My First, and ONLY Bear Hunt.


El Oso de Dios!
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Mar 5, 2005
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Where the hills have eyes.,and it's HOT!
Rita,(thats the wife) participated in a Forest Service study where she actually crawled into bear dens in Rocky Mountain National Park, with the bears hibernating in them (!) long before I met her. Shed tranquilize the bears, drag them and their cubs out, tag them, measure them and put them back. One of my favorite pictures of her shows her cradling a bear cub. Another shows her frightened face as she scoots out of the den of a bear thats waking up!

I have frequent encounters with bears -Ive had a mother warn me off when she and her cub were fleeing a large male (males will often kill cubs in times of drought, or because they want to get laid...), and we've had bears tear down bird feeders in our yard. Bears frequently maraud our orchard-thought our dogs keep them from taking too much fruit, and more than once, weve gone up the mountain to pick raspberries, and worked one side of the raspberry patch while the sow who dens up there worked the other. Ive already told the story-or, at least part of it-of how I had a half-hour conversation with a bear while on a vision quest.

Once or twice a month Ill take a run up the mountain to check on the mast and cable for our windmill, which isnt in service but is there to provide electricity in a pinch. I also do it for fun: its a little more than a 2.5 mile run with a nice, easy 1,000 foot elevation gain over switchbacks-though its hell in snowshoes! The service road actually goes through the aspen glen where the she-bear dens up, and passes the berry patch as well. On one occasion, Rita decided to come with me, to pick berries. We stopped at the patch on the way down, and started to fill the baskets wed dropped off there, and it wasnt too long before I heard a familiar shuffling through the woods below us. The sow stood up, looked at us and kind of "chuffed, then proceeded to pick berries, just as she has in the years before. I (quietly) told Rita native stories about doing the very thing we were doing, but she really needed no reassurance.We finished up our picking and left.

It might not come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about my spiritual practices, that when my totem chose me, it turned out to be the bear. It surprised me-though Im told its only natural that someone as strong as I am, and who was raising two children by himself at the time, would be chosen by this symbol of strength and motherhood..the bear is the symbol of our house, though, and if you spend time with me, youll notice little bear symbols everywhere-the car, the house, the shop. The bear is part of my life.

Before that, though, and before I lived in the Jemez mountains, met either of my wives, had children, or had seen a bear anywhere but in a zoo-when some might have called me "city boy," though I mostly grew up in semi-rural suburbs and was no stranger to the woods, I went on a bear hunt....... of sorts.

My mom is from Wyoming-her father was a coal miner, and they were poor-like most people in America only imagine, these days, and grandpa had to hunt to feed his family. While a lot of people think of bear meat as nasty (depending on the season, and what they eat, bear can taste like crap!) my mom likes bear-so did granddad-they say it tastes "sweet." When I was 17-and, as a brand new almost unemployable college graduate, had more free time than I'd ever had in my life-as a special treat, I got to go on a bear hunt in Wyoming that my grandfather had arranged, the only time (I recall) that I ever wanted to actually kill something just because I hadnt before.

On the appointed day, granddad-whose phlebitis pretty much precluded his taking part in any more rambles in the mountains- loaned me his .45 auto, which I had fired many times on vacation, and entrusted me into the care of Earl, who was well known for bear hunting in an area where everybody hunts deer and antelope, but not as many people go after bear. Earl drove up in an old Chevy pickup, with three hounds in the back. For those who dont know, its still accepted practice to use dogs to hunt bear in some places, and was in Wyoming at the time. Its also accepted to use bait-to place rancid meat, or sweets ,or both on a tripod, or in a 55 gallon drum in the woods, to bring in the bears, and we were going to drive along the forest roads and check on Earls bait. We bounced along through the forest, as Earl checked his baits (50 gallon drums with a daily dose of old donuts and pastries inside-Lesson one: "baiting" isnt really hunting).

A few miles on logging roads brought us to the third one. This one had been hit. The first dog was let out and immediately struck trail and sounded off. When he was sure it was a hot track, Earl released the other dogs and the chase was on. Earl and I spread, at his direction, about 25 yards apart, well within eyesight of each other in the sparse woods, and tracked the chase by ear. Near the end, the bear doubled back, and the dogs chased him right towards us. That bear was running so fast, it seemed as though his hind legs were actually coming past his head! I fumbled for the unfamiliar holster at my waist, and the bear ran right past me, with the dogs fast behind! (Lesson two: know your equipment, and dont borrow anyones, even your granddads!)

