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
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.
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
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
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
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.