“Shoot that bear, Justin!” hissed big Joe Lisk, a command so emphatic I followed it implicitly.
We were almost on top of the animal before we saw it, ’round a bend in the logging road, feeding on fresh green shoots at the base of a gravel pile and late in reaching the safety of the timbered bowl on the other side of the clear-cut. Just out of hibernation with an auburn coat thick and full, this was a bear that required no study, a trophy by any hunter’s estimation. “You could hunt for years and not find a bear like that,” Joe confessed later.
Here I was but two hours into the first morning of my first bear hunt, and I had a cinnamon-phase Ursus americanus filling the reticle of my Trijicon AccuPoint riflescope. Beginner’s luck? Absolutely. But, having come home empty-handed my fair share over the years, I knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth when it’s standing broadside at 50 yards.
On alert but not yet in full flight, the bruin trotted out from behind the pile and could have raced between the jack pines in the maturing clear-cut to the dark confines of the bowl, but instead it lingered for just a moment in the road.
“Take ’im,” Joe instructed. Being a good half-foot taller than his hunter, he was oblivious to the fact that the bear had stopped in a dip in the road with only the top third of its back visible to me. Knowing time was of the essence and confident I could see enough of the vital zone to place a bullet where I needed to, I held as low as I could and let a Barnes TSX fly.
“You missed!” Joe blurted from behind his binocular.
Failing to take into account the bullet’s trajectory at close range, not to mention the span from scope to bore, I had skipped the bullet off the road and over the bear’s back. It froze momentarily before bolting for the timber.
“Come on,” Joe hollered, taking off for the clear-cut as I wracked another .270 Wby. Mag. cartridge into my Mark V Ultra Lightweight RC. Trying to regain my composure but kicking myself for the error, sure the bear was gone forever, I was stunned when we saw it slipping between the pines, parallel to us, at a half-jog. A flash of cinnamon here, a flash of cinnamon there, and then, miraculously, it stopped.
“Can you get a bullet in there?” Joe asked.
“There’s a branch in my way,” I replied, wishing I’d had time to retrieve my Trigger Stick from my pack as I shouldered the Weatherby offhand, searching for an opening. “If it takes just one more step forward ...”
One hundred thirty grains of copper bullet slammed into copper hide. The bear dropped, rolled, bawled once and then lay still.
Not taking any chances, we took off running to close the distance. When we reached the bear, Joe, to my amazement, grabbed its paw first, confirmed it was dead and then thrust his own in my direction.
“Congratulations on your first bear,” he said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better one. Look at the chest.”
Rolling the bear over revealed a perfect white chevron on its brisket—the figurative icing on the cake to an electric May morning in the vast timber blocks of central British Columbia.
The only drawback to tagging out so early is the adventure ends much too quickly, but on this occasion I was fortunate to share in the adventures of a camp full of hunters. Joining me in B.C. were NRA Outdoors (nraoutdoors.com) boss Greg Ray and NRA Director of Planned Giving Tim Fisher, as well as four members of the NRA Ring of Freedom Heritage Society: Tom Moore and Patricia Beltz-Moore of Wilsonville, Ore., and Bob and J.P. Puette of Reno, Nev.
Greg had arranged our spot-and-stalk spring black bear hunt with Big Country Outfitters, and as one might expect from an NRA Outdoors-endorsed outfit, the food, lodging and hunting were all first-rate. We were hunting the Cariboo region of B.C., south of Prince George near the scenic lumber and mining town of Quesnel, an area famous for its big bulls and plus-size bears—everything from moose and elk to black bears and interior grizzlies.
It’s also an area that tends to produce a large number of color-phase bears, and Tim killed our second one of the trip on the hunt’s second day. With scars on its face and an open wound on its side, the cinnamon-phase warrior squared 7 feet and was aged at 12 to 14 years, an incredible prize considering that few color-phase bears live to such an advanced age.
We didn’t know it yet, but the parade of color-phase bears was just beginning.
My hunting companions that first morning were Tom and Patricia, who joined us as an observer. Truth be told, I wish Tom had been the trigger man on my bear, and I told him as much as we admired the bruin. But Tom had expressed interest in a bear that would make the Safari Club International record book, and though a handsome specimen, mine most certainly would not. It was only the first day, anyway, and Tom and Patricia were soaking up the adventure. My bear was just part of it. Their exuberance for my success was infectious, and I in turn rooted hard for Tom to fill his own tag.
But sometimes the hunting gods work mysteriously. Perhaps we should have seen it as a sign of things to come, for shortly after photographing and field-dressing my bear, the sunny start to our hunt quickly gave way to dark clouds—literally—followed by an unusual late-spring hail storm.
Nothing would come easily thereafter.
We hunted hard and spent hours looking and glassing, a bleary-eyed task considering daylight stretches to nearly 10 p.m. in the far North. Along the way we came across sows with cubs, quick-trigger bears that bolted as soon as we crossed their paths, and smart old boys that took us on some circuitous stalks but yielded no shots. Then there was the Junction Bear, a mountain of a boar that’s been giving the crew at Big Country Outfitters the slip for years, which teased us by depositing his scat right in the road in broad daylight—naturally when we weren’t around.
We even tried calling bears as Joe, an American expat from New Mexico who owns Big Country Outfitters with his wife, Ursula, and partners Mike and Karen Hawkridge, is a master at running a rabbit-in-distress call. One afternoon we were set up on a point with a commanding view of the valley below when Joe let out a sorrowful cry so convincing it sent shivers down my spine, but no bears appeared.
