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.

Trapping Beaver With A Friend

It’s my third year of trapping. In 2018, I spent most of my time trapping land fur-bearers, because water trapping was too hard for me to do on my own. John and I like to trap beaver for the meat, hide and tail, and the rest makes lovely coyote and bear bait.

Last year, I decided that if I was going to trap, I was going to step it up. I was going to prep my traps, dye my traps, set my traps on site, check my traps, and take my catch just like a true trapper does. I was very successful and caught my first gray fox and two raccoon, along with a few porcupine.

For this year’s season, we boiled our traps in maple bark water and then waxed them. This is to de-scent them and to make them ready for trapping. Using a draw knife, we strip maple bark from young saplings like a moose would. By taking just a bit from a few trees, it doesn’t hurt the trees and they continue to grow.

In 2018, I began the season by trying to trap beaver. It was a lot of fun, but John had to set the #330 conibear trap because I simply do not have the strength to set it, even with tongs. We even bought locking trap setters, but to no avail, I cannot get it that closed to lock and so it’s still a two person job.

2869
My first beaver set. It’s an underwater set.

My friend Erin approached us early in the spring and asked if we’d be interested in trapping some beaver for a neighboring landowner. The 2018-19 season had ended, so we couldn’t help him. Seasons are in place for a reason, and IF&W won’t just give someone the right to remove a beaver if it can wait. Since April, the beaver had totally gotten out of hand and had flooded the area so much that a bridge was now in danger of being washed out.

Erin met us at the landowner’s place, and we  scouted the area to decide where to place the traps. The late fall sun was setting fast, so we had to make some quick decisions.  Although the area was flooded, there wasn’t the usual slide area or really good evidence of beaver activity besides the very chewed mature trees. We weren’t sure if the beaver were further up stream, but with time ticking, we figured we start there.

John, in his waders, took to wading across the cold stream and climbing over the second dam to set a trap nearby one of the beaver houses. Erin and I made our way further down the stream bank to a spot with a channel that didn’t run anywhere except to land.  John helped me set the safeties on the trap, so all we had to do was not set it off, get it set into place and secured in the channel, put the necessary dive sticks in place, take the safeties off, and then hope for beaver. It was quite an process, but Erin and I finally got the trap in place and it looked pretty darn good. And neither of us got our hands snapped! John met up us, and together, we placed two more traps where the beaver had been dropping trees.

As John and I drove out, we passed by the landowner’s place. He was outside by his truck. We waved to sort of acknowledge-who-we-are wave. He didn’t even wave us back. In fact, it was a back turn. That immediately was a put off, and should have been an indication of what kind of person we were helping. The one thing that’s important to trappers is feeling welcome, and having the landowner understand what we do and why.

We checked the traps nearly every day, with no luck. Then, one the one day Erin couldn’t join us, we finally had a sprung trap. The beaver must have went over the top of it as it exited the channel, because it was knocked over toward the stream. John and I reset the trap making sure to secure it even better than before so that the sticks wouldn’t come out of the mud. By the time we were ready to leave, it was totally dark. I heard what I thought was an animal, possibly a deer crossing the creek. A definite water sloshing sound. Then it came closer. I couldn’t see anything, and John scanned with his flashlight. It was dark, but he was able to spot a swimming beaver just above the house, and between our two trap areas. He threw a stick and the beaver slapped its tail and dove under.  It was in the process of preparing its feed bed for the winter. That beaver had no plans to go anywhere.

beaver damMeanwhile, the landowner was growing impatient that we hadn’t cleared all the nuisance beaver out of his creek in a matter of a couple weeks. He was threatening to breach the dam. Communicating through Erin, we decided we were pulling our traps if he did that. You can’t catch beaver in a puddle, and frankly, we’re doing this guy a favor, and I didn’t like being treated that way, so it was no loss in my mind. And I don’t even know if it’s legal for him to do that to a beaver house. As trappers, we have so many regulations to abide by that I was just stupefied by his actions. He then told Erin that he was definitely going to breach the dam, so Erin and I made a date to pull the traps on the following Sunday. John had made other commitments, so it would be the girls pulling the traps.

It took us a while to find the first trap on the other side of the stream near the beaver house. It was a great spot, and I’m surprised we didn’t catch anything. Then we headed over to the traps on the other side. The second trap, again, had nothing. Each time we pulled a trap, Erin waded in and using one of the poles, she’d spring the trap and give it to me. I hadn’t worn my waders thinking I didn’t need them, so I’m happy Erin wore hers. It wasn’t long before we came to the trap where Erin and I had originally set in the channel. There before us, was our prize. A huge, beautiful brown, very dead beaver laying in the stream. Erin’s wasn’t excited about picking up a bloated dead beaver, so I said I’d do it. Using a long stick, I pulled the beaver close enough to get a hold of its webbed foot and pulled it to shore. Erin and I were thrilled that we finally caught one.IMG_20191111_132125566

IMG_20191111_132118294It weighed so much! I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to lug it out of the woods. At first, I was like, oh yeah, I can get it. Then reality set in. It’s not an easy trek, and my knees were already screaming in full protest of what I was doing. After pulling the last trap, I had three #330 conibear traps in a backpack, along with set poles and H-stands to carry out. There was no way for us to take the remaining trap off the beaver, so using one of the poles we had to bring back, I slid it through the circle of the spring and together, Erin and I carried the beaver, and all the other equipment back to my truck. The male beaver weighed nearly fifty pounds. There was no way I could have ever pulled that thing out on my own, so I’m thankful I wasn’t alone.

IMG_20181024_193356604
Conibear traps big (#330) and small (#110) and H-stands

After the landowner heard we caught a beaver, he mentioned that we could trap some more if we wanted to…nah. As much as I enjoy beaver trapping, and sharing the experience with my friend, I wasn’t excited to go back. There are plenty of beaver close to where we live, and we had already pulled the traps! Had the landowner been a little nicer, I might have considered it. I still had fun the day we trapped together, so perhaps I can convince Erin to join me on my trap line before the season ends.

The landowner might not have been thankful, but we were. We got some great beaver meat for the freezer, some beaver castor for next year’s bear hunting, a beautiful beaver hide that I’m going to use to make something, and I’m excited to have a beaver tail to tan, so that I can make more beaver tail jewelry.

I am ready to trap for fox now, except the weatherman is predicting rain followed by a temperature drop, a less than ideal situation for trap sets. Keep your fingers crossed. I have my eye on a fox and fisher that I’ve caught on camera.