Bear in his Sights
A Hunter’s Encounter with a Stealthy Bruin
We dropped anchor and casually glassed the shores as we readied our gear. “Bear.” Tony was right; there was a nice bear on the beach just off the bow. It was feeding in front of a small island at the tip of a tidal flat. We quickened our pace, dropped into the raft and motored toward shore.
It was just before 5 p.m. on a Friday evening, so we had more time that night plus the entire next day, so when this bear spooked, and spook it would, there would be other chances. But by the time we were halfway to the shore, the bear was still there, busy eating mussels and partly blocked by a few rocks.
We made shore, tied up the raft and ranged it at 260. It sat down, gazing directly in our direction. It was big and had a noticeable rub between its eyes, but not wanting to take that shot, we backed up and closed the gap by sneaking back into the woods.
When I crawled out to take the shot, it was gone. No big deal. There was still time. Tony and I sat at the edge of the tide’s reach – mostly hidden by trees – for an hour.
Shortly after Tony went back to check on the raft as the tide continued to rise, the bear emerged from the island. There were 50 yards of grass between the bear and the protection of the forest. He walked behind a fallen tree and only paused when he was directly behind the root wad. I had no shot. He walked out from behind the roots but didn’t stop. Sensing something was wrong, he scampered the rest of the way and disappeared. I didn’t really do anything wrong.
I was happy I didn’t force a shot, but couldn’t help but feel that seeing that bear twice and not getting a shot would doom the trip for me.
MAKING MISTAKES Knowing why you screw up is important. Not just in decision making but also in a mechanical, routine sense. My lack of patience has ruined stalks on steelhead, deer and bear. I was determined to be dialed in and do what was necessary.
So the next day, when Tony dropped me off at the same spot before he motored to the opposite side of the bay to sit and I saw a bear, I was ready to shoot. I worked through the same trees I had the previous day. I was on the edge of the shore and the bear was still there, standing. But the wind was bad.
I couldn’t even find a clearing for a shot before the wind hit its nose and it retreated into the woods. Two bears; three chances; no shots.
None of the chances were ideal, but I had to wonder if there was something I could have done to improve my situation.
I didn’t want to believe that all of this was outside of my control. I adjusted for the wind, crossed the creek and hoped the bear would come out again. Not a half-hour later, it did.
When I miss with my rifle, I usually miss low because I do the lift-my-head, drop-the-rifle two-step. Stupid. Amateur. Irresponsible.
This happens when I don’t have time to slow my routine or I am too excited to remember to watch the action through the scope. After three clumsy encounters, I was determined but almost desperate and not focused. I watched the bear through my scope.
I had spotted a tree at 145 and the back of the grass flats at 260. All the brush on the forest side of the flat was too small to get a reading, so I couldn’t tell exactly how far the bear was.
I guessed it was a nice bear at 150 rather than a big bear at 200. Since the bear had already given me the slip once, I didn’t want to drop my rifle to range it. My breath was right, the rifle steady.
The bruin didn’t react to a hit; instead it reacted to the sound of the bullet tearing through grass. I looked for blood and fur anyway
and found a 3-foot streak cut into the tangle of fresh grass emerging from the yellow, dead leftovers of the previous summer’s growth.
I had my chance and failed. Add the miss to the bear we saw the previous night and it was not exactly a banner hunting trip.
I was sure I wouldn’t get another chance, so I sat and ate a protein bar loudly. I looked up to catch a bear crossing the creek. It was big. Through the woods was a grassy beach it was likely working toward since I’d disrupted his normal routine by missing a different bear. I crossed the creek and ran along the beach to cut it off when it emerged from the forest. There was no way it was going to work.
FINALLY CONNECTING There are moments I do things right and feel like I have things figured out. When that moment comes immediately after an instance of dizzying ineptitude, I feel as though the world feels a little bad for me and wants to acknowledge that at least I haven’t quit.
So anyway, I sat under a tree and the bear emerged from the trees before
I could control my breath. It stepped tentatively into the open but behind a fallen tree. It was broadside and looking directly at me.
I made no movements, even though I didn’t have a rest. It turned and walked a few steps. I put my elbow on my knee, steadied my rifle and breathed. The crosshairs were settled and I felt calm. “Watch the hit.” I told myself and I touched the trigger. The bear dropped.
by Jeff Lund