As a dedicated bowhunter, the thought of driving dirt roads and looking for deer runs counter to everything I love about deer hunting. It took a dreary year like 2020 to push me to such detestable methods.
I beat myself ragged trying to find a buck in Utah that season. My usual public land area was swarming with stir-crazy city-folk fleeing the pandemic. All that commotion in the mountains drove big bucks back to their private land haunts and my hunt ended in failure.
Off to Idaho
When the hunt ended I turned my attention to Idaho where five years earlier I took an incredible trophy buck. With high hopes Esther and I loaded the truck and headed to Southern Idaho for last two weeks of bow season.
Upon arrival I was dismayed to see my beloved deer unit overrun by thousands of sheep. Severe drought and waves of sheep had decimated the deer habitat, and for ten days I couldn’t to turn up a single good buck. With only three days left and desperate for meat, I decided to take a doe.
I’d seen plenty of does running around, and I expected an easy, one-day endeavor. Boy was I wrong. On the evening of the 28th I hiked up a ridge with plenty of deer sign. A group of six does appeared feeding on a steep, wooded slope.
Just as I entered bow range, a woodpecker flew into a dead pine tree next to me. There was a small crack, and then a large branch came crashing to the ground next to me. Not surprisingly, the entire doe group spooked out of the area.
No problem, I still had two days left.
More Bad Luck
In the morning I headed back up the mountain. I was slowly picking my way through a patch of dry brush when a group of does appeared in front of me. I crouched down quickly and pulled an arrow. The wind was perfect and the does were oblivious to my presence.
Suddenly, the whole herd exploded in all directions and ran away. Flabbergasted, I stood up to see a pack of coyotes filtering through the brush. I was enraged and I launched an arrow at one of the intruders, but my arrow skipped off a branch and missed.
Perhaps I was trying too hard. It’s just a doe, after all! That evening I set up ambush on a roadside waterhole. Earlier in the hunt I’d seen deer near the water and figured it would be a good ambush spot.
The mountain was falling into shadows as I sat motionless 30 yards from the water’s edge. The pond was surrounded by trees, so a deer could approach from any direction.
I was lost in thought when I heard a light crunch behind me. Slowly I turned my head and saw a big doe pop out of the trees just 10 yards away. Before I could raise my bow, the doe snorted and bounded off. Of all the places to sit; what terrible luck! With only two hours of light left I called Esther to pick me up.
A Time to Road Hunt
No more mister nice-guy; desperate times call for desperate measures. Creeping around the cruel woods and sitting water had proved fruitless. It was time for some good old-fashion road hunting. Everyone knows that deer are much less concerned by slow-driving vehicles than camo-clad hunters.
We pulled onto a side road next to a big mud puddle left over from a past rainstorm. I didn’t think much of it because there was a camp full of drunken miscreants nearby blasting hip-hop music over their smoky campfire.
You can imagine my surprise when I spotted a lone doe standing on a hillside 100 yards away and looking longingly at the water. Clearly she was waiting for darkness to make a quick water run. With this in mind, we drove a short distance up the road. Once out of sight I hopped out and instructed Esther to drive further up the road and wait.
Racing against nightfall, I dropped into the timber and backtracked towards the water. It was so quiet that I couldn’t even shift my weight without crunching pine needles. Now I was stuck. I balanced my feet on two dried cow pies to muffle my footing and waited.
With only minutes of light left I began to wonder if the doe was going to show. Suddenly she appeared, silently weaving through the trees 15 yards in front of me. In a steady, slow movement I raised my bow and drew back.
The doe caught the end of my draw and jerked her head up in fright. Before she could whirl, my arrow was off, catching her in the shoulder. She spun around and crashed headlong into a Christmas tree, then got her feet and bounded away.
After confirming a good blood trail, I radioed Esther. Before I could get a word out she told about a doe she just saw by the truck.
“I don’t care about that, I just shot one! Come help me track it.”
