Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The Bear Hunt, part 4...

Day 3 of the week, or day 2 of the hunt, depending on how you look at it was a lot like the first day of the hunt except that it was Tuesday instead of Monday. I got up pretty early, but this time I think a few of the guys were up before me instead of just Kenny. When I came down Tony and Herb were already there with Kenny. Coffee was waiting, and sleeping beauty (Brendan) still slept, along with a few of the others who had not wanted to give up their dream bear scenarios.

Once everyone was wide eyed and busy tailed, except Brendan, Rachel made breakfast and we all enjoyed it. There is something about the combination of a good cook, and cool, fresh, clean Maine air that just makes your appetite spike, as if mine needed any help. After eating we all helped clean up, but Z really did a number. It had become apparent he liked to keep things tidy around the camp, and he later wound up giving Rachel a break and cooking a few meals. He was pretty good at it too. I think Z going out of his way to help clean up got some of the other guys more into cleaning up after themselves; though his cooking did not inspire others to cook as his and Rachel’s were so good. My guess is that had some of us cooked we would have poisoned the group. I did try to get Brendan to cook Breakfast, he is darned good at pancakes, eggs and bacon, but he wanted none of the cooking chores preferring to sleep late.

After breakfast there was talk of bears, predictions for the weather, predictions of who would get a bear that day, a game of cards, readying for the hunt and so on. There was a lot of good natured ribbing and other joking too. Tony was pretty good with the ribbing and the jokes, he sure kept things on the lighter side and that was always good to give everyone a laugh. When the talk got to bears although everyone knew something, we always deferred to Shane and Herb. Both of them were pretty surprised and disappointed that none of the group had seen or shot a bear the day before. They were pretty sure that our luck would get better, or at least pretty hopeful. I was pretty certain that a bear or bears would be seen; I had heard this neck of the woods was good bear country; and the sign I had seen at Brendan’s stand was impressive.

The talk continued out on the porch, and the card game continued inside. Somewhere along in the discussion of the hunt, someone mentioned sitting on stand without moving for a few hours and how hard that was on the posterior. I was thankful because I had forgotten the one cushion the day before, and now made a mental note not to forget again. I agreed out loud, how hard it had been, and Rachel said that the store in town sold cushions. I decided right then to go buy another and thicker cushion. Just before I left, Shane told me there was a sign in the store in town, that would show the number of bears registered from the first day of the hunt on Monday; he asked me to check to see how many had been tagged there. I went into town to pick one a cushion but they were out of the type I had wanted. I also went to the next town but no luck there either. I did remember to check the sign over the register, and I saw there had been 4 bears registered at the check in station for the day before.

When I got back to the lodge, I told Shane and the others about how many bear had been taken according to the posting at store. My announcement was greeted with looks of dismay; it seems only 4 bears for day one was none to great, at least for the hunters. I decided I would do everything I could to help improve Brendan’s chances that second day to at least see a bear in the woods. I called Brendan over and we started to get ready for the day’s hunt. First off we showered up using scent blocking soap. Then we changed into our hunting clothing that had been stored in a plastic box overnight with a couple of white socks, now black, full of activated charcoal. I had gotten this at a pet shop, much less expensive than scent block bags, and works on the same principle – or so I think anyhow. When we came down we made sure to avoid the smokers in the group, or at least to avoid their cigarette smoke. When it was time to leave we grabbed our gear, Brendan taking the rifle, and headed out – again with Shane driving and Randy also aboard. We left somewhat later today.

Once again, out on the logging road, we ran into the loggers hard at work. They moved the truck to let us pass, they had quite a few logs left to cut and placed into the truck, and we would have been there for a while had they not moved for us. Then we were out to our stand as the day before. Again it was another day on the stand much the same as it was on the first day. A bit of difference that was obvious from the start was that we now had an extra seat cushion that fit right across the whole seat. We made sure not to forget it today. That one added to the other two smaller ones we had made for a more comfortable sit. Soon after Shane pulled away, maybe 20 to 30 minutes, we heard a loud cracking/crunching noise off to our right front. We stayed quiet. All we heard in that time was the fairly far off drone of the loggers saw now an then, the flitter of birds wings and the chirping of birds, and the scurrying of the chipmunks. There was not even the slightest breeze to rustle the leaves. After about another 30 to 40 minutes, and our hearing nothing new, we began to breathe again. During that wait, Brendan’s excitement level rose like a sky rocket, then slowly sailed to earth again without having exploded its beautiful colors overhead. I do not know what made the noise, but my guess would be either a bear or a moose stepping on an old partially rotted log.

