The North American Frontiersmen





  Freelance Writer

   Smoke Signals

                   May./Jun. '09



American Black Bear

Ursus americanus
Pallas, 1780

We have all read and heard stories of the experiences of Lewis & Clark and their Corps of Discovery group with the grizzly. Hugh Glass and his encounter always raised the hair on the neck of pilgrims sitting around an evening campfire. Stories of the mountaineers being tracked down by a variety of bears from the smaller black bear back east to those giant brown bears found in the great northwest, always exciting to all listeners.

As much as we have heard, read or listened to these stories these are not common place per the number of events that actually happen. The number of attacks in the past was not a daily or even monthly event, not like some of the stories tend to make us believe. Most encounters are by chance, the human walks into a feeding area for most part, water ways teaming with fish, berry patches, game kills or areas of this type are the usual feeding beds. Today we probably hear of more than ever before because of our communications such as TV, the news media and the numbers of folks in the field. Seems at times the better the media makes the story the more listeners acquired or magazines/papers are sold to enhance their own goals rather than just sticking with the facts.

Depending on the feed, location and time of the year will increase ones chances for seeing bear activity as well as raising the risks of encounters with these rulers of the forests. Being in the field for encampments a half dozen times a year, and more if time allows, we probably see black bears at least half the time or close to it. That’s very usual by most accounts from others in different locations in the same state – Colorado. The area we use for most of our outings is not that far from civilized areas or that remote to local roads is what always surprises me. The feed (berries, fruit trees and small streams with fish) must be the drawing card for these bruins, is what we have decided. After saying this, one stops and reflects “how come we never have such luck with seeing them when hunting season is open?” Simple answer, the pressure of the hunting season makes these fellows become more elusive.

Having taken several black bears back east, in Pennsylvania (1) high power kill and (1) muzzleloader kill, and in Colorado (2) muzzleloading kills. I have always felt I was very lucky when hunting the beast to just see one. Many friends have hunted the season for years without ever tagging an animal and in some cases never seeing one. In all of my successful hunts I was watching turkey or deer and not even thinking about bear when one came along or popped up to my surprise.

For most part the two bears in Pennsylvania were not spooked and were one shot kills, not much excitement when thinking about it, not like those adventurers we have all heard or read about. The one bear in CO was like PA, one shot kill. But the other black bear in Colorado was a different story and really scared as well as surprised me at the time.

I was hunting along the edge of farm lands in Northern Colorado near the town of Estes Park, my main interest was mule deer (a big one that I had been watching all summer). I had purchased a bear tag just incase. The “just incase” had been done for a dozen years; “you just never know” was what I always would say to justify the license to the wife. Darkness was approximately four hours away when the mulie I had been dreaming of appeared in a small clearing just off an easy trail to my vehicle a few miles or so away. How lucky could a guy be, clear skies, good weather and an easy shot, plus the wind is blowing to me, he’s watching something down the trail. I slowly sat down laying the rifle on my knee and carefully cocked the lock. I kept doing my usually mental coaching telling myself to squeeze the trigger very carefully, squeeze, squeeze. As the flint hit the frizzen, (everything happening in slow motion) as the muzzle raised and smoke engulfed me from the ignition and muzzle at about the same time. Once the smoke cleared I could see my buck lying on the ground, I stood slowly and reloaded my 28 gauge smoothbore, preparing for a second shot if needed.

Once by the animal I was surprised at the size of his rack and his body weight. My months of watching him had paid off. Now I was starting to get second thoughts about the life just taken, an unusual thing to think of for one who has taken a lot of game over the years. When young I had been a county hunter in a farming community for almost two years, taking an animal’s life was never given a second thought, why now?

Once my deer was tagged, and field dressed I used a handmade rawhide rope to pull him down the slope. As I moved down hill for an unknown reason I decided to leave the main trail and take a more direct route I thought. Only traveling a few hundred yards the light foliage turned into heavy undergrowth and more overhead growth, the sunlight couldn’t penetrate the canopy as before. It soon became more impenetrable and I had to take a detour back to the main trail. By then it was nearly dusk, knowing darkness would fall before I could reach the truck, less than an hour would put me close by.

Heavy horned mule deer 38-3/8”, 220 lb.

The trail threaded back and forth across the hillside passing through an old dry washed out area of a creek that hadn’t had water for several years. From the left and slightly to my rear I could see a heavy clump of wild blue berries and something was moving the bushes. My first thought was a bear, or another animal feeding, but I couldn’t see anything. Double checking my prime in the pan, leaving the deer I approached the brush but found no sign or nothing in the thick undergrowth, slowly I returned to the deer. With this in mind I left the gun on half cock being prepared for anything coming out of the berry patch. Moving down the trail about 50 yards I heard the sound of a limb breaking behind me and the crashing of undergrowth coming in my direction. I whirled with the rifle coming to my shoulder to catch a flash of movement but could not attach a size or shape to the object in the gathering dusk. I knew then that I was being followed by an animal that had more than feeding on berries in mind.

