My Bear Hunt 2020


I still can’t believe that I was able to bear hunt this year. A lot has happened since the pandemic hit, and my life as I knew it, almost came to a screeching hault.

Sow and two cubs usually showed up first-before the big bruins.

I have dealt with chronic arthritis in my knees for years. Having finally taken the giant leap to see an orthopedic surgeon, I scheduled my bi-lateral knee replacements right when bear hunting would begin. I had accepted the fact that I would have to give up something in order to have it done, and this seemed like the time to do it.

A week latetr I was blindsided when my alma mater and employer of ten years, laid me off on March 20th. My whole world came crashing down. Not only was I going to lose my job and insurance, but also any chance at having my knees replaced. My only consolation was that I received six months severance and with that, my insurance would continue until the end of September. However, the pandemic had other plans, and any elective surgeries came to an end. So even though I had insurance, I was still facing the fact that I’d may have to deal with arthritic knees for at least another year, if I was lucky enough to find another job.

I felt pretty defeated, but decided to make the best of it. The bear hunt was back on regardless of what happened. I needed something positive to focus on, and hunting always soothes my soul.

In late May, just when I had accepted the fact that I’d have to hobble a little longer, I unexpectedly got a call from my surgeon. They were starting up surgeries again, but only taking the worst cases, and I was on the list. Would I be available? Hell yes!

My right knee just after surgery on June 5th.

On June 5th, I had my first surgery, and after being cleared of Covid-19 a second time, I had my other knee replaced on July 21st. Baiting began the following week, and with a little, no, a lot of help, I was at least able to be there to help, even it was minimal. I used my crutches to get around and although I couldn’t lift bait buckets, I took charge of the cameras and helped spray scent and grease.

Hobbling around with crutches in tow.

Bear came into the bait sites in a flurry. Food has been extremely limited due to dry conditions. Berries were almost non-existent, and other natural foods that were available weren’t abundant nor of any size worthy of a feast. Two days before the hunt, and for the first time ever, I had daytime bear hitting the bait consistently. I had nighttime bear~we had a whole lot of bear on our sites.

In the midst of two surgeries, I also became re-employed, so my time to hunt was greatly diminished, but I would hunt!

The first time out, I had John drive me to my stand. I wasn’t sure if I could make the hike up the mountainside, and I was a little uncertain of my stamina to get there. What if I encountered a bear? I tried to think positive. I would be able to hunt. I had hoped that John driving me to my stand, and then leaving with the four-wheeler would make the bear think no one was there. No such luck!

The night was pretty uneventful. I didn’t see a bear, but I did see one of the biggest rabbits ever to come eat at the bait. Rabbits apparently love bait as much as raccooon, fisher, song birds, squirrels, chipmunks, vultures…and yes, even moose!

This was my target bear. He visited everyday right up until opening day…then he went AWOL.

John retrieved me after hunting hours were over and drove me out of the woods. I have to say this was odd. I hadn’t had to have him do this for me since my first years of hunting. As grateful as I was, I felt like such a whimp!

Trying to fit hunting in between weather and a new job kept me extremely busy, but I was determined to hunt. With the weather forecast actually looking pretty decent and me actually scheduling a vacation afternoon, I decided I was going to hunt. I was bummed when John told me he couldn’t get the afternoon off, but I pulled up my big girl pants and decided I’d go alone. John would arrive later after he dropped the camper off in our usual spot, and then he’d meet me on the mountain.

I prepared myself mentally for the climb and the thought of being alone with so many bear nearby. I took my vehicle to the mountain. I changed into my bear clothes, packed my backpack with warmer accessories, and headed in. I carried my son’s 45-70, what I like to call a mini cannon, into the stand. I found that as I climbed the mountain, it actually got easier. It actually felt really, really good on my knees. I climbed into my stand with ease and settled in the afternoon wait. It was calm and quiet. You could hear a pin drop.

Video of what it’s like to sit while bear hunting.