The doe ran away so fast that the blood trail petered out quickly. The dug-in tracks led through the sagebrush and then crossed the dirt road, it’s hooves touching only once in the dust on the road before disappearing in some rocky terrain.
Three hours passed as we continually backtracked and crawled forward on hands and knees trying to find the next track or sign. We split up and wandered in ever-widening circles, but to no avail. How could this mortally hit animal elude us?
There was no choice but to back out and return in the morning. Coyotes howled in the distance as we walked back to the truck making me uneasy about leaving the deer overnight. Esther suddenly stopped and asked, “Hey can we just check one thing first?”
“I wanna check where that doe popped out by the truck?” Could it be the same deer, she wondered?
I was doubtful, but the timing was uncanny. We turned around and walked back to the truck turnaround spot. On the way I interrogated Esther. “What was the deer doing? Was it running? Did it look hit?”
“No,” she replied, “It just walked out of the trees, saw the truck, and went back into the trees.”
“Well, we better take a look.”
A minute later we arrived at the flat spot where Esther had parked. She showed me where the deer was standing, but there was no blood. Discouraged, we began walking in circles and you can imagine my surprise when I nearly tripped over the doe lying less than 20 yards from where she’d parked. What were the odds of my deer running 300 yards and expiring right next to the truck?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been proud of taking a doe, but that deer got us through the winter and was just what I needed after 37 fruitless days afield. As it turns out, adventure can be found just off the side of the road. Perhaps I won’t be so quick to disparage the fine art of road hunting in the future.
This footage taken shortly after taking my 2016 Boone & Crockett buck in Idaho. It was extremely hot, flies everywhere, I was dehydrated, but very pleased with the outcome of an impromptu bow hunt. I hope you enjoy this short film!
The following is my 2016 Idaho deer story as published in Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal, Issue 101, May/June 2017:
During the 2015 Utah bowhunt I came across a tremendous 200”+ typical mule deer buck which I called the Monsterbuck. At our first meeting, he caught me by surprise. Shaking like a newbie-hunter with buck fever, I promptly sailed an arrow over his back at 50 yards. Later in the season I filmed him at 200 yards on an open hillside. He was in an unstalkable location and surrounded by three other deer, so I let him walk, hoping to get a better opportunity the next day. But he had other plans. Like many big bucks, he disappeared and kept me one step behind him until the season ended.
I promised myself not to obsess over this buck; it’s just too much pressure to bring into the woods. Apparently obsession is not a decision because that amazing buck crept into my mind every day for an entire year! I carried a picture of Monsterbuck around in my planner and reviewed the 2015 video footage often. Needless to say, I went into this year’s bowhunt with high hopes.
About a month before the season opener, I scouted for the Monsterbuck but couldn’t turn him up. No sweat, I thought, he’s a smart buck and will take a little more time to locate. Opening day was hot and dry, but I was brimming with hope and buzzing with energy. I picked up exactly where I left off last year.
Right away I spotted a few forked-horns, but no Monsterbuck. I spent the rest of the day ghosting through thick timber and side-hilling steep slopes without rest. I never covered so much vertical ground in one day. I scoured the ground everywhere I went, but couldn’t find a single heavy-footed track. The evening hunt had me staring dejectedly at the same hillsides where the Monsterbuck had lived, but now completely devoid of deer.
And so went the next day, and the next. Eventually I moved camp low and worked upwards. Then north to south, and south to north, but still no Monsterbuck. For two weeks I clambered all over the beautiful and deerless mountains of Northern Utah. Morning, noon, and night I pondered where the Monsterbuck could be hiding, but he never turned up.
Strangely enough, not only was the Monsterbuck missing, but so were seven other 4×4-or-bigger bucks I’d seen the previous year. At that point I was ready to take any mature buck, but all I could find were little ones. The best opportunity I had was a little 3-point buck that bounced into an opening at 20 yards and stared at me. I shooed him away and continued my fruitless search for something better.
