In case I haven’t mentioned it, bear season is my favorite hunt. The work building up to opening day makes me appreciate the time I spend quietly waiting and watching for a bear. Watching a sow with twin cubs as I sat on the ground behind a six foot long piece of camo burlap is one of the highlights of my time outdoors. Both of the bears I’d harvested were taken while I saw on the ground; one behind that burlap, the other from behind a pile of brush. There isn’t a good place to sit on the ground when I’m hunting from our land. The first seat was too close to the barrel to be safely on the ground, and the second, the current site, too wet. I climbed up into the tree stand, pulled the camo sheet in front of my legs, loaded my rifle, and relaxed.

The first four hours were spent watching birds and red squirrels. Patiently, I waited for the bear who pulls logs out of the barrel. And then, there it was, a black bear coming down the woodsy trail directly behind the barrel. I saw a small black spot first, taking its time, stopping to look at what I thought were the logs he’d pulled out and lugged into the woods. It was exciting! I’d get to watch this amusing bear in action. Observation is an important tool in learning the ways of animals. You can read every book about an animal and hunting but there’s a lot you can’t learn from someone else’s experiences.

He walked to the skidder trail that connects with the trail I was perched at the top of and turned to my right. That’s not what the log thief does. He walks right in, takes the logs out, lugs them off or at least pushes them out of the way, and starts to eat. This was not that bear.

I texted Steve. “Bear.” I knew he was on his way home but didn’t realize he was on our road until I heard the truck go by a minute later.

Nervous bear came out of the path I use for a game camera and walked slowly to the barrel. He walked out, made a wide circle around the barrel and back to the path near the game camera. After a moment’s hesitation he came back to the barrel and stood still. The height of his back matched the height of the 50 gallon barrel. Big. Big bear.

This is NOT the video of the kill. That won’t be shown here.

My heart raced. This was not what I was expecting. This was a chance at one of two bears that would best help fill the freezer, and be the largest bear I’ve harvested. Previous bears were 150 and 105 pounds. In hale deeply, exhale completely (usually audibly but not while hunting), repeat three times to get control of myself. Slowly, I reached for my rifle, pushed the safety off, and raised it to my shoulder. I pulled the butt of the gun snug to my shoulder, took another breath, and looked through the scope.

Nervous bear stopped broadside in front of the barrel. I pulled the trigger, kept my eye on him through the scope, and watched him drop instantly.

A lesson I learned with my second bear was to be ready for a second shot even when if it falls immediately. The bear pushed himself up with his front legs so I pulled the trigger again. He did not get up.

A horrible groan came up the trail, through my ears, and directly to my heart. “He’s suffering. He’s suffering.” I panicked for a second. The death moan began less than a minute after the second shot. I hadn’t heard the death moan before. It’s not the sound of a dying bear. It’s the sound of air being expelled from a dead bear’s lungs. And then I breathed a sigh of relief. He did not suffer. Dead. In front of the barrel. Safety on, rifle down, hands still shaking, I leaned back and gave thanks.

I’ve watched the video of the kill. There were three seconds between shots. Fast, efficient, and merciful. It looked completely different from the camera placed behind the bear than it did from my tree stand. I saw more in the video than I did through the small area focused on in the scope. The perspective was entirely different and caught me by surprise.

Steve put the windows down as he approached and listened for the shot. He continued on to look at a logging job at the end of our dead end road, turned around, and went home. Assuming he’d heard the shots, I waited for him to change his clothes and come over. He didn’t.

“Are you coming to get us?”

“Did you shoot it?”

“Yes.”

“Is it dead?”

“Yes.” He called to ask how far it went and what he needed to bring with him to get it out of the woods. Just the tractor. This would be the easiest retrieve yet, which is saying something because the second bear only went ten or fifteen feet before dying. He drove directly to the barrel, we rolled the bear into the bucket, and went home.

There’s something called ground shrinkage in hunting. The animal that seems huge when you’re looking down the barrel shrinks when it hits the ground, or seemingly so. This bear grew. I thought he must be 250 pounds. I underestimated. He weighed 310 pounds live weight. He’s probably the biggest bear I’ll ever harvest.

The freezers are full. Steve harvested a bear as well. It’s the first time we’ve ever both harvested a big game animal in the same year. He went on to shoot an 18 point, 150 pound buck the day before Thanksgiving. We were given 100 pounds of moose meat, and we shared that with friends because it wouldn’t all fit in the freezers. I won’t be raising meat chickens this year because there will be more than enough of the 25 I raised in 2020 to tide us over until 2022. I’ll raise a few turkeys and concentrate on filling the pantry and cold cellar with fruits and vegetables.

I’ve left all forms of social media except for Instagram and a Facebook account I’ll use only to manage the Tressa & Trudy page. We’re living in crazy times. I ask myself WWTD? What would Tasha (Tudor) do? I’ve re-prioritized a lot and plan to make more time for writing. I hope that means you’ll see me here tomorrow. Thanks for reading after I’ve been away such a long time.