When the bear crossed a logging road a fresh dog would be put on the track and, at just after 10 a.m., the bear had had enough. The dogs sounded their "got him treed" call.(Lesson three: "Hounding" isnt hunting.)We drove in as close as we could and then began the mile or so trek to them. (Lesson 4: "Driving, most certainly isnt hunting.)About this time I realized that no one had brought a rifle. I theorized that Earl had a pistol in a shoulder holster under his coat, but even if that was true I began to doubt the wisdom of walking up on a harassed bear with nothing more potent than a .45 in my hands. There wouldn't be any bars between us if he decided he didn't want to stay in that tree.

Some time after the dogs had treed him, we walked up on them bounding beneath an aspen slightly smaller than the average telephone pole. Ten yards above them sat a coal black mature boar of close to 350 pounds. He looked down on us still panting, with his brown muzzle standing out in sharp contrast to the long black hair. His perfect coat was so black that it shimmered in the bright sunlight streaming between bright green leaves. He was the first bear that I had seen in the wild and will always be a special memory. The beauty and latent power he represented was something that I was just learning for the first time.

"Those hamsll make good eatin," Earl said, practically licking his lips as he pulled out his own pistol.

At which point he put 5 shots into the bears chest-in case you dont know, 5 shots-even with a pistol for a bear-is not hunting. :rpo:

As the sound of the shots and their echoes died away in my ears, I expected the bear to fall out of the tree right away, but he didnt. He just kind of clung there, slipping a bit at a time. The noise he made at first: there was all the disappointment and grief in the world in that noise for me; Im sure it was the ursine equivalent of "Oh, crap, so it's come to this...". At that point in my life, Id killed several deer, hundreds of rabbits and squirrels, the odd woodchuck or raccoon, and untold numbers of fish, and always with the reverence for life that my father had imparted to me, but Id never seen "hunting" like this, or watched anything die so slowly before.

The look on that bears face will always be with me-until just a little before that point in my life, doctors had been telling my parents and me fairly regularly that I wouldnt live to so and such an age, or the year after, or the year after that. Since then, Im always coming back to the light going out from that bears eyes, the "whooff!" of that last disappointed breath before he crashed to the ground, and thinking- "So, thats what its like."

Ive never hunted, eaten, or wanted to hunt or eat bear since. While we carry our pistols in the field, in part for bears, I hope that we never have to use them, especially on a bear.

We have an apple orchard, but I planted one apple tree by our front walkway, outside the fence and away from the orchard because.well, because I like the blossoms, okay? I like the way they look against the house. Some bees must have gotten to them, though, cause we got apples on that tree for the first time last year-though Ive been looking forward to seeing deer eat those apples for years. Did you know that deer will stand on their hind legs to take apples from a tree? Its the most amazing thing to see.

Anyway, one Sunday night after we went to bed, the dogs make this racket-one is a pretty decent shepherd mix that just barks, but filas are bred from bloodhounds, so they bay and howl, and our filas were howling! I heard a rustling right outside our window, so I grabbed a flashlight and took a look, and, sure enough, there was a bear in our apple tree-probably the same sow that we saw picking berries. "Hell," I figured, "turnabouts fair play. She can have those apples." She skedaddled as soon as I shined the light on her, though.

"I told you we had to pick those apples," my wife, the bear expert said.( I was sure those apples werent quite ripe yet.)

"Do you think shell come back?" she asked then.

"I dunno," I said, as I drifted off to sleep. "I sure hope so."


Green Belt
Jan 5, 2009
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Thank you for the story. I personally have never lived (or hunted) in the Jemez, but I had a close friend that used to live there. I would often go up and visit him and his wife on weedends and holidays. What a beautiful area! What always amazed me the most was that elk and even the occasional bear would sometimes come right up to the house. What a beautiful place to live! It's one of the few things that I trully miss about living stateside.

Brian R. VanCise

MT Moderator
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Sep 9, 2004
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Las Vegas, Nevada
Thanks for sharing Elder999!

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