Canyon Bruins (My First Bear)
After the emotional roller coaster that the August bear season gave me, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to hunt bears again during the 2015 season. To lose an animal of that caliber, after all of the hard work that I have put in over the past 3 years, was a crushing experience. No matter how much we prepare, we cannot control the outcome of a situation. That was all too real for me. Countless talks were had with family and friends about my lost bear and how we did all that we could. It didn’t change the fact that I still felt awful. Bears are an animal that have truly become special to me and that I admire to their core. The way they move seamlessly through rugged terrain, their behavior, toughness, and intelligence are all intriguing to me.
Much deliberation took place and I decided that I needed to pick myself back up and get back out there for the October bear season. On this hunt, I would be accompanied by my brother Jake. Jake is just as nuts about hunting as I am, so he is a good guy to have in camp. After a generous 2 hours of sleep the night before, we were on our way up to the same location that I lost the bear in during the August season. The area was now even more filled with acorns than a few weeks prior. We knew these bears would still be in the area, maybe even the bear I hit a few weeks ago. My brother kept saying to me, “This is the day it is going to happen for us.” I hoped beyond hope that he was correct.
As if I were watching a rerun, about 30 minutes into glassing, Jake says,”BIG BEAR!” This bear was 700 yards out from us and looked VERY familiar. I knew it was the same bear that I had shot. The coloration and hue the bear had was ingrained into my memory. We waited as the bear closed the distance toward us through the jungle that lay beneath. For whatever reason, he never showed up again. With a well needed breakfast biscuit lodged in my mouth, I then spotted another bear just below us! This was a very large black bear. Jake whispered, “220 yards.” My rifle rested on my backpack, with my crosshairs settled into the vitals of the bear. “Here we go again,” I thought. BOOM! The bear hunched up and bolted straight down into a nearby oak thicket. Unbeknownst to me there were 2 other bears on the same hillside! One was a nice cinnamon bear up top sitting down like a dog watching this whole thing unfold. The other was a chocolate bear roaming the bottom of the canyon. I guess we had found the bears!
Call after call was made to family and friends. While doing so, a sow and cub worked their way up the canyon floor in our direction. We laughed as the cub jumped all over its mother trying to play with her. So, now we have seen 6 bears! After getting a drink of water the sow walked up the hill that my bear was on and stopped dead. She had found the blood of the bear that I had shot. Our excitement turned to worry as she and her cub trailed my bear. On top of that, it started snowing, then pouring rain! Right before the weather came in, we had spotted another 3 bears in the same canyon right around where my bear was. That makes 9 bears in a matter of 2 hours of glassing, all within about 300 yards of each other.
A reinforcement call was made and my best friend John was on his way up to help us pack out the bear and fend off any other bears that might be munching on it. With all of the rain that was coming down so close to the time that I shot the bear, we knew that our chances of finding blood were just not there. All that we could hope was that the bear went down close to where I shot it, and that we didn’t break our necks getting down into the hell hole that the bear lay. These Arizona bears hang out in some truly unforgiving country, which is why they get so big. Not many will do what it takes to go after them.
As expected, we didn’t find a drop of blood. All of us spread out and started scanning the area. John went around to the other side of the thicket where the bear ran and Jake and I looked on the opposite side. Thankfully, my brother took a picture of the sow and cub on my bear’s blood trail before it rained. We used that photo to find the trail. Pretty nifty! Once we located the trail, it was all too obvious by the broken limbs and torn up ground that the bear left on the way to its last resting place.
By coincidence, we all met in the same place and saw an image that will live with us forever. Black fur shined in a patch of sunlight with water droplets from the rain glistening like stars in the night sky. We had done it! The bear only went about 40 yards before it expired. He was a fantastic looking boar with a white patch on its chest and a head that dwarfed any bear that I had seen previously. Hugs flew around that remote oak thicket, like the birds that sang to us from above.
As the old saying goes, once you have an animal down, “now the work begins.” We found my bear at 3 p.m. and had him taken care of by 4:30 p.m. In the process of working on my bear, I gave myself a pretty hefty slice to the thumb, which rendered me almost useless. Those Havalon knives are sharp!! Because of this, John had to do most of the work with skinning and quartering. There was absolutely no way that we were going to go back the same way that we came in, unless of course we had a death wish. So, instead of walking the bottom of the canyon out and rock hopping with over 100 pounds each on our backs, we decided to head straight up the mountain to try and make a shortcut to the road. You did see that I said “straight up” right? That is a literally what it was. We ended up climbing straight up a bluff, handing backpacks and rifles up to each other one level at a time. After getting hit with falling rocks and scaling slippery, moss covered rock slides, we finally made it to the top. Once we did, it was as if the canyon congratulated us for conquering it with a light sun shower that was truly a sight to behold. From here on out, it would be a relatively flat walk to the road with elk bugling in the distance. The road graced us with its presence at 6:00 p.m., just before dark.
I have never felt more accomplished than when we loaded my bear up into my cooler(barely) and drove away. It was an adventure that wouldn’t have been possible without the encouragement of my friends and family and, first and foremost, the help of my brother Jake and best friend John. If what they did for me doesn’t say “friendship,” I honestly don’t know what does. I joked to them that I would be sure to shoot a smaller bear next year for our sake. Who am I kidding, though?