A Special Bear-Hunting Adventure
January 03, 2017
Some hunts just go down in my memory bank as super special. Oftentimes it's just a small thing that elevates a hunt's status to super special. More often than not, that "super" addition has nothing to do with the harvesting of an animal.
It may be a random occurrence, like a hummingbird trying to feed off my pink fletchings because it was convinced it was a flower. It may be something like the amazingly bright falling star I saw while looking at the sky one morning.
I saw it while anxiously waiting for the sky to lighten up so I could actually see the bull in the meadow that was bugling every few minutes. I know that long, bright flash could have been a meteor, or it could have been space junk hitting our atmosphere.
But since I am an optimist, I am going to call it an amazing falling star. I never got that bull, but that hunt will always stick out in my mind because of the screaming bull — and that star.
The hunt I am going to share with you here started out normal, but it ended up being elevated to super-special status. I hope some of you relate to why it was so special to me that I had to put "super" in front of it.
While hunting at our place in Colorado, my friend Tom Phillips invited our oldest son Jeb and I to go on a hunt with a group of guys from Trad Gang. Jeb has a busy schedule, as he helps around our ranch and farm, and he also helps guide our hunting clients when he can.
He is going to college for an AG business degree. Fortunately, this hunt fell over his summer vacation from school, and he was more than happy to trade out some work time on a John Deere for a black bear hunt.
We introduced our boys to hunting, and they naturally took to it like ducks to water. We also never pushed them to shoot any type of equipment, and instead opted to let them try every weapon out there. Then they could decide for themselves if they wanted to be hunters, and if so, what equipment they wanted to hunt with.
Jeb tried it all growing up, and leaned toward a compound. He has taken frogs and rabbits with his recurve, but his preferred weapon for big game always been the compound. He has harvested quite a few critters now, and we teasingly call him "Lucky Jeb" because he just seems to get the biggest animals out of anyone else in the family.
Two of our close friends are Mike and Nancy Palmer, and they have known our boys since they were pups. Mike and his father were always avid traditional bowhunters, and they made Palmer recurves. Mike's father passed on to the Happy Hunting Grounds, and for Jeb's birthday a few years ago Mike gave Jeb a special gift — his father's recurve.
Although Tom made it clear that Jeb could take a compound on the hunt, Jeb wanted to take Mike's father's bow. I was a tad nervous, because I knew Jeb had never harvested a large animal with a traditional bow.
On top of that, with his work and school schedule, he would be hard-pressed to practice much. My worries were partially put in check when I saw how well Jeb was shooting. He put in the time, and he was shooting very well out to 25 yards.
When we arrived at camp in Quebec, Canada, we realized immediately it was going to be a great hunt. The guys that were on the Trad Gang hunt with us were awesome. I elected to sit with Jeb to film his first big game traditional bowhunt, and to help him out. He had killed bears with a rifle on our ranch, but he had never taken a bear with his bow.
Everyone drew for stands, and Jeb drew one called "Moose Tower." We waited quietly for close to eight hours our first night in the stand, but nothing showed up except for a few fat squirrels that worked on the bait.
The next night near dusk, a bear appeared on the far side of a small clearing, and then disappeared just as fast. At camp that night, more bears were hanging from the pole. Others were harvesting bears, and the stories were flying. Some were probably even true.
We went to the same stand the following day. As silently as fog forming above the water, a bear slowly and quietly made its way to the bait. That's when it started. Slowly at first, but gradually increasing in its erratic nature. Jeb's Muzzy broadhead — the head his grandfather had invented and named — started shaking and bouncing all over the place.
I looked down at Jeb from my treestand above his, and realized his legs were shaking as well. We have all been there. Here was a 20-year-old man, with a bear only eight to 10 yards away, and he looked like he was having a seizure — I loved it! I wish I could say I was as calm and cool as an ice cube, but let's just say I am glad someone wasn't filming me.
The bear slowly left, and I guess I will never know if it was because it heard Jeb's Easton shaft emulating a woodpecker on his bow's wooden riser, or if it just decided to leave. Either way the bear was gone, and it left behind two men trembling from the excitement of having a bear in that close. As we snuck out after dark, Jeb smiled, his teeth glowing white in the darkness.
"I got pretty excited, and I don't think I could have shot even if I had wanted to," Jeb said. I told him to stay calm and just focus on making a good shot if we got another opportunity.
Back at camp, almost everyone had filled their tags. The stories were as fun as the hunting, and I am glad there wasn't a polygraph around. I might have even told a tall tale or two.
The next evening, we were back in our same stand. Just like the evening before, a bear silently appeared before us, and with it so did the shaking. It wasn't as pronounced as the evening before, but it was there. I was doing my best to control it, but I was pretty excited. Jeb's convulsions seemed to come in little waves. I was watching his broadhead and using it as a type of Geiger counter.
The bear was in and out, and I was biting my lip. There were multiple times I would have taken the shot, but I knew Jeb was the only one who could make that decision. At one point the bear was broadside and Jeb started to slowly draw, and then he slowly let down. I was going nuts. A brain aneurysm was a serious concern.
I was having a hard time keeping it together, and I was restraining myself from yelling SHOOT! I may have temporarily blacked out from the pressure, but as my eyes focused I saw Jeb drawing back again. This was it — the moment of truth. The arrow left the bow and my heart was singing.
It was a great shot — as good as it gets. It's hard to say which one of us was more excited. It would have to be a close call between Jeb, me, Mike's father, who I believe was with us, or Mike. That is how a traditional bowhunter is made. That is why to me, this hunt has a "super" in front of "special."