By the third week I concluded that Monsterbuck had either been killed by a hunter, lion, or poacher, or had moved to another part of the unit, likely due to increased human pressure in the area. All I knew for sure was that the DWR had issued a bunch more tags for my unit, as evidenced by a notable increase in human traffic in the area. And if there’s one thing big bucks hate more than anything, it’s people.
With less than two weeks left in the season, I was beyond dejected; I was mortified! I love bowhunting than anything, and to see it turn south so quickly was sickening. Each night I dreamed I was on the trail of the Monsterbuck, but he always stayed just out of sight.
Every day I sat in the woods wondering if I was stuck in a nightmare; that any second I might wake to a better reality. Or maybe I was just a lousy hunter. Perhaps I’d just been lucky all these years and deluding myself. As more days passed, my hunting journal became a dark place in which to vent my frustrations. Something had to change…
Halfway through the third week, while trudging across the empty landscape, it hit me: I had a valid Idaho hunting license left over from my spring bear hunt. I stormed back to camp, threw everything in the truck, and headed to Idaho. Having never actually hunted deer in Idaho, I went home collected some maps and notes I’d gotten from an Idaho Fish & Game officer at the hunting expo.
Off to Idaho
My first morning in Central Idaho was memorable, not because I saw more deer, but because I woke up to a terrible head cold. For the next three days I stumbled around strange mountains, sore and coughing while my nose drained continuously onto the dry forest floor.
The first unit I visited was a bust—too open and too few deer. The next unit was heavily forested, but full of other hunters and very little game. The third unit was a little more promising, but just as I began to scare up some deer, my truck broke down and I barely made it off the mountain.
The Utah deer hunt came to an end, and with only four days left in the Idaho season I headed out for one last attempt. In reviewing my first Idaho adventure, I concluded that the biggest threat to success was people! Going in, I had the misconception that Idaho was a vast wilderness full of game and opportunity. This is NOT the case. It’s just like Utah: People everywhere, hunting, hiking, camping, and driving ATVs up and down every dirt road. As long as there’s an open road you won’t find a buck anywhere near it. This is why my Utah hunt failed. In order to avoid getting “peopled” again, I broke out my map and found the one place as far away from any city, road or trail. My hunt wouldn’t begin until I covered two miles of steep mountains early the next morning.
It was a rough night. Instead of drifting into peaceful slumber, I lay awake staring at the tent ceiling and thinking about the colossal disappointment the season had become. My unhealthy obsession with the absent Monsterbuck had transformed a normally relaxed hunt into a desperate flailing across a dreary landscape. I fell asleep counting the innumerable disappointments of the last several weeks.
On September 27th I woke long before the sun and headed up the steep and wooded ridge that separated me from solitude. I trudged like a man possessed, as if fleeing an oppressive regime and longing for new lands. As I approached the ridge top, deer began popping up on the horizon, first some does, then a small band of bucks. I continued on.
The sun finally broke the horizon, splashing light across a blanket of fresh snow splotched with golden aspen leaves. Pines glistened with melting frost as steam rose lazily from dark logs. Birds flitted about. An elk fired up in the canyon below. Deer tracks crisscrossed the forest floor and increased as I went. The woods pulled me forward, upward, effortlessly. I felt like I was coming home after a long hiatus.
Nearer the top, a group of large buck tracks appeared in the snow. They were fresh and meandering, so I sat on a log and listened. I was ready to take any old buck. I just wanted to hunt for myself, and for food, with no pressure to succeed, no worries about inches and scores.
A short time later there was a clacking of antlers and scuffle in the forest. I crept closer. Two bucks pushed and shoved each other with occasional flashes of fur and legs visible in the trees. I pulled an arrow and moved closer. Morning thermals began to swirl, and just as I was closing in, a breeze hit me in the back. I froze as the bucks bounded away, up and over the mountain. Oh well, I was going that direction anyway. It was still a wonderful opportunity.