It’s sometimes hard to sit still given the bugs, the birds, and the wind, but the pandemic helped me prepare for sitting with a mask on, so it just seemed easier this time.

As I sat there, I really didn’t expect anything to come out. I have only once seen a bear come to my bait in all the years I’ve tried hunting. So when this bear stepped out, it looked like a big bear. The night before a larger bear had been in, and I would have bet money, it was him.

This is the bear I thought was at my bait.
He came in the afternoon I couldn’t hunt…typical way it goes!

I was quite startled when the bear stepped out. I sized it up to the barrel laying on its side. It looked as big as the barrel! The bear came in on the right and stepped in front. I drew my gun and took aim, and pulled the trigger. Nothing. This gun has some wonky way about the lever action. It wasn’t in place where it should be. The gun wouldn’t fire. I played with it some more. I knew the lever needed to come up to set into place. I tried again. Still no shot. The bear continued to move quickly around all of the barrel and buckets not really settling in to eat. I went through all the motions trying to get this gun to fire, while not losing my cool. It wasn’t easy. Then miraculously, the handle clicked into place. The bear did a quick dart, but then turned right around and came back around the front of the barrel again. I took aim and shot. The bear dropped and my hunt was over.

Where my bear fell. One shot. Dead at the barrel.

Just after I shot, I got a text from John. I thought he had heard me shoot. He had just arrived on the mountain and was telling me he was there. I texted him, “Got it.” He replied, “what?” I texted back, “I shot a bear.” Him: “Really?! I’ll be right up.” He couldn’t believe it. Eventually, I heard the four-wheeler and he was there to celebrate, load up, gut out, and bring home my black bear. It was a long night by the time we got home and processed the bear, but we have some good meat to eat this winter.

As usual, my bear had ground shrinkage. It wasn’t nearly as big as I had thought it would be, but I was happy. And my bear has a beautiful white blaze on its neck. Some day a giant bear will show up when I’m sitting, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my harvest. It was something I never thought would happen this year, so I was particularly proud of this hunt. I had overcome a lot of obstacles this year, drove up alone and got into my stand alone, and finally harvested a bear.

So my words of advice, is once again to say, never give up, never think something is impossible. While hunting isn’t a sure thing, it’s for certain that it builds resiliency and determination for unknown outcomes. I’m so glad I stuck with it, bear or no bear, it helped me prove to myself that I was okay. Life was going to be okay, and I’m so glad I hadn’t given up.

My bear and me…life is sweet when everything comes together.

Did I Just See A Bear?!

At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something.

Day one of bear season was uneventful. The winds were gusting, and even though the temps were cooler, no bear showed. I had set since about 2pm until 8 pm. My butt was sore, but I wasn’t discouraged.

redbottleDay two was also cool, but with little to no wind. Bears would be moving. Instead of going at 2pm, we were there at 4:30. “Still plenty of time to get in our stand before a bear shows.” John and I decided to “scent up” the bait sites since it was nice and quiet. I took my time walking into the site, not only to walk with the breeze, but also to not become a sweat-fest after all the time I took to de-scent myself. The wind was blowing up the hill so in my mind, when you hunt the wind, you cover your scent downwind. To help me come in undetected, I decided to squirt a little Big Bear Scents Ultra Red Smoky Bacon scent attractant on a tree or fern ever fifty feet or so. Good thing I love bacon!

As I made my way up the trail, I kept a mental note of where the stumps are located in the woods. These stumps are black for some unknown reason, and on more than one occasion they have tricked me into thinking I was seeing a bear. As I approached the top of the trail, I spotted a black spot. I stood there trying to figure out if it was the stump located just behind my bait. About the time I took my gun off my shoulder to get a better look, that stump took off like a bolt of lightening. That “stump” was a small bear!

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About the size of the bear I jumped.

Now, I have never seen a bear in the wild, let alone while bear hunting. To put it mildly, I was relieved I wasn’t all out terrified by seeing it. In fact, I was excited. “Perhaps it will come back. I really want to get a bear.” 