We turned to retrieve our vehicle, chatting idly and paying no mind to the possibility that a bear could have circled downwind of our position, when we saw it: only the head, but definitely the dome of a big, mature black bear. Tom shouldered his Ruger Model 77, but the bear was gone just as fast. We found its massive track in the mud, and when we placed one of Tom’s .338 Win. Mag. cartridges inside it, the print practically swallowed the round whole.
We pressed on, and in between long drives and blown stalks I had the opportunity to talk with the Moores about their backgrounds and passion for the NRA. Recognizing the essential role firearms play in securing and maintaining our freedoms, Tom, a small business owner, and Patricia, a dental hygienist, have made giving to the NRA a top priority in their estate planning. As members of the Heritage Society’s top-tier Charlton Heston Society, they have pledged—and documented in their wills—to donate assets of $1 million or more to the NRA.
“Our founding fathers had the wisdom to set up a safeguard in the Second Amendment, and donating our assets to the NRA will help ensure that our Constitution and the Bill of Rights aren’t destroyed,” said Tom. “The NRA is the only organization defending our freedom.”
The Moores have actually made two gifts to the NRA, with the first benefiting the NRA Freedom Action Foundation. Patricia has also made a gift of her own, setting up the Thomas H. Beltz Endowment in honor of her father within The NRA Foundation’s Youth Education Endowment, a bequest that will benefit the NRA Youth Education Summit.
“Being able to donate to the NRA is important to me because if the Second Amendment goes, then what?” Patricia said. “What is there to protect the rest of our freedoms? The NRA is our last line of defense.”
As our hunt ticked down to its fifth and final day, it looked like Tom was going to leave B.C. without a bear. Then, as it so often does, his luck changed on a dime. Although a record-book bear wasn’t in the cards, he still put a pelt in the salt, taking a cinnamon, essentially blonde, bear just hours before boarding a plane bound for the States.
You would be hard-pressed to find a couple more accomplished or as active in the causes they believe in as Bob and J.P. Puette. Bob, the former president of Apple USA, is a serious big-game hunter with a World Slam of wild sheep to his credit, and he currently serves as grand prior of the U.S. chapter of the International Order of St. Hubertus, the world’s oldest hunting organization founded in 1695. J.P., a financial advisor, is a cofounder and member of the executive committee of the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum (nrawlf.com), which works to unite influential, philanthropic women in support of the Second Amendment.
The Puettes lead by example. Like the Moores, they are members of the Charlton Heston Society, meaning their documented gift to the NRA is also at the $1 million level.
“When I told my daughter that we’ve given $1 million of her inheritance to the NRA,” J.P. said, “she told me, ‘Mama, the best gift you can give me is freedom.’”
The Puettes have earmarked their bequest to be used to support the day-to-day operations of the NRA. Realizing that NRA’s non-tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status may deter similar gifts to NRA-ILA or the Association itself due to estate tax implications, J.P. worked with NRA to create legal language where donors can leave money to the 501(c)(4) but also name one of NRA’s tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charities, such as The NRA Foundation or NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, as a conditional beneficiary in the event their estate needs a tax deduction.
“It feels good to know that when we pass away a large part of our assets will go to the NRA,” said Bob. “The fight for the Second Amendment will go on forever, and without organizations like the NRA, we would have lost our rights a long time ago.”
Like Tom, J.P. had her sights set on a classic black bear: a jet-black boar with a massive skull, one that would make a handsome addition to her and husband Bob’s trophy room. Guide Travis Houle, an Alberta native and recent graduate of Big Country Outfitters’ guide-training school, had a good idea where such a bear could be located, and he had pictures as proof. From that point on, J.P. had eyes only for that bear or his equal, and Travis worked hard to get her the bear she wanted. But after striking out in all the places Travis had seen big bears in recent weeks, we took to the mountains, trying to roust an old recluse from his high-country home.
“We’re not up here because we’re going to see a lot of bears,” Travis said late one afternoon as we climbed into a particularly isolated patch. “I’m looking to show you that big pumpkin-headed bear you’re after.”
Still, the big boys were giving us the slip. The checkerboard of cut blocks offered classic bear habitat, we knew the bear population was healthy and we knew the outfit takes great care in not overhunting its areas.
Bob, who opted not to hunt until his wife’s tag was filled, had planted a seed in J.P.’s mind that he might like one of the region’s color-phase bears, too, and being the gracious wife that she is, J.P. obliged when a blonde bear presented an opportunity. Although she’s a fine rifle shot, J.P. actually missed the boar the first time, but they found him later in a meadow mowing down mouthfuls of green grass. Having learned to shoot from her father, grandfather and uncles in Alabama, J.P. drew upon her years of experience, and with a proper rest, placed a .270 bullet exactly where it needed to go.
The full-body mount J.P. is planning will make quite the conversation piece for years to come. Should she decide to pair him with a coal-coated B.C. bruin in the future, Greg proved they do exist, notching his tag with a textbook 6-footer on the last day.
But if there is one thing we learned in Canada, when color-phase bears are in play, you never know when you’re going to be in the right place at the right time to take the “right” bear, even if it’s not the one you expected. ah
To learn how you can include the NRA in your estate plans, call 877-672-4483 for a free, no-obligation consultation with the NRA Planned Giving Department, or visit nraplannedgiving.org.