Considering all the facts and becoming uneasy. I’m sure those that hunt or hike in the mountains know the feelings of unknown movements and night sounds. Being at least a mile to my vehicle, nearly dark and not knowing what was following me, I walked at a more aggressive pace pulling my trophy. Across a small clearing I found some rocks to get behind and it looked like a good spot to ambush my pursuer. I chose a downed tree, leaving the deer at the rocks a short distance away, hunching over I tried to determine what kind of animal would come into the clearing. As many can relate in such matters I started to perspire and mentally started eliminating the different animals, wild or domestic. All those stories we have heard and read about animal attacks ran through my mind. The only reason an animal would continue to follow me had to be the smell of blood on the deer and what had dried on my hands and cuffs on my shirt. The odor on my clothing was strong to me and no doubt an attraction to my purser.

After a short time not knowing what was out there and nearly unnerved I decided to get my animal and continue with caution down the trail. Now it was getting hard to see clearly in the open space as it was nearly dark.

It only took a short time to get within viewing distance of my vehicle (seemed like an hour), still over three hundred yards and I was now feeling like I was being watched from the back trail. Slowly I froze, moving around to view where I had just come from with my rifle at waist height. There was no time to raise the rifle BEAR, BEAR! As a small bear came at me, I fired from the waist, the ball hitting him in the chest, spinning him around and cart wheeling down the hill to my right. Pouring powder over my hand, the ground and finally into the measurer, spit balling a round ball into the muzzle and priming the pan I was ready for a second shot. The second shot wasn’t needed as he roared and growled his last breath making the hair on the back of my neck raise, finally laying still. I left the animal lay for at least an hour in my mind (probably only minutes) before approaching him, ready to apply a second shot.

After this experience with the charging bear (147 lb. male black) and the bad feeling earlier when shooting this heavy horned 38-3/8”, 220 lb. mulie. I pondered everything that had happened for several months, ending within a few weeks from applying for the next season. At this time I decided that 50 years of hunting had come to an end. You young bucks can have it now, I am happy to be the camp tender and listen to your stories and reflect on my past memories. Now I can relate to those hero’s we all have read about or dreamed of their adventurers when moving about the mountains of the far west.

I sent a tooth from the bear to Colorado Fish & Game to have them tell me how old the small bear was. It took about 7 months to get the results back with a note from a friend, a CO Game Warden that knew the story. Fish & Game felt that because of the body weight and the age according to their testing, this bear was starved down with health problems, this being the general feeling. The attack was probably more for the deer caucus than at me.


Note on a bear’s age:

The collection of teeth from hunter harvested bears is a very important part of our bear monitoring program. These teeth allow Fish & Game Departments to determine the age structure of the population, the age when females produce their first litter and the years in which they produced litters thereafter. Unfortunately, many registration stations have been unable to collect the teeth. They need you to help them obtain a larger sample.

To accomplish this they are asking successful hunters to collect the tooth themselves after harvesting their bear. This is easily done just after the bear has been tagged. Hunters should pull a bear tooth before registering the bear. Make sure you have the provided tooth envelope with you while hunting. Fish & Game Stations will be checking to make sure a tooth has been extracted. The tooth and envelope then should be handed over to the registration station. Hunters and registration stations need to tape the envelope shut in order to minimize the risk of losing the tooth during the handling process. Hunters submitting teeth will be notified of the bear's age shortly after the teeth have been processed. This usually takes 10-12 months. Registration stations will have extra tooth envelopes.

Pull one of the small teeth located immediately behind the large canine teeth (see illustration provided with envelope). These are located on both sides of the top and bottom, but please pull from the top as these teeth give a more accurate age reading. Cut the gum around the base of the tooth and then loosen it by gently prying upwards on the front of the tooth with a small screwdriver. Once the tooth is loose, pull it out with pliers. Make sure you get the whole root out! They cannot age your bear accurately unless they have the whole root to look at. Pulling this tooth will not affect the trophy value of the bear.


Place the tooth in the envelope provided by your Fish & Game Department and fill in all of the information on the outside. PLEASE PRINT CLEARLY, so they are able to send you the age of your bear. The tooth envelope should be given to the registration station when you register your bear.

See yaa.....

   Elmer Doolittle


Folks I'm sure that this story sent to me from Colorado is from an old friend, knowing this story very well. He has changed his name trying to trip me up, that's fine we got a interesting and true adventure. Thank you.


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updated  05/10/2009   

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