The sun had been up for some time when I finally crested the ridge and dropped into the thick pines on the shadowy side of the mountain. I had officially arrived at the farthest point from the human pile and was brimming with hope. There was really only one good path through the thick tangle of brush and pines, and judging by the abundance of game tracks in the area, the deer used this route too.
After traveling a ways, my stomach grumbled. I sat down on a huge deadfall log and snacked on trail mix while pondering these new woods. Eventually I fished out my hunting journal and scribbled a short note about hope and opportunity, the only positive words the book had seen in some time. My contentment was short-lived, however, when a swishing sound erupted in the trees. I whipped my head around to see antler tips poking slowly through the trees. In one motion I snatched up my bow and slid off the backside of the log and onto my knees. Smoothly and quickly I knocked an arrow and clamped my release to the string. I crouched low and stared fixedly ahead like a lion in ambush.
Ten yards and closing, the buck’s big, blocky, horse-like head appeared with tall, heavy antlers extending upwards into the canopy. Lazily, he angled down the game trail I had just been on. When his head disappeared behind a clump of trees, I drew my bow. He stopped. My heart pounded wildly, my eyes protruded from my skull, glaring through the bowstring. Time slowed down.
The buck remained motionless and hidden behind the trees just a few steps away. Did he hear me draw? A minute passes. My muscles start to fatigue and my arms begin to shake. Another minute passes. He knows something isn’t right. I beg my arms to hold, but the bow finally collapses, yanking my trembling arm forward.
Looking to completely ruin my day, the buck immediately starts walking again. With all my might, I crank the bow back again. His head appears five yards away, then his shoulder. My eyes, strained and blurry, fight to settle the pin as it dances all over the place. My release triggers and the arrow flies; but it flies clean over the buck’s back and my heart sinks into my stomach.
The buck bounds into another opening just seven yards away and looks back. Crouching lower I pull another arrow and load it as quickly as I can. He’s still there, muscles taut, ready to blast out of my life forever. I can’t watch. My eyes squeeze shut as I draw the bow again and rise up on my knees once more. When the string touches my nose, my eyes flash open. He’s still there and my second arrow is on the way.
Success has taken on a new meaning for me now. Many nights of delicious venison backstraps have passed while trying to figure out how to tell the story of my tall-antlered Idaho buck. Is it a story of a failed Monsterbuck hunt, or is the miraculous success of an incredibly short hunt in new lands? Perhaps neither. I think it’s really a story of self-examination, of finding my true passion again.
As a hunter I’ve come full circle. Long ago I just wanted a deer—any deer—with my bow. It seemed like such an impossible task back then. These days are spent tirelessly chasing 200-inch monsters around the hills. But “trophy hunting” has lost some of its magic. In trying to prove myself, I’ve gradually reduced my greatest passion down to inches and strategy. My once insatiable love for the woods feels more like work now. Perhaps it’s time to hunt for the love of hunting again… We’ll see.
All I know for sure is that I keep relearning the same lessons I’ve been learning all along: That success is so much more than just killing a deer. Success really lies in the journey. Success comes from pushing yourself to your physical and spiritual limits, and then letting nature take over from there.
This story, then, is a simple one to tell: One man, one mountain, one morning, and a second chance.
The following is my 2016 Idaho bear hunt story. I hope you enjoy it!
The skies were dark as a steady cold rain soaked the steep mountainside. A big chocolate phase bear was barely visible feeding in the dense brush forty yards away. After ranging him several times and unable to see his vitals, I knew I’d have to get closer. Any apprehension I had about getting close to dangerous predators was suddenly gone.
I eased into thirty yards and nocked an arrow. The bear sat on his rump facing away from me. My eyes were locked onto him as I crept ever closer. I ranged him again at twenty yards. Close enough, I thought, wait for him to turn. The storm-driven wind began to swirl. Something needed to happen.
