Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sometimes

Slowly, steadily and stealthily our not so great hunter made his way through the woods. Then he heard a sort of a low pitched hollow and muffled sounding snap, more of a cross between a snap and a thud really. The aging hunter paused for a minute of two and then continued on a bit further until again pausing. He had been making his way through the woods for about an hour covering barely a half mile in that time. The woods were chilled with a fresh mottling of snow over the multitude of leaves that lay strewn about the forest floor on that late Saturday morning. The hunt was invigorating ad about o become exciting. As the hunter waited and listened he rested a bit too, his pack was heavy and he pushed it up against and leaned it against a tree. He was hunting alone and had in the pack what he would need in case of an emergency, like breaking a leg out there alone. He doubted it would happen but always liked the motto of the Boy Scouts - "be prepared".

Thinking that the noise he had heard was likely a buck that had stepped on an old rotted branch, he bided his time and kept scanning for sign of it. After about 5 minutes or so, he took out a doe bleat call let go with two bleats. Another 5 minutes or so gone by of scanning through the trees and brush and downfalls and the hunter blew one time into his buck call. His call was answered almost immediately but not by what he had expected.

As he stood there, just letting the buck call come away from his lips, suddenly there was another noise. It was a bit disconcerting to say the least. The sound was a low pitched, not very loud yet plainly audible, guttural woof. It was immediately followed by a second or two long exhalation of air. Excitement ran up his spine, he was now on full alert and brought his rifle to the ready. He scanned front, left, front again, right, then slowly turned in the opposite direction and looked behind him out around the tree on which he had been leaning. He knew there were likely only two things that might go woof in the forest and there was one of them, the one he hoped to see. It was a male black bear and all of about 225 to 250 pounds, not 30 yards from him. The young bruin, probably about two or three years old, was climbing over a downfall of a double trunked tree and its larger limbs. As he looked at it, the bear looked at him as if making eye contact and it turned from more or less broadside, moving from the hunter's right to left, to head directly at him.

The hunter slowly brought his rifle, an old Marlin 336 topped with a Tasco Varmint scope, an he took aim. Wisely, the scope was set at 2.5 power so it provided a wide field of view and the bear was found in the crosshairs as soon as it came up to his eye. He well knew he did not prefer to have to take this shot, one that would have to be aimed precisely at the bear's spine, in the neck or between the shoulder blades, and he much preferred a broadside shot. He also realized that since the bear had closed the distance between them to only 20 to 25 yards, it was just about now or never; he sure did not want the bear any closer than that. Just as he was debating what to do, finger pressure already building on the trigger, the bear stopped dead still. It put its head down and extended it out front a bit as its nose was busy sniffing in the thrilled hunter's direction - but the bear was not alarmed. The other thing it did at that moment was to stop. That was all the hunter needed and his trigger finger found itself smoothly moving rearward until the sounds of the bears sniffing were drowned out by the thunderous burst of the 200 grain .35 Remington round.

The bear was obviously hit, it arched its back, stood that way for a moment, then spazzed and jerked and twitched. It was doing the dance of death and that was almost immediately followed by its forlegs shooting out to each side and the bear collapsing in a motionless heap like a sack of potatoes falling off of a truck in Brooklyn.  Once it hit the ground, it was almost out of sight behind limbs of the deadfall. The deer hunter just about yelled yippee but restrained himself and immediately but slowly lowered the rifle to get a good look, with both eyes, at the spot where the bear had gone down. Just as he lowered the scope, he caught a glimpse of something else out of the corner of his right eye. There, about 20 to 25 yards away, was another bear. It was very different looking than the first, this one most likely a sow of about 175 to 200 pounds. While the first bear was mostly jet black in the face and along its flanks and back, this one had a lot of brown mixed in with the black, streaks of it. It stood there mesmerized for just a second. Then the rifle came back up defensively, not to shoot unless necessary, and that second bear wheeled around about 140 degrees and bounded off into the forest as if the Hound of the Baskervilles was hot on its heels. As it made its escape, it let out a wailing sort of a scream and just kept running. In all, the hunter was distracted for maybe two or three seconds watching that bear.

The intrepid hunter turned back toward the bear he had undoubtedly just shot. It was nowhere to be seen but that was no cause for alarm, it probably had just flattened out a bit more after its collapse and after breathing its last breath. The hunter waited, keeping his eyes on the spot, only letting thm stray momentarily now and then to look to see if the other bear was returning. It did not and the hunter, after about 5 to 10 minutes approached the spot where the bruin had fallen into the leaf liter. He did not approach head on but in a semi circular path to his left o come in from the side and not from where the bear had last seen him. God damn it, the bear was not there. He must have looked at the wrong spot. he looked around, here there and everywhere but there was no bear. There was not even a drop of blood nor hair of bear! There was however a spot where the leaves had been kicke dup and around and where the damp soil under those leaves had its surface scraped away as if something had writhed around there for a moment.

