Member's Hunt: The Bear Tag

posted on October 16, 2021

By Rick Orchard, Ellsinore, Mo.

It was October 2020 as four friends and I left southeast Missouri for a five-day, first-season elk hunt in northwest Colorado. A few weeks prior to the hunt, we learned that Colorado was offering over-the-counter bear tags. When we arrived in town near where we would be hunting, we made a trip to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife station, as one of the guys decided to buy a bear tag. While I had hunted for bear in Colorado a dozen times over the past 25 years, I had never seen one, although I had typically been successful on elk. A bear tag might extend my time in the field, and so for $100, that bear tag seemed like a bargain.

Opening weekend was unseasonably hot, dry and windy. We were hesitant to build a campfire for fear a spark might start a forest fire. Grass was sparse and elk were not where we usually find them. 

By the third day we found elk on a mesa several miles from camp. That afternoon I heard several bulls crank up at about 3 p.m. One herd bull was bugling about every minute or so as he traveled along the side of the same ridge on which I was situated. In an effort to cut off the bull, I sprinted down the ridge until I was a half-mile ahead of him. There the ridge had opened up into a grove of aspen. I moved halfway down the hillside until I could see 200 yards in both directions and squatted down in front of an aspen tree, propping my gun on my knee like I was waiting for a spring gobbler.

As the bugling began getting closer, I thought to myself, This may actually happen. As luck would have it, the bull hung up just inside the dark timber. As I sat there waiting, I began seeing some of his harem. Three cow elk were in sight as I stared through my riflescope looking for antlers. Suddenly one of the cow elk jumped and ran a few yards. By this time all the elk were staring intently up the hill to my left. I immediately checked the wind, but it was perfect. I began to think maybe someone else had heard the bugling and was trying to sneak in for a shot, but I couldn’t see anyone else. Suddenly, the entire herd broke and ran. I was watching a small clearing through my riflescope, and as the herd filtered through the clearing I spotted the bull. When he passed through my crosshairs I touched off a shot. The herd came out the other side, but the bull was absent. Did he go a different direction or did my bullet find its mark? I waited a few minutes and headed down the hill. There against a spruce tree lay a nice 5X5 bull. I took a few minutes to admire him, took some pictures and then began the task of field-dressing.

I had laid my gun on a log near the elk. As I finished field-dressing the bull, I stepped back to clean my hands and wipe off my knife. Suddenly I heard a noise on the hill above me, from where the elk had originally spooked. At first I thought it was a Black Angus cow, as open range is common in Colorado. But at about 100 yards I realized this was not a cow but a large black bear headed right for me. As he drew closer, I could hear him snarl and growl with white foam dripping from his mouth. As I reached for my gun, I was surprised how quickly he closed the distance. By the time I shouldered my 7mm Mag., the bear was inside 10 yards. The first shot hit him in the chest. The bear reared up, fell backward and began snapping his jaws. He then walked over and began biting a sapling a few yards from me. I put another 160-grain Nosler Partition behind his front shoulder. The bear reared up again, roared and went a few more yards, at which time I shot a third time. Typically, people ask me if I was scared, and I tell them I didn’t really get shook up until I realized my rifle was empty. At that point I quickly began digging through my pack for more bullets, but by then the bear had collapsed. I loaded my gun and put one more shot in him for good measure.

Colorado 2020 will be a season I will never forget.

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