I don’t remember exactly when it started, but several years ago I felt compelled to challenge my bowhunting abilities by pursuing dangerous game with a bow. I suppose this is the natural progression of any serious bowhunter, but in the back of my mind I wasn’t completely confident I had what it takes. I would often play out the stalk in my mind, but when it came to getting close I always felt a tinge of panic. I knew that a bad hit could turn deadly, and so getting well within bow range and shooting straight would be the ultimate test of grit.
In 2016 I miraculously drew an any weapon Idaho controlled bear tag with less than 1 in 40 odds. Like many hunters today, I read and reread the word “Successful” on the postcard, thinking there must be a mistake. It was hard to believe that a quality bear hunt was suddenly on the horizon.
Back in 2012 I bought an OTC tag and took a kamikaze trip to Idaho looking for bruins. It was a complete failure. At no time did I feel remotely close to one of these elusive animals. I had much to learn. Now, with my hunt just a month away, I knew almost nothing about hunting bears.
The unit I drew is actually two large units, neither of which I’d ever seen before. The hunt spans the entirety of April and most of May, so there would be plenty of time to learn the area. In March I contacted the biologist for the region. All I really wanted was a starting point. Unfortunately, the information she gave me was pretty vague. When I asked about bear concentrations, she said they were scattered evenly throughout the area. However, the northernmost unit had historically better harvest statistics, so that’s where I would begin my search. She also mentioned that it was a heavy snow year, so the best strategy was to avoid the first week of April to allow time for the bears to emerge from their dens. By the last week of April, all the bears should be out and feeding heavily on green shoots just below snow line.
My plan was to hunt the second week of April alone. Mostly I’d be looking for road access and bear sign throughout the unit. If that trip failed, I would return the last week of April with my wife, Esther, for a week-long excursion. I must admit that I felt much more comfortable having a “gunner” next to me in case I got into trouble. Needless to say, my first trip was one of apprehension.
In the meantime I dug around for more information online and was fortunate to find a few good starting points. I also read everything I could about hunting black bears. Some of the best information came from Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal. Years ago I began clipping and saving some highly informative articles written by Guy Eastman and the bear-slayer himself, Brian Barney. This lexicon of bear knowledge became the guidebook for my hunt.
After a long, eight hour drive across the plains of Southern Idaho, I arrived at the beautiful, moss-covered woods of Western Idaho. I set up my solitary camp alongside a muddy dirt road near a runoff-swollen stream at the bottom of steep canyon.
Around 8:00 a.m. I headed up the slippery mountainside. From the information I gathered, bears like to feed for a couple hours on open, green, south-facing slopes during warm weather, and then bed down for a few hours in the dark timber, and repeat. Not even fifteen minutes into my hike I spotted my first black bear feeding exactly where I expected: on a green, south-facing slope near old-growth timber.
This was the first bear I’d seen in more than a decade, and my heart leapt with glee. Was bear hunting really this easy, I wondered? The bear was about a thousand vertical feet above me and too far to judge, so I needed to get closer. While scrambling towards the bear I suppressed a nagging inner voice that continually questioned my motives, asking “Why are you running towards this horrible beast?!”
In short order I arrived on the same elevation as the bear and shot some video from about 120 yards. He’d finished feeding and was ambling into the dark woods where I quickly lost sight of him. Judging by the distance between his ears, I estimated him as a younger bear. But what did I know?
Slowly, I made my way to where he disappeared. I soon realized he was gone and began hiking up the ridgeline. A little farther along I heard a scuffling below me. As I pulled up my binos, the hair rose on my neck and my hand fumbled for the .357 revolver on my belt. The same bear was digging out a bed just thirty yards away and somehow didn’t notice me. He just lay down and went to sleep.
