Well, this Spring’s Black Bear hunt had several outside factors, which ultimately guided the final outcome. First, was I getting tooooo old to be hunting solo in the mountains around my home? This question has been nagging at the back recesses of my mind for a couple of years now – when is one too old to safely hunt by themselves? I am sure some of you reading this article have probably had similar thoughts? I try to stay in fairly good physical condition each year, but find it a bit more difficult with each passing year. I do split firewood on a daily basis throughout the winter months and this coupled with trekking through the snow to set up for coyote hunts seems to have me in somewhat decent shape. Once I was up in the mountains and experiencing the freedom of the great outdoors, I was certainly glad I had made the right decision.
This year held a couple of other problematic areas; first was the wet, cold Spring. Lots of rain and then a week of high temperatures and the willows & alder trees just sprang up with lots of new branches and leaves. This made sighting bears virtually impossible. British Columbia does not allow the baiting of bears, so we are strictly Spot & Stalk hunters – smile. Being able to see into some of the grassy openings was extremely hard and I prefer to spot bears from quite some distance and then plan the stalk. Now one had to work one’s way into the brush bordering these openings and hoping the swirling wind in the mountains did not spook the bears into flight.
My last dilemma was my truck decided to “give up the ghost” well into the season and that placed me out of commission for a couple of weeks. Once I was able to head up into the mountains again, it was getting late in the season and most of the bears would be well rubbed by now, or so I thought. It is preferable to take a Black Bear early in the season when its coat is in prime condition as it makes for a nice mount or rug. The Provincial (British Columbia) extended the Black Bear Hunting Season in my area, from 15 June to 30 June starting last year (2016). This short extension allowed the boars to be hunted during their breeding season. When the breeding season is in full swing, one will see the big boars wandering almost all day in search of a receptive female and quite often they will utilized the logging roads and their spur lines to cover lots of ground. There are two excellent observation points on the top of the mountain I choose to hunt which provide visual access to a number of these logging roads and their spurs. It is just a matter of patience, by sitting with the binos searching for one of these love-sick boys.
During the first part of the season, I had only seen small boars (5’ and under) and several sows with their cubs in tow. I have taken lots of good Black Bears over the years and will go without tagging a bear unless he is a good one. I also prefer to shoot the colour phase bears vice a black one, unless it is a worthy animal. Most hunters I talk to have never seen a small bear – smile. It seems some depend on spotting a large bear makes them a better hunter than others? But when it comes time to shoot a bear (Black Bear) they settle for ones around the 5' mark. I believe this is mainly due to their not having seen many Black Bears in the wild. Here in British Columbia, where baiting is prohibited, we are only conducting spot & stalk type of hunts and therefore do not have ample time to determine the size of the bears we see. In other Provinces, where baiting is allowed, it is much different matter. I represent one Outfitter (in Alberta) who relies on a small log running perpendicular to the ground near the bait station and it is located at a specific height above the ground. If a bear’s back is equal to or above the log, then it is usually a boar and a shooter. By shooting only really mature boars, he has continuously produced great bears for his clients and will continue to do so for years to come.
Great Black Bear and Big Horn Sheep Country
Well, getting back to my recent hunt – my truck got repaired and returned to me on Thursday and by the time I arrived home with it, it was nearing 4:30 PM (last light was around 9:45 PM). I loaded my Yamaha ATV aboard my truck and stored all my hunting equipment in the back seat and headed out for the evening hunt. One of the good points is I live about a 10 minute drive to the hunting grounds, so time is pretty much irrelevant to getting away from home. I usually have a route which I stick to while on the ATV and my hunting partner always knows what area I am hunting and when I will be back home. I hunt mostly alone locally and know I am not above having an accident or other misadventure, so want to ensure someone knows my whereabouts. So, I parked the truck, unloaded the ATV and pack all my kit aboard (I have a ‘dry’ box on the back of my ATV with enough equipment\supplies to allow me to get through any minor misadventure). Once I had double-checked my logistics, I was ready to head up the mountain. I just love the feeling of freedom while driving up the logging roads and cherish being able to participate in this great sport of ours. To set the record straight, I know this area intimately and have probably seen bears over most of these roads. I turned off the main logging road onto one which would lead me up the backside of the mountain and into some newly cut areas. Once I got to the top, there is a small trail (about 30 yards long) which provides a good view of some of the many openings on the mountainside. After a quick look through my Leicia Geovid binos, nothing could be seen feeding on the succulent shoots growing in these openings. I sat for a while hoping something would show itself. After 15 or so minutes, I decided to continue along this road to view some of the new cut-blocks. I idled along and near the first cut-block came upon some Black Bear scat. One interesting fact regarding this find was it was green in colour and that meant it was fairly fresh. As time passes the scat turns black in colour. This told me there was a bear in the area or at least had been in the area fairly recently. Next the size of the scat is important – when first emerging from their winter dens, the first scats passed seem more or less a pile, but as their digestive systems return to normality, the scat will take on a form and from this form it can be determined as to the size (relatively) of the animal. This pile of scat came from a fairly decent size animal. I now came much more attentive to my surroundings and slowed the ATV down to a crawl. I studied the lay of the land and tried to penetrate into the foliage, as best I could with my eyes. I cruised for about 2 miles in this state and then waited for approximately 15 minutes and slowly started my trip back. The ATV engine noise may have alarmed any bears and they probably took off into the cover.
