A Bear in My Sights
We’re at the end of the bear over bait hunting season. Until last night we hadn’t seen a bear with our own eyes. We have some interesting things going on but we see these things only by camera. Steve’s site has three sows with a total of six cubs, a first. They’re sometimes in the area at the same time but not at the barrel together. They keep themselves and their cubs separated. Site two, the place Steve is hunting, has a sow with two cubs and another with a single cub. There’s a sow with two cubs here. More cubs this year than ever before. Maine’s black bear population is growing, and the population around our house is recovering from deaths by starvation two winters ago. There are two bears we’re particularly interested in harvesting as well as a few others. It wasn’t until last night that I had a bear in the cross hairs and put pressure on the trigger.
I Kept it to Myself
In the past I’ve let someone know what was happening. Just in case…you know…in case something went wrong. “Bear…” I texted when I caught a glimpse of black fur moving my way. The second bear I harvested had a three-minute follow up of “bear down.” This time, I kept it to myself. I didn’t touch the phone. I’m confident now, in control, experienced. Nothing should go wrong this time. I won’t pull the trigger until it all comes together. This time I was 15′ off the ground in a semi-comfortable tree stand instead of sitting on the ground behind a sheet of burlap or pile of trees.
I listened to this bear for at least 30 minutes. The drought has caused a lot of crunchy black leaves to fall from stressed elm and ash. Leaves crackled under his weight and from the pace he walked, there was no mistaking the sound as that of deer. Slow. One foot in place before the next was lifted, he was in no rush. I first heard him a bit behind and to my left (north), before he ambled slightly east, and stopped when he found a stump or log that would provide a snack of grubs or ants or some other creature with a few calories. His claws ripped at the rotten wood. I’ve heard it many times before, back in my early days of bear hunting at the edge of beaver bog loaded with rotten and fallen trees. When he picked up the pace, though still slow, and moved straight toward the barrel, I set myself up.
I raised my rifle, pushed the safety to off, and watched for a smaller bear through the cedar and balsam branches. The trails from all three directions are easy to see so I knew exactly where to look. The smaller bear I expected is bigger than I realized. He (assumption) looks smaller in these pictures but his back is most likely waist high on me (I’m 5′ 4″). The barrel of my .308 semi-automatic rifle rested on the safety bar of the tree stand, the butt tight against my right shoulder, left hand in place, right hand on the stock near the trigger. Adrenaline took control of my pulse and breathing and I wondered if he could hear my heart racing.
In The Crosshair
He walked in slowly, looked around, sniffed the air. He walked out of sight of the camera and directly toward me. “Nope, don’t do that,” I thought. I’m not having one of those avoidable bear-up-a-stand moments people like to post on You Tube. I lost a clear view of him when he got close enough to put balsam branches between us. And then closer again, too close to take aim without my movements that he would see or hear. If the barrel had been below the safety bar I might have been able to make slow movements when he wasn’t looking but it wasn’t so. I hadn’t considered him going anywhere but the barrel. Always learning, I am.
He sat down and scratched under his chin with is back right paw, thwap thwap thwap. “Get up and go to the barrel,” I thought. He did not. He did get up and walked a few steps but sat back down, this time putting a cedar tree between us. “Go to the barrel…” He did not. He did get up again but he left. And came back. And left. And came back. It was getting dark.
Pressure on the Trigger
I lifted the rifle, looked through the scope, and set the crosshair on his head. I put pressure on the trigger but before that tiny difference when pressure turns to pulling the trigger, he dropped his head to sniff something on the ground. No regrets. Had I been certain of the shot I’d have taken him.
Legally, I had time. Ethically, it got too dark. The entire state of Maine has a legal shooting time based on sunrise and sunset in Bangor. We can see well earlier than the listed time in the morning and lose good light earlier in the evening. Safety first, I use better judgement than the chart allows when it comes to the evening hunt.
He did stand broadside at the barrel but the logs were between us. I had to squint to see him. I couldn’t shoot and didn’t need to be there so there was no reason to move cautiously. I brought the gun down, put the safety on, and aid rifle in across my lap. I wiggled my foot but he didn’t hear the sound. The adrenaline rush was over. He didn’t need to go far, only far enough and in the right direction – away – for me to be comfortable. I snapped a twig beside my head and he bolted away, further into the woods. Black bears are timid. One tiny twig sent him 100 feet in the opposite direction.
I went back to the stand this morning, struggling with a heavy bucket of food, a loaded rifle, uneven ground, a trail through the trees, and an active imagination. Clack clack clack I’d scared him. A clacking bear is not an attacking bear, it’s a fear noise. I probably startled him away. I hastily put the bucket of food down in the trail and climbed the ladder. He left silently and didn’t come back. I was back on the ground, refilled the barrel, and in the house by 6:30 am.
This afternoon I cut the limbs that blocked clear shots. The bear hasn’t been back so I didn’t miss anything by leaving earlier than my planned 9 am exit. I’ll go back out in a couple of hours, rifle loaded, patiently waiting, armed with a lot more knowledge about this particular bear and his habits. Unless I get up early tomorrow morning to hunt this is my last day in the stand waiting for a bear that was late to the party. We could use a nice bear in the freezer and I’m hoping pressure on the trigger turns into a lethal shot this time.
I was in the stand when the camera took these photos but it was too dark for me to see the details show here. He’s on the far right on his way out.
He’s back but it looks like nap time…
And there he goes again. This picture is a good representation of his size. Bears have heavy bones. I wouldn’t take a shoulder shot on a bear like I would a deer. I need the bear broadside and standing still so that I have a clear, still kill zone.
So, here he is, broadside and standing still but it’s too dark to see well (infrared camera doesn’t light up the area with a flash, this is deceptively bright) and there are logs in the way. I am sitting in a tree 75 feet away, all the way to the right. Looking straight ahead from my seat, I see the logs first, then the bear.It’s still legal to shoot at 7 pm but it’s unethical. Ethics are what happens when nobody’s looking. There he goes again.
And here he comes. He’s not hefty but he’s tall.
I knew when he took the logs out that he was staying. I snapped the twig at 7:05 pm, two minutes after legal time, and climbed down. He returned at 7:35 pm and 1:13 am. Let’s hope he returns this afternoon, long before dark.