera to a small branch to my left while keeping an eye on the bush. I can control the Go Pro with my phone so I set it up to activate with one push of a button. All set, right? Not quite. Put on the camo facemask and …….. “My arms! My arms are not covered.” It was too hot to put a long sleeved shirt on and the only long sleeved thing I had was a jacket. “I just can’t, it’s too hot.” I put my black gloves on, that will help. I didn’t need the Thermacell. There were no mosquitoes yet because the wind had picked up and it was blowing from my left to right so that wasn’t so bad. The tree rocked a little bit and I wondered if it would show up on a video when I started it.
I love the feeling when I get settled in a blind or stand and can just check out everything around me. I take time to appreciate the smell of the woods, the color and texture of the trees and brush, and the sounds or even silence of my surroundings. It was while I was watching a chipmunk raiding the bait barrel an hour later that I noticed a black movement to my right. I hit the video button on the Nikon and activated the Go Pro. The silent black shadow slipped out of the trees and strolled right into the bait. He didn’t hesitate. He acted like he owned this spot and I knew he was the bear we saw on the trailcams. He was a handsome bear with thick black fur. The same old, familiar thoughts invaded my head: “If I take this bear, my hunt will be over……… Should I wait to see if a bigger bear will come in?……. He’s bigger than the bear I got last year……… If I wait, I may not see another thing for days…….. It’s happened before……….. Ok, he’s not a monster, but we are almost out of bear meat………. He is giving me some great shots here……… He’s probably got all the other bears scared off anyway.” Eleven minutes later I decided to take the shot. I had my safety off and back on three times before I finally squeezed the trigger. I was relieved to see the arrow hit him where I aimed. It tore through him and stuck in the blue barrel. The bright Lumenok winked at me as the bear lumbered into the bush.
What a rush! I listened for a death moan for about three minutes when I thought I heard it a long ways away. I couldn’t be sure though because the wind was blowing pretty hard. I waited about twenty minutes for my heart rate to slow and I knew it would take some time to take my cameras down and lower my stuff. When I finally descended the ladder, I cocked my crossbow and loaded another arrow before I did anything else. I went through my pack and took out anything I didn’t need to find my bear and tag it. The mosquitos would start any time now so I turned on the Thermacell and fastened it to my belt loop. With my pack on my back and my crossbow in hand, I headed to where I last saw the bear to look for blood.
I took slow steps as I entered the bush for two reasons. One, I was carefully watching everywhere around me so I wouldn’t be surprised by another bear or even mine backtracking. Number two, there isn’t a flat spot on the ground anywhere in the bush and my balance is not what it used to be.
I spotted blood right away and there was a lot of it! The blood trail was wide and abundant. It stood out way ahead of me. Visibility ahead slowly diminished, however, as the bush got thicker and rougher even though there was still plenty of daylight left. The thicker the trees, the slower I went. If the blood trail had lessened, I would have backed out and gotten help but the blood was still pouring out. If anything, it was even increasing. I expected to see a dead bear after every couple of yards. It wasn’t happening. I saw places where he stopped and stood still. Then I saw places where he laid down. Each time there were copious amounts of blood. “Nothing could live after losing this much blood, could it?” Maybe a bear could. The bow was always up and ready if I needed it. My arms and legs were screaming with fatigue. “Just not used to this.”
By this time, I was almost an hour into this track and I couldn’t turn back now. It was so hot and I was struggling with sweat running in my eyes. I stopped to put a band around my forehead and continued on. I forgot to put my hat back on and my hair started collecting an interesting array of tree litter. This vegetation was getting thick and my thoughts started to form scenarios of my demise in the bear woods. “This could turn out very badly. My grandchildren will say ‘well, she died doing what she loved’.” Every black mass I saw made me think it was my bear.
After another thirty minutes I saw a large black mass twenty five yards ahead and knew it had to be my bear. I slowly took a step closer and the black mass lifted his head. My heart about flew out of my chest and I could only marvel that his head seemed bigger than his body. He was panting and I could tell he wasn’t feeling well at all. I had the crossbow pointed at him and waited to see what he would do. He got up. “(Expletive)! No! You can’t get away! I’ve worked too hard for you!” I followed slowly, trying to get closer for a shot when he sat down. I stopped. Then he laid down. He was panting hard, then stopped panting. “Finally!” Nope. He got up and walked about four steps. I took my steps too. He, again, sat down. Then he laid down. I took more steps to get closer to him and he heard me. He lifted his head and looked at me. “Nooo!” I just pointed the crossbow at him and waited. “If he has the strength to come after me, it will be NOW. I won’t squeeze this trigger unless he is close enough that I cannot miss!” After the longest minute I have ever experienced, he got up again and walked away another four or five steps. I followed and was about ten yards from him by this time and he again sat down and laid down. I was close enough to put a shot on him but there was a small tree between his vitals and my crossbow. “I can’t take a chance on hitting that tree. After this arrow is shot, I’m without a weapon.” I side-stepped to get a better shot, looking through my scope. He rolled slightly as if to try to get up again and I squeezed the trigger.
