Although today began no differently than did yesterday, it certainly ended in a most unanticipated way.
Once again, I found “sleeping in” past 8:00 a.m. beyond my capability. As such, I spent the extra time perusing through the photgraphs I’ve taken thus far, and yet again, I reorganized my backpack and camera bag.
After another trip to town we realized that 2:00 p.m. was approaching, so we headed back to camp to prepare for the evening hunt. This time, though, it would be from boats.
Reaching Tatla Lake, we unloaded the boats, filled them with gear, then climbed aboard and headed out. As the Schearer family fished, Leonard and I looked for black bears feeding along the shoreline—and it didn’t take long. Less than 10 minutes into the boat ride, and while I glassed the distant hills, Leonard pointed out a large black mass near the water’s edge. “What’s that right there,” Leonard said, pointing to the shape. My Konus binocular confirmed a very large black bear. Strangely, it was sitting like an obedient dog watching the boats pass by. With my heart pounding, I managed a reply, “A big, big bear.” Leonard, too, found the bear significant in size. The hunt was on!
Throttling down the jet-drive-powered boat, which was still noisy at idle, we turned around and began slowly floating to a downwind position to attempt a stalk. Leonard, an accurate judge of bear size, estimated it to be a 7-ft.-plus bruin, and among the largest he’d ever seen. Coming from a former grizzly guide, who has also hunted coastal black bears, that information certainly caught my attention. The bear, obviously no stranger to hunting, knew the game all too well, began his “exit, stage left” routine with a slow, dinosaur-like walk, which Leonard said was illustrative of a nearly carefree, mature dominant bruin. The bear seemed to never take its eyes off us.
Once out of view and downwind, we anchored the boat and began the stalk. At last sight, the bear was angling uphill amongst the aspens; however, glassing the area revealed nothing, so we slowly, and as quietly as possible, followed in the most likely direction. In anticipation of a relatively close shot, I reduced the scope’s magnification to 5X.
Since the bear wasn’t “spooked,” but rather “aware” of our presence, we decided to take our time returning to boat. “Working” the thickets and rock outcroppings, we were three-quarters of the way back to the boat when Leonard said, “You smell that … there’s a bear close. Be ready!” How right he was. Within a few steps, literally, he stopped and held out his hand to alert me to do the same. “Bear,” he said, pointing at the shoreline. Like a “vision,” there was a black bear silhouetted on the bank of the lake. Lowering my binocular, I eased forward with Leonard a few feet, where we glassed again. “Damn it,” said Leonard, thinking the bear had detected us. I reassured him the bear hadn’t, as we were downwind.
Easing out onto a rock outcropping, Leonard quietly whispered, “Get ready.” The adrenaline rush jumped what seemed like tenfold, with my heart pounding. What came next, though, tested my nerves.
“He’s coming,” said Leonard, so I deployed the bipod, expecting to take a shot at the bear along the shoreline. “Here he comes,” Leonard reemphasized. I still I didn’t see the bear. Then, looking downhill, the bear was approaching fast, and was only 30 or so yards away. Easily detectable was something large and red hanging from its mouth. In my mind, when the bear reached the bottom of the outcropping and gave a broadside shot it was time to shoot. To my amazement, Leonard said, “No, don’t shoot yet. I need to judge him.” “What?,” I thought. The bear then turned to the right, following a trail that passed alongside of us. Then the picture unfolded in my mind—it was going to be a very close encounter, so I turned the scope down to 3X.
Coming up the hill, it would pass between two dead pine trees, before being exposed—and that’s what happened. As the black mass appeared just over the hill, and went between the trees, I cocked the hammer. That’s when Leonard whispered, “Hit him when he steps out, he’s a good one.” Stepping out of the foliage at a sharp angle toward me, and thus exposing its midsection, the bruin looked at, or through, me. It, literally, filled the scope. With the crosshair on the front edge of the shoulder, I pulled the trigger. At the shot the bear cringed, obviously taking the full force of the .35-cal., 200-gr. Core-Lokt PSP, but it still lunged forward up the hill—thankfully not at me!
Immediately I lowered the rifle and, as practiced, though not at level of urgency, pulled empty case out. As fast as I was, at five yds. there’s no room for error, so as the new round entered the chamber, Leonard delivered a back-up shot with his .375 H&H Mag.-chambered Remington Model 700. The 300-gr. Nosler Partition, as loaded by Federal Premium, sealed the deal. The bear crumpled, rolling downhill, then lay motionless.
Seemingly surreal, in my mind I replayed what just happened, until a pat on the back and handshake from Leonard refocused my attention. I can only imagine the adrenaline rush and experience of a true dangerous-game hunt. He congratulated me, but I couldn’t thank him enough.
Walking back to the shoreline, we radioed the Shannon and the Schearers, then, looking down the steep embankment, discovered the source of a stinky odor—a half rotten cow moose carcass that has washed ashore. It has obviously been dead for some time. As it turned out, the bear we originally stalked had obviously claimed the carcass as his own—and the abundance of scars on my bear proved it. When the larger bear left the carcass, as we stalked it, my bear, which Leonard said was 6-ft. plus and 300-350 lbs., snuck in to grab a quick bite and run off; hence the reason for the area Leonard point out smelling bad. We happened to be in the right place at the right time.
With the tag notched, and Chad Schearer’s and Shanon’s help, we moved the bear to the shore’s edge for photographs. After a photo session, I switched places with Chad and Marsha, and Shannon, the Shearer boys and I fished while the elder Schearers hunted with Leonard Trolling the lake, we caught numerous 1-lb.-plus rainbow trout, and an above-average one served as an appetizer for dinner. I also saw a bald eagle while fishing—what a sight!
Reflecting on today’s events, the bruin I killed wasn’t the one we saw on the shoreline; however, that said, I wouldn’t trade this experience for even the largest black bear. It also taught me that no matter what you expect, be prepared for the worst, as the bear soaked up the energy delivered by the .35 Whelen and, although a lethal shot, it kept going. Had it “kept going” in my direction, things could have gotten ugly pretty quickly, which leads me to my next point—having a knowledgeable guide. With his razor-sharp instincts, Leonard understood the situation could turn for the worst and took action. I appreciate his decision. Lastly, know the limitations of your equipment, and prepare accordingly.
With my black bear tag filled, I’m now faced with a tough decision. With a pressing magazine deadline, can I afford to be out of the office longer than necessary? Should I stay or return home? In the morning, I’ll have to make that decision. Regardless, I must say, this has proven my most “adventurous” hunt yet.
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