For the longest time I stood motionless, peering at the sleeping bear through my binoculars. He was indeed a young bear, and eventually I moved off to glass different parts of the mountain. A few hours later I glassed up another bear—a big blond sow with two cubs—half a mile away. I shot some more video and moved along. As exciting as it is to see sows with cubs, they are protected and illegal to hunt, for obvious reasons.
Still, my hopes ran high most of the day. Unfortunately that was my last bear sighting before getting socked in by storm clouds and running out of daylight. All in all it was a productive first day.
I woke the second day to an inch of snow. My goal was to cover as much new ground as possible. Apparently the bad weather had the bears down because I didn’t glass up a single bear, nor did I find any fresh tracks in the snow. I’d read somewhere that bears hate being out in the rain, and this was proving to be true. That night I stumbled back to camp wet and sore, and a little discouraged. At that point I decided to move camp to a different part of the unit.
On Wednesday I spent the day driving the muddy roads farther north. I soon discovered that most of higher elevation roads were still snowed in. I would plow my truck as far as I could, then get out and hike. Overall I wasn’t finding much sign.
That afternoon, while driving lower elevation roads, I spotted a huge blond sow with two cubs about a quarter-mile up the mountain. When she saw my truck, she bounded onto a boulder outcropping and took a defensive posture. She held her head high with her eyes transfixed on me while swaying back and forth. I half-expected her to come barreling down the mountain and tear my truck apart. I knew that sows were protective of their cubs, but this was ridiculous. What have I gotten myself into, I wondered?!
That was my second reality check moment. If I were to continue hunting bears with a bow, then in a very real way I had to make peace with the possibility of death. Success meant that one of us wasn’t coming out of the woods alive, and there was a chance it might be me! It was painfully necessary, at that very minute, to either accept this fact or go home. Did I really have what it takes?
Later that evening I went searching for a campsite. Just before the road became snowed in, I was able to glass up big, jet-black bear on a far-away hillside. It was lone bear and likely a boar. My game plan for morning was to drive as far up the road as possible and then hike after the bear. But the weather had other plans.
On Thursday I woke to a full-on blizzard and knew my hunt was over. The bears would hunker down and the roads would only get worse. Best to cut my losses, take the knowledge I’d gained, and come back later with a plan. I was encouraged that in three full days I had four bear sightings. Still, I didn’t get a single stalk opportunity, and for such a difficult-to-draw hunt, I expected a little more. Perhaps many of the bears were still hibernating…
The following week we had beautiful warm weather, but I was stuck at home working. Then, just as we departed on another week-long bear excursion, it turned bitter cold and wet. Originally I planned for my wife Esther—who is deathly afraid of close-up bear encounters, by the way—to be my gunner and carry a rifle for protection. But in the week between bear hunts, I decided the mountains were just too steep to carry all that extra weight. Instead, she came armed with paltry can of bear spray. ;^)
Before setting out on the open road, curiosity had me searching the IDFG website for past harvest statistics for my unit. I was surprised, and dismayed, to learn that of the 75 tags given out, only 20 hunters were successful. That’s less than 30% success! Already, I was planning a third trip in May.
On the night of Sunday, April 24th, we pulled into the area that I’d left off on my first trip in the remote, muddy mountains near the Oregon border. There were no other hunters in the area, which I found encouraging. As we set up the tent we were accompaniment by the ghostly howls of wolves in the distance. There was something peaceful about having these blustery, wild mountains to ourselves.
We struggled to keep warm that night. In the morning we began hiking where the road ends and right away spotted a sow with cubs on a far-off, cliffy mountainside. We continued hiking all day and glassing all day and eventually we dropped into the canyon where I’d seen the lone black bear on my first hunt. There were numerous bear tracks in the area, as well as frequently used bedding areas surrounded by fresh scat. The whole time I felt we were very close to our quarry, but still couldn’t turn up any bears.