He sat up and quickly looked at the spot on his body where the arrow entered, then looked at the other side where the arrow was sticking out about fifteen inches. Then……He got up once again and walked to a dense thicket about five yards ahead, the arrow hitting each tree he passed. I let out my breath and thought “I’ve done everything I can. He can’t last much longer. I’m not leaving here without tagging him. You are very tough, Mr. Bear.” I was close enough to hear him panting and breathing. I waited. The breathing stopped and I waited some more. Finally, I walked to the thicket and lifted the vegetation, thinking “Are you nuts?? Who DOES this?” and saw him lying there with his head down. I watched his body for movement and there was none. I checked his eyes with a stick and knew he had finally expired. It was two hours after the first shot.
Game laws are very strick about tagging a bear immediately and having your bow cased ½ hour past sunset. I tagged him quickly, retrieved my arrow, and crawled out of the thicket. I stuck the arrow with the shining Lumenok into the ground just outside the thicket to mark where he was. Now I had to find my way back and I had no idea where I was. The only way out is to follow the blood trail back. That should be easy. It wasn’t. The blood trail looked very different now. Much of it had dried and there was so much of it that some of the vegetation looked like it was supposed to be spotted. I had to keep wetting my finger and test the leaves to see if it was really blood. Even though it was still daylight, I lashed my bow to my backpack because I needed my hands free to keep my balance and use my flashlight on the blood trail. The flashlight helped because some of the spots were still wet and they would shine. I also had my marine air horn at the ready in case I ran into another bear. I got stuck several times, not knowing the exact direction to go and I was beginning to panic because I thought I wouldn’t make it to the truck in time to case my bow by the deadline. That just made things worse. I had to calm down and concentrate. I had a small length of orange tape that I tried to stick on branches to help lead the way back to the bear but it was not enough. I could only hope that Dave and Jeff could follow the blood trail.
Finally I caught sight of the blue barrel and my shining Lumenok. It was a slight uphill walk to the treestand where I left my stuff and my legs were beginning to cramp everywhere from the knees down. I made it to the truck in time to case my bow and it felt soooo good to sit down. I drove the three miles out to the road and waited for Dave and Jeff. It was well after dark when they arrived. They were happy for me that I got a bear but they had no idea what they were in for before the night was over.
Luckily, our outfitter was driving by to pick up someone else’s bear and said he would come back to help us. Meanwhile I tried to explain to Dave that the bear was way back in the bush and even though I tried to leave markers, they would probably have to follow the blood trail to find the bear. When they headed in I tried to follow but my legs wouldn’t have any of it. Dave marked the trail all the way in for the guys that would be bringing the sled to get the bear out. I tried to listen for their voices and they got farther and farther away. Fortunately, they were able to find the bear because of the good blood trail while they found themselves thinking that they would see the bear any minute because of all the blood, just like I did. Shortly, four guys arrived to help and two of them headed in with the sled to assist Dave and Jeff. By the time they got this bear out, they were all exhausted. They seemed to agree that it was the hardest drag they ever had because it was so thick and so far back in the bush. Dave was grateful he had been physically preparing himself for his elk hunt. I felt sorry for their ordeal but so appreciative of their efforts. And it was better than losing the bear.
We arrived at the skinning shed and the guys hefted him up on the scale. He weighed 307 lbs. My bear was the ninth bear to come in that night. We stayed and mingled and chatted with the other hunters until the wee hours of the morning and until my bear was skinned, quartered and in the freezer. These are some of the most memorable and enjoyable activities of bear camp. I love to be able to share other hunters’ excitement when they are successful or had an eventful day.
When we reviewed the footage of the shot placement, which was just behind the shoulder, I realized that the bear had quartered slightly away from me causing the broadhead to miss the lungs but hit an artery under the arm. Their black coloring makes it more difficult to discern their angle. This was another example of a lethal shot not necessarily equating to a quick recovery. There are some things that I would, definitely, do differently now that I lived it but I’ll never regret the most exciting hunt I ever had or, probably, will ever have in the future.