There is a saying that “every dog will have his day” and this most certainly applies to hunting. If you spend enough time in the woods, you are bound to experience an “epic” encounter at some point. A few weeks back, my number was apparently up to be thrown a bone and I was to experience one of these “epic encounters”.
My wife had been very sick and I had been running myself ragged for the previous few weeks with taking care of her and working my day job. The spring bear season had been rolling along, without me being able to get out much at all, and this was weighing heavily upon me. There was a brief time period where it seemed like my wife was feeling better and I took the opportunity to get out for one afternoon. Since I had a limited amount of time to spend, I figured that I’d leave my bow at home and be content to meet up with my good buddy Darin to do some shed hunting and scouting in a new area.
The area seemed promising from the start and we were seeing quite a bit of Deer and Elk sign, with a little bit of bear sign mixed in for good measure. We had just explored a couple of ridges that were connected together and were climbing out of a dark drainage filled with tall cedars when I could swear that I caught the rank smell of a bear.
The smell was like “wet dog”, mixed with a hint of A1 steak sauce. It immediately brought back memories of a close encounter with a Grizzly that we had several years ago. As we crested the top of the drainage, we found a well used “bear rub-tree” at the edge of the ridge top. It was only another two hundred yards to the highest point of the ridge, where we stopped to catch our breath and take some time to just listen and observe.
The ridge top was fairly open, with a sparse cover of trees and patches of thick brush. We suddenly heard something crashing away in the brush below us. That “something” arced away at first and then swung around and stopped about sixty yards away and parallel with us. Darin said that he thought that he had seen a bear moving through the brush, but wasn’t sure. About that time, another “something” was moving quickly towards us through the brush.
Darin could see the bear first, due to a tree that I was standing next to, that blocked my view and seemed to speak only with his eyes as he said: “Bear! There’s a bear…right…THERE!”. I peered around the tree to find a large Black Bear a mere twenty yards away, vigorously sniffing the ground and broadside to me.
I quickly drew my Glock 20 from it’s Survival Sheath chest holster and took aim. The first shot took him dead center and just behind the crease of the shoulder. I expected him to run off at the shot, so hesitated for a moment while he just stood there, seemingly stunned. I snapped back to attention when he turned to face us and took aim as our eyes met.
Since I was slightly above him in elevation, I had a good view of his back, which led me to aim for the base of the neck. I must have pulled off-center, because my second shot took him through the left rear hindquarter. He then spun and lunged in the direction from whence he had came from. I was able to get in a third shot, which angled into his vitals. At that point, I had to pivot around the tree I had been standing by and got off two more shots before he was swallowed by brush.
It was at that moment, that it begin to rain…and rain HARD. We didn’t waste any time getting over to where the bear was when I shot. There wasn’t any blood, but we had a plain path to follow in the wet grass. Any sign of a trail quickly petered out in the brush and we were left with no trail to follow and quickly diminishing daylight.
I used my McKinley HD 10×42’s by Leupold Optics to pick apart the brush on our way down the mountain, because in the shadows, everything looked like a dead bear. We got back to the truck just after dark and made plans to return in the morning. The next day we enlisted the help of my Nephew Ethan to lend a hand in the tracking and headed back to where it all had started.
The night’s worth of heavy rain had washed away any blood that there may have been, so we worked over the entire side of the ridge in zigzag fashion, doing our best to cover every inch. After several hours of searching, I was growing a black cloud over my head and was having flashbacks to last season’s lost elk.
We eventually were just working our way down by instinct and ended up taking off in a different direction, which led us to a cut that angled down to a dark Cedar grove, which housed a small pond. I was feeling very dejected when I heard one phrase that turned it all around: “I think I’ve found blood!”. I was a little above Darin and behind a thin screen of brush, so I couldn’t see exactly what he was pointing to, but when I got closer, he suddenly moved to the side with a mischievous grin on his face. And there was my bear!
And just like that, what started off as a soggy shed hunt and scouting excursion morphed into a short still-hunt, which then led to a close quarters shot opportunity and I had my first ever Black Bear! And not only that, but I had my first handgun kill on a big game animal!
I want to take to moment to thank my best friend Darin Staab and my nephew Ethan for all of their help with the tracking and pack out. There’s nothing like sharing an experience like this with people who are close to you and it sure is nice to have some strong backs and skilled hands when it comes time for the work!
- Luke Johnson
LUKE JOHNSON grew up as a logger’s son and learned to enjoy the outdoors just as his father did. He has always been fascinated by the goings on of the forest and is often content to just sit and observe. This has led him to his passion for bowhunting and for swapping the many unfilled tags for stories and photos.