After a hard freeze overnight, we spent Tuesday morning driving miles and miles of roads with no luck. In the evening we returned to the canyon with all the bear sign. We sat on a saddle with deep, dug-in bear tracks going over it and a rubbing tree littered with bear hair. I nicknamed this area “Bearea.” All was quiet, but then just before dark we caught sight of a sow with cubs walking along a logging road.
On Wednesday we went back to Bearea with intentions of exploring it entirely. Around 10 a.m. a heavy rain pinned us down in the dark timber. The relentless rain eventually chased us back to camp where we changed out of our soaked clothes. We were yet to see a lone bear on this trip and were getting a little discouraged. The rain let up that evening, and again we dropped into Bearea but to no avail. At that point we decided to move camp farther south, to where I had my first bear encounter.
Thursday was sunny and clear. We spent the whole day hiking from 4000’ to snowline at 5000’. We were excited to come across innumerable tracks, beds and fresh scat, but still, no amount of glassing could turn up a bear. Nonetheless, I was learning quite a bit about bears, primarily what I refer to as the “triple S” of bear behavior: shy, secretive, and slippery.
Bears, like deer, don’t want to be found! Even if you spot a bear, they tend to move around a lot and eventually disappear. Sometimes we’d find a steamy, green pile of scat, but the leaver of such piles remained invisible. I began to refer to them as “invisabears.”
It became increasingly clear that at least one bear was living full time on this mountainside above camp. Frustration had me clambering from pine bed to pine bed, all over the steep slope looking for these invisible bears, but once again the day ended bear-free.
While pondering bears that evening I decided we should start hunting bears like we hunt deer. We would wake very early on Friday and spend the whole day glassing and bed hopping. All the information I’d read about bears—that they emerge from beds several times to feed during the day—was apparently not the case here.
It was a cold and rainy Friday morning as we began our ascent up the mountain. When we arrived at our first vantage we spotted a lone chocolate phase bear feeding far above us in the low clouds that partially obscured the mountain. Determined to finally get my stalk on, I trotted up the near vertical slope with Esther floundering behind. Just as we were closing the distance on the bear, he disappeared into the clouds. Surely he’d bedded down in one of the dozens pine beds littered across the slope. So the rest of the day was spent hiking in circles looking for the lone bear, who for no particular reason I named Sedwich. We visited all the promising areas—and more—but again found nothing. Wet and discouraged, we returned to camp around 2 p.m.
We were officially out of dry footwear which encouraged us to go driving down one of the long, winding roads in the relentless rain. By late afternoon we hadn’t set eyes any bear and returned to camp for lunch. To my dismay the forest service had opened the locked gate on the logging road leading up the mountain where we had toiled for so long. With the impending weekend, I feared the area would soon get blown out by rifle hunters. It was hard to imagine a scenario wherein I might get a successful stalk.
In disgust we took advantage of the newly opened road and drove a short distance to glass. Not surprisingly, the bears weren’t out. As we sat pondering impending failure, Esther suddenly leaned over and asked, “Is that your bear???” My binos flashed up and sure enough a large, lone bear materialized out of nowhere and sat feeding in the rain 1000 vertical feet above the road. Instantly I grabbed my pack, slipped on my soggy boots, and just before jumping out of the truck exclaimed to Esther, “Stay here!”
Then halfway across the road I looked up and noticed a second lone bear feeding a short distance from the first one. When it rains, it pours bears! I looked back to Esther in astonishment, and then took off running up the mountain.
Halfway up the near vertical slope I paused. I couldn’t breathe and both my legs were going numb. I gasped and sweated, slipped and fell, and pushed onward. A few minutes later I arrived at the same elevation as the bears, and wouldn’t you know it, both had vanished! When I got within view of the truck, I waved and flailed my arms at Esther, hoping she could point me towards the bears. To my dismay, she held both hands up, gesturing that she too lost sight of the bears. Now what?!