Soon I was back to the main logging road and proceeded up it to the top of the mountain (front-side this time). I had one small field, which I had taken bear in before on this route, so when close to it, I shut the ATV off and walked several hundred yards to where I could attain a good view of the meadow. This usually is a great place to find bears, as there is a spring located near the bush-line bordering it. Later in the season, this is one of the few areas with water and bears and other animals tend to be attracted here. To my dismay, there was nothing feeding in this field, so I made my way back to the ATV and continued my journey to the top. I had to drive through another steep meadow and have not only seen bears feeding in it, but took a good Mule Deer buck there last year. There was nothing in the field, but I had spotted a couple of piles of fresh scat on the road again, so knew a good bear was nearby? I continued on my way to the very top and around to another side of the mountain to a place where I could observe several logging roads and their spurs. This was an excellent place and over the years I had seen quite a few Black Bears wandering the roads. I waited there for ½ hour and then decided to head back down to the truck, with a short detour to a remote meadow, which would put me back to the truck near last light.
2012 Brown Phase Black Bear
I have a habit of shutting the ATV off and “coasting” down most of the mountain. My hunting buddies tell me it is hard on the brakes, but I have taken several animals (both Black Bear and Mule Deer) utilizing this tactic. I had just started my decent and when I arrived at the meadow I had driven through on my way up, I spotted a large brown phase Black Bear feeding on the far side. I quickly stopped the ATV, dismounted and got my rifle out. It was obvious he did not realize I was there, so I had time to look him over. I usually look at the size of the ears in comparison to the skull and that helps me determine size. This guy’s ears were easily discernible and that usually means a smaller bear. Upon further study, he looked thick through the shoulders and knowing the height of the grass where he was feeding, led me to believe he was a mature boar. With the information gathered, I decided to take him. I was shooting my Browning X-Bolt chambered in 338 Win Mag, topped with a Leupold 3.5X – 10X Scope and shooting 275 grain Swift A-Frame bullets. Some might think this a bit “over-gunned”, but when I put a Black Bear or any other bear on the ground, I want them to stay there. I turned the scope up to 10X and used my “dry” box with a blanket on top as a steady rest. I had lots of time, so waited for him to present me with a good broadside shot. When he did, I started the process of slowly squeezing the trigger until it broke and the recoil shocked me (the way it should be), which meant I had not jerked the trigger. He collapsed in place and I racked another round into the chamber. I have a Jennings muzzle brake on this rifle and this allows me to remain on target. He was still on the ground, but soon he tried to regain his feet, without success. I knew he was well hit, but he started crawling towards the tree-line and I knew if he made it there, he would tumble down the side of the mountain and be extremely hard to recover. This is not an abnormal action for bears, as over the years, I have seen them go down from almost any hit from a bullet. Too many hunters think because the bear goes down, they are well hit and will soon expire. Nothing could be further from the truth and I am sure a great many trophy bear have been lost because of this misconception. I put two more rounds through his front shoulders and he did not move after.
As I drove my ATV to where he lay, I soon realized he was a bit bigger than I had first thought. I usually bring the whole animal back to my house to skin and butcher for two reasons. First, to give me a good solid base for the skinning and second, to prevent the meat from getting too dirty. Well, when hunting alone, one has to be prepared to have the right equipment with them in order to get the animal loaded. I have loaded many bears and deer by myself, thanks to the wonderful Warn Winch on my ATV. It does take some time to complete and may not look pretty when completed, but it does get the animal mobile. I like to place the winch line around the bear’s neck and lift it up on the front rack. I then tie it off and move behind the front shoulders and do the same. After these are secured, I move to the hind end and do the same. Sometimes I will have to go back to the front end and lift it some more. This guy was not being one bit helpful and I just could not get it lifted high enough to get the coat off the ground and away from the front tires. After trying several times, I decided to head home for the night and return in the morning to pick it up with the truck. Next morning around 5:00 AM I departed home and arrived at the location about ½ hour later. I had brought a piece of plywood with me to assist in the loading. I was fortunately able to drive my truck right to where he lay. Once in position I used my ATV ramps and the plywood to winch the carcass up on to the truck, as I had left my ATV aboard for that reason.
2017 Brown Phase Black Bear
Another ½ hour and I was home, where I off-loaded the bear and skinned him out. When I lay the skin on the ground it measured 76” from end of the tail to the tip of the nose and 78” from front claw across the chest to the other claw. The weird thing with this bear is he possessed a very small head and this was misleading both when I spotted him and also when he was skinned.