The hunter was the responsible sort and searched for sign of that bear for the next 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Starting at ground zero and going around in ever widening circles out to between 75 to 100 yards from the center, and then repeating that several times, he did not discover any other sign of the bear an found no evidence it had been shot even though he had seen it do the dance of death. There was no air, no blood, no guts, no bone fragments, not even any noticeable footprints. He searched behind every tree, under every deadfall, and even scanned the tree tops to see if it had climbed a tree. In fact, he zigzagged at points to look up the trees from all sides and angles. That bear had either been beamed to the Enterprise by Scotty or it had gotten up, at some point, and slowly walked away and got lost in the woods never to be seen again by the now very disappointed and befuddled hunter. The trail of the other bear was so obvious that even a myopic could have easily followed it. I have seen where bears have walked in front of me in the woods before and an say, they barely dent the leaves when they are walking softly and you would need the ears of a wood elf to hear them. This one seemed to have the stealth bit down. Maybe it even had a phony dance of death routine all worked out in case some bumbling woodsman hunter type took aim and missed, just to fool him long enough to make its getaway.

Of course, there is a more logical explanation. The shot did not miss the bear but probably missed its mark. It is very likely that almost precisely as the shot was fired, the bear coincidently raised its head from the lowered sniffing position in which it had been when the hunter decided to shoot. The shot then would have, if not in all probability then with a good amount of it, struck the bear in its head. At that angle, there is a decent chance that the bullet was deflected off of the skull. That could have resulted in the bear being badly stunned causing it t do what sure looked like the dance of death with all the spazzing and twitching resulting in it collapsing. As the hunter was distracted, for just those couple to few seconds by the other bear, the bruin he thought he shot sneaked off and disappeared into the depths of the forest as only a black bear can do.

Now there was a chance the bear was fatally injured and that the hunter had missed the sign or the bear did not lose any blood until further from the spot where it had been shot. So, a few hours later, the hunter passed through that area of the woods again and looked in an even wider circle for signs such as blood, hair a trail in the snow mottled leaves (on which there was enough snow to give good sign of blood but still little enough snow to leave plenty of places for the bear to step without leaving a track in the snow). Anyway, nothing was to be found except maybe a possible track of two but nothing that could be followed and mind you the hunter had lots of experience trailing both men an beast by the foot tracks they left behind. Damn, it was frustrating.

Since I was that hunter, I can attest it was a thrilling and disheartening experience all in one. Even though the experience assured me that I certainly do 'still hunt' properly and that I have not lost my touch at doing so. Had I been plodding along, or just still hunting improperly, I never would have gotten that close to those bears let alone even seen them. I also figure I was using my deer calls properly. Had I not been doing so, those bears would either have attacked me or taken off. The fact is, they had no idea I was a human, they though I was a deer. That is evident by the fact that one of them woofed at me - the woof being a sign that a bear is afraid and it is making a threat to beware of it - but that right after my buck call those bears resumed whatever it was they had been doing abnd they walked toward and very near to me. Now I considered that they may have thought I was a deer and decided to hunt me and while that could have been so, I doubt it. Still it is possible that is what they had been doing. The reason though that I have doubt is because I discovered two rotted logs that had obviously just been ripped apart, literally half to shreds. There were what looked like tooth and claw marks in both of these logs. My guess is the bears had been chomping them apart searching for grubs. Woodpeckers, in the late fall, voraciously go at still standing tree trunks that are very similar in consistency to those rotted but downed logs so my guess is that is what the bears had been doing. There ground cover was also pretty disturbed around the logs only further supporting that hypothesis. So, I am thinking I my have spooked the bears a bit, but that since I had been doing it right, they wound up thinking I was a deer and came back to either feast on me (the deer) or the grubs. Remember that noise I heard that I thought was a deer stepping on a rotted log - my guess now is that it was the bears ripping apart those logs for grubs.

Next day, did a couple of things relative to that bear. I picked up the rusted remains of a bucket I knew was in the woods on my way back out to hunt. It amounted to half of the bucket and was perfect for my purpose. I set it up on a deadfall, with a good rise behind it for a back stop. I stepped of 25 giant steps from it. Note that, the day before, I had measured the distance to the bruin as 30 giant steps from me to to where I first saw it and 25 steps from where I took the shot; in addition the second bear was about 24 giant steps from me when I saw it. When I got 25 giant steps away from the rusted remains of the bucket, I set up just like I had when I shot the bear, with a tree as support on my left side to steady the Marlin. I fired one sot, it essentially hit dead center of the bucket. Thus I was assured I had not knocked my scope out of alignment. I wanted to make sure not to soothe a bruised ego in case I had missed but to make certain I could still trust the rifle scope was sighted in properly for that days hunt. After that, I again passed by the spot again where I had shot (or thought I had shot) the bear and spent some more time searching for it. Nothing.

I guess I should mention not even one hair of a deer was seen throughout (two other hunters who hunt there frequently with success told me they were quite surprised not to have seen any deer either). I did see a hen turkey while I searched for sign of the bear. She was about 35 yards out and seemed unconcerned about my presence. I also saw a few squirrels in passing, a woodpecker and some neat chickadee sized birds that I have yet to identify. They flittered s close to me as to be amazing, that despite he fact I was wearing a blaze orange hat and jacket. I guess that in all, regardless of me being an old somewhat fat city and burbs slicker, I melded pretty well with the woods. Still could get that darned bear or a deer though. Hopefully, this coming weekend when Brendan is with me on the hunt, our luck will be better than was mine at hunting or his at the tables in Atlantic City, where he and his buddies spent opening day of hunting season losing money.

In closing, let me say that I finally came to the conclusion: Sometimes the bear gets you and sometimes you get the bear but sometimes it's a toss up and you have no clue as to who got whom. This time though, I am pretty sure the bear got me or at least got the better of me.

All the best,
Glenn B
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