Thought I'd share just a little slice of a great day in Idaho.
May 30th marked the last day of Idaho's spring bear season in many of the units I hunt, and due to family and work, I'd only been out one day hunting during a six week spring bear season, and spring fever was pushing me over the edge.
An email from an elk hunting buddy with an invitation to join him at his camp for a few days spring bear hunting sounded like the perfect fix for an untreated case of cabin fever! Time with both of us is at a premium, and the only date we both could make the trip was over Memorial day weekend. The plan was to leave after work on Wednesday, and beat the traffic, and the high census in the forests over the holiday weekend.
A beautiful evening's drive to camp down on the St. Joe River was both relaxing and envigorating as well. Camp was set up upon our arrival in a matter of a few minutes, and a trip up the mountian revealed some good bear sign, and selection of stands for a morning hunt.
Thursday morning was crisp and clear, a beautiful morning and uneventful all day long in regard to bear activity, but I did see several deer and a couple of elk feeding close by, and unconcerned while I was watching my stand. A tom turkey called from the heavy timber down below me, and I called back to him, and carried on a conversation with this wild bird for about half an hour, eventually with him emerging about a hundred yards away in the clearing I was watching, all puffed up and in full strut in the mid-day sun. He was quite the spectacle, and the fun calling him was worth the trip alone. Noon came and went with a bite of lunch, and a long wait watching, glassing and listening until the sounds of evening took over what had been a wonderful day in the woods.
Tom and I had discussed the hunt some weeks before, and even last elk season we'd talked about a black-powder bear hunt. I've harvested bear with centerfire handguns and rifles aplenty, but never with a muzzle-loader, and I determined that if I harvested a bear this year, it would be with a smokepole. Now one must realize that most of Idaho's bear hunting is either done with dogs or spot and stalk, looking and glasisng across multitudes of clear-cuts on public land. The advantages of having a rifle with some flat shooting capabilities cannot be overstated, especially when spring bear hunting. None-the-less, I decided to take the road less travelled this year.
Friday morning dawned very chilly for the time of year, being only in the upper thirties in temperature, but promised to become hot by noon, with a clear blue sky without blemish, and a chorus of morning songs from the forest folk awaking and greeting the day. A great day to be in the woods.
I'd started a little later than the day before, and it was full daylight when I approached what I'd chosen for my morning stand, and before reaching my destination, I realized that the woods were stunningly quiet, deafening in its silence. Slowly I approached the crest of the ridge where I intended to sit and glass that morning, and looked hard below me with my binoculars for anything out of place. At first I dismissed my caution as being overly optimistic, but still again, that feeling that something was down below me continued to pull at me, and I continued glassing. Finally, a black glistening ball of fur materialized down below me!
The bear was jet black, and about 150 yards below me from where I was standing. The bear was casually feeding, enjoying the morning, and stitting back on his haunches occasionally to watch and look around him as he chewed his breakfast. Only my head was visible to him, as the crest of the ridge obscurred his view, and I knew I had no possible hope of a shot from where I stood. So I waited until he once again put his head down feeding, and quietly and cautiously inched forward, hunched over as I closed the distance to the rise of the ridge. Once again he lifted his head to look around, and sat down as a dog might, enjoying the morning and taking in his surroundings.
After the third sequence of move and wait, gaining ground and reaching a suitable shooting location, I had watched the bear for nearly fifteen minutes by this time. His unblemished black coat glistened in the morning sunlight, highlighted by long winter guard-hair hanging long around his shoulders and withers. It was an average Idaho bear, being about two hundred pounds in weight, perhaps twenty-five more, but nothing huge, but a beautiful, healthy bear, none-the-less. It was really entertaining watching him eat, and sit in a rather choreographed sequence, all the time watchful and alert to all around him.
All else seemed to be watching him as well, since not a single forest critter dared talk while he was present. The red squirrels ceased their incessant springtime chattering, the stellers jays never squaked, and even the robins had silenced their morning song as well. The silence seemed to amplify every sound I made in getting position on this bear, and the short distance to an acceptable vantage point seemingly was littered with potential landmines of tell-tale noise makers.
Finally, reaching the berm of an old skid trail at the crest of the little ridge above the bear, I sat down, still not removing my day-pack, and watched through my binoculars for a time to look for a shooting lane through the tangle of young fir trees between me and the feeding bear. Finally, I could see a clear shot at the bear, although somewhat quartering towards me. I settled for the shot, resting my muzzle loader on a very small dead limb on the tree against which I was leaning and looked over the sights after cocking the hammer. The tell-tale metallic click of the hammer brought little blackie to full attention, his ears perked to full extension and his head on a swivel.
As I looked over my sights, they fuzzed out on me, not having the vision I did in my younger days, and I simply couldn't feel good about the shot, as the sights weren't clear. The bear finally relaxed and went back to his breakfast, and I once again confirmed the angle the bruin was to me, as the range was about 125 yards at this point, and with a shooting lane of only about ten inches there wasn't much room for picking shot placement. Soon the bear shifted his position once again, and I aligned the sights. I now wished that I hadn't procrastinated through the winter, and actually followed through with my plan to mount a set of receiver sights on this rifle, my inability to focus on three focal planes at once, for any length of time made shot placement an extreme challence.
I knew as I aligned my sights two critical issues plagued the timing of the shot. The bear's position in relation to my ten inch shooting lane, and my brief ability to focus on the sights before they fuzzed out on me. This time everything looked and felt right, and as the sights came into alignment on the top of the back of the bear, and were sharp in my vision, I deliberately and evenly squeezed the trigger.
A cloud of white smoke hung in the moist crisp moring air, as a reverberating report rolled across the canyon with deep echoes. I came off recoil looking at an inpenetrable white screen of smoke, and caught a glimpse of a black streaking ball of fur from underneath the smoke. The black streak sprinted the length of my suburban, then dropped and curled up onto a motionless black ball.
I leaned my muzzle loader against the tree where I sat, and also shed my pack, then trotted down the steep trail below me with my .45 Colt in hand should any follow up shot be necessary. It was a clean harvest, and my spring black bear was peacefully curled up in a motionless ball, the winter guard hair glistening with silver highlights in the Idaho springtime sunlight.
I turned my radio on, and called to my hunting partner, as I knew he'd turn his on when he heard the shot. Tom answered and wanted to know if I'd scored. I simply said, "Little Blackie has gone to sleep!" In under half an hour Tom came over the ridge, saw my smokepole sitting by the tree, and looked over the ridge grinning at me down below and said, "I love it when a plan comes together!".
We had talked about getting together for a spring bear hunt for two years, and finally had made the connection and done our muzzle loader only hunt together, and for me, to a great conclusion. It was a great time to share wonderful Christian fellowship with a brother in the Lord, and to enjoy the blessings of God's creation. The harvest was icing on the cake, but how sweet that icing!