In an effort to not make any more noise and in case there was another bear nearby, I decide against spraying up the bait site and go directly to my blind. It’s more noisy than I like and I don’t have a lot of room. In an effort to keep quiet, I decide to put my jug of spray on the ground between the ladder and tree. “I’m only 40 feet at the most, from my bait, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. And then I won’t knock it out somehow and make noise.”

I text John to let him know I jumped a bear. He said it would be back. In my mind I was sitting pretty. I sat and watched out into the woods. I see what I think is a bear cub. Are you freaking kidding me?! The animal hops like a baby animal. It has a longer tail. Not a cub. Phew! Porcupine? No. Porcupines don’t act like that. Then out of the bushes comes a pine marten. In an instant the squirrels and chipmunks run for cover. He doesn’t stay long, and later I spot it again off in the distance. Thinking back, I’m still not convinced I didn’t see a cub.

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Pine Marten on small white bucket…note stump.

At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something. Around 7:20 pm, the time when bear have been showing up on my site, I hear a noise behind me. Twigs, many twigs, breaking with every step. Very deliberate stepping, very steady. Very big footed and heavy sounding unlike a deer. Definitely a bear.

The bear walked right up behind my stand and stopped right at it. “I CAN HEAR HIM SNIFF MY FREAKING JUG OF SPRAY, BUT I DON’T DARE MOVE TO SEE HIM! I AM SUCH AN IDIOT.”  I don’t dare breathe. I don’t dare move, or even swallow or blink my eyes. As fast as he was there, he turned and walked back down the trail. He had smelled my bear spray that I had sprayed on my way in.

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Might have been this bear..he’s a big one.

I figure my night is over. I get out my phone and text John, “Be careful, bear in trail.” and put my phone away. John won’t let me walk out alone so I sit until he arrives with his hand cannon (aka bear handgun) and retrieves me. I’m pretty proud that I didn’t get scared, and about the time I’m sitting there all smug, when I hear the bear AGAIN. He was coming back, but making a circle. Damn it. It’s now 7:30. He’ll never get to the bait before shooting hours close.  I didn’t know if I’d have enough light to see him. I sit still. He came back quicker than I thought he would.  He walked to the right of my stand where I had put some cherry flavored unsweetened cool-aid mix on some leaves. “It was meant for the site, but I didn’t want to scare anything off.”  He really liked it. I could hear him, but STILL couldn’t see him! I wasn’t moving a muscle. In concentrating on him, I hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten. I figured I only had about five more minutes of shooting time, and then I wouldn’t be able to shoot him.

Then my eyes spotted him. There he was about 10 feet out in front my stand in the underbrush. A big – HUGE – black blob just standing there! I’m thinking, “it’s now or never.”  I pull my gun up.
He’s still standing there. There is nothing but silence.

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The opening in the under-forest where I spotted the bear.

I carefully stick my gun out the window of the blind. If only I didn’t have a this damn blind around me! I never thought I’d hear myself thinking that.

Before I even get the gun to my eye, he bolted. He was gone. I could hear him circling and  running around out in front of me in the woods. He was gone. I hope he’s not gone for good. I think he’s the bear that left a big pile of poop for me the night before. For now, he was gone.

Now tell me that baiting is easy…that bear hunting is easy. It’s not. I’m still hoping my “Plan B” will be able to happen. It won’t unless I can find a way to not involve a sow and cubs that managed to be the only thing to come to my bait that night. The weirdest thing is that I had nothing on my camera from the bear I jumped nor the one the bolted in the end, so I’m still unsure which bear I had seen.

I will never forget this night of hunting. It was exciting, thrilling, challenging and in the end, a bit regretful for this things I did, and didn’t do. I try not to stew on the shoulda- woulda-coulda things and just take it as a learning experience. After all, how many people can say they got to experience what I did?

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The bear I think I saw…dang.

I’ll be back out in the woods tonight, scenting up the site, and not my tree stand…and hoping Mr. Bear (any bear but a sow with cubs) returns.

Wish me luck! I’m obviously going to need some.