Through drizzling rain I zigzagged to the top of the ridgeline, desperately trying to stay above the swirling winds that had likely busted the bears. Soaked with sweat and rain, I glassed every bit of cover but turned up nothing. Darkness was falling, as were my spirits. The only option was to work back down to the truck and try again in the morning. While following a finger ridge down the mountain, a dark blob in the brush caught my eye. My heart jumped. It was the big brown phase bear, nearly invisible as it fed in the dense brush below. No shot; must get closer.
Staying above the feeding bear, I crouched low and skirted the hillside towards it. I ranged the bear at forty yards. He was feeding in circles with just the top of his back visible. Gotta get closer! I slowly eased into thirty yards, trying my best not to roll a rock down the hill. My heart thundered in my chest. I took long, deep breaths to calm myself, knowing this would likely be my only opportunity. I nocked an arrow and waited for him to present a shot. Instead the bear sat flat on his rump facing away from me. The storm-driven wind began to swirl. Must get closer quick!
I meticulously closed the distance to 20 yards. Close enough, I thought. Wait for him to turn broadside. I drew my bow and held tight. He didn’t move; I let down. Seconds later he stood and slowly turned uphill, exposing his shoulder. My sight pin danced all over his vitals. I paused for a couple seconds and slowly exhaled. I resettled the pin and the arrow was off.
To my dismay, less than half the arrow buried into its shoulder. The bear swung around to face me and somehow, in the same two seconds I had loaded another arrow and redrawn my bow. The bear’s head swung left then right, then forward. His piercing eyes locked onto mine. When he raised his head to look at me, my second arrow sailed under his chin and disappeared into his chest.
The bear swung around and barreled straight down the mountain, smashing through the brush as he went, and then disappeared into the dark timber below. I stood shaking in disbelief, oblivious to the rain battering down on me.
My first instinct was to head back to the car and get Esther. My second instinct told me to go after the bear. The rain threatened to wash away the blood trail and darkness was falling. In no way did I want to track a wounded bear in the dark. I pulled my revolver, and with my gun in one hand and bow in the other, slowly headed in the bear’s direction. The blood trail was heavy and full of frothy lung blood. Surely the bear wouldn’t go far.
200 yards down the mountain, at the edge of the dark timber, I slowed way down, glassing as I went. Fifty yards deeper in the tangled maze of a giant deadfall tree, my eyes locked onto the dark, furry patch of my expired bear. I was overcome by relief and a sense of accomplishment unimaginable. What had arguably been the most difficult and frustrating hunt of my life, had instantly transformed into wonderful success.
After verifying the bear was indeed done, I hung my bow in a tree and jogged back to the truck. Esther burst from the vehicle and ran to meet me on the road. She raved on about how she witnessed the entire stalk, and her excitement throughout was equal to mine.
The rain died out as we approached the downed bear together.
My bear—Sedwich the bear—has become a major milestone in my life. I can’t think of a better way to challenge one’s skills and bravery than a close-quarters bear hunt with a bow. I also learned that there’s no such thing as an easy bow hunt.
As with all hunting, it’s the hunter’s responsibility to learn everything he can about his prey and its behavior. I have nothing but admiration and respect for these powerful creatures that we share our mountains with, but rarely get to see. For this reason I’ll probably never hunt bears again. Like all game animals, our beautiful black bears are a renewable resource for our taking. And indeed, blueberry-glazed bear steaks are quite delicious. But unlike elk and deer, there just aren’t a whole lot of them to take. These fascinating beasts have their own special place in the woods, and for me, preserving this hunt as an once-in-a-lifetime experience is plenty enough.
In the end my bear green scored 19.5 inches, making it my fourth spot-and-stalk Pope and Young trophy in seven years. Yet, as proud as I am of this accomplishment, I must remind myself that life’s most precious experiences cannot be measured in inches or trophy quality. How we hunt—and the people with whom we share our hunts—are what matters most. None of my bow trophies would have been possible without the love and support from my wonderful and understanding wife, Esther, who’s been by my side during all of these magical hunts.