We sat, we stretched, a couple of times each, and we waited again. We enjoyed the birds flying around us, landing in the trees to look for a meal, and we enjoyed the antics of the chipmunks at the bait station. A hawk landed in a branch right behind us, and then took off to apparently look for larger meals than chipmunks, leaving the two near the bait station to go about their business. Again, like the day before, the seconds turned to minutes, the minutes to hours, and the hours passed through the afternoon. At about 1800 we heard a gunshot, it came from the direction of Randy’s stand. I figured he had gotten a bear. The day before, we had also heard a shot from his general direction, but that one had sounded way further off from us. About 15 minutes later Brendan thought he heard another shot from the same general direction, but lower. I did not hear it. I had been telling Brendan that I was pretty sure I had just heard a bear vocalize from our rear and over my left shoulder. Brendan had not heard that. We decided to keep very quiet and to make sure we did not fidget in the stand.

At least a half hour had gone by, and neither of us had heard anything that sounded like a bear approaching. We were both well aware they can be very quiet, but I am also pretty adept at picking out sounds in the woods even though my hearing is not what it once was. Another 15 or 20 minutes of so passed and I began to think that whatever I had heard was either my imagination due to wishful thinking, or was something that went the other way. Brendan seemed pretty sure that noting was coming either. It was now getting close to sundown and I could see he seemed a bit down in his mood. It was about 7PM or so, and sundown was minutes away, then just another half hour of hunt time. All of a sudden there was a loud clamor in the woods to my left, much closer now than the noise I had attributed to a bear earlier on. This was no bear though, that was obvious. It was a chipmunk giving a loud alarm call, and judging by the rustling leaves and branches we heard it had been pretty startled. Brendan and I turned to stone, it was a tense moment.

I slowly motioned to him with a finger on my lips; he knew to be silent and if he had to move to do it slowly. We both scanned a bit but saw nothing. I would guess the noise had come from less than 50 yards away. I whispered to Brendan to be ready because the sound had come from basically the same direction as the noise I had heard earlier and it might mean a bear approaching. Again we waited silently and still. About another 20 or 25 minutes passed in which we heard nothing. It is difficult trying to sit there silent and not moving, tense with anticipation, and with your adrenalin flowing a bit; but we did it. Then a few minutes more went by and I heard something behind us. What I had heard was definitely footsteps of an animal, and I hoped it was a bear. I ever so slowly turned to my right to look at Brendan. I motioned my finger to my lips, then I gave a thumb up and pointed my thumb toward my chest to signal something was behind us. He only nodded, he had heard it too.

Again seconds became minutes, but they went no further this time in our wait. I heard a soft swooshing noise down below us to our right front at about 1 o’clock, about 20 yards away. I looked and as I turned my head, I saw Brendan turning his. There it was, in some ferns, a bear cub. It was facing into the wind which had been coming in from our 11:00 o’clock, so it had been angling from our left front toward our right rear. With the bait in front of us, any bear coming into the site would get a noseful of scent from the area by walking around our rear and then coming out exactly where this bear showed itself. I was happy, but not happy. First of all it was great to see a bear; but there would be no shooting of sows with cubs, and we would simply not shoot a cub either, even though legal to do so. I scanned and listened for the sow but heard nothing. After a couple of minutes the tiny little cub left the ferns and walked out into the open toward the bait can. It was no cub after all. Apparently while it stood in the ferns, our vision was obstructed enough so we only saw a little bit of it. Still it was not a very big bear as I saw it. I guessed anywhere from about 80 to 180 pounds, but more likely that it was on the bottom end of that. It is pretty hard to judge the size of a bear while your heart is thumping at about a thousand beats per minute.

Brendan was tense with excitement, his adrenalin must have been pumping about a quart per second. He glanced at the bear and slowly over to me for only a moment. I gave him the sign to wait at least one minute to find out if this was a sow with cubs. I also motioned to him a signal that it was up to him to shoot. The bear had been walking very slowly but deliberately toward the bait can, then stopped and sniffed around. It was not nervous from the looks of it, just being cautious. That lack of nervousness was the sign of an adult bear. Brendan was already bringing up the rifle to take off the safety before I could whisper that it was ‘anywhere from 80 to 180’, just like two bears in the videos we had watched. To me they both had looked exactly the same size, and Shane had shown us the video to show how hard it is to judge size. Then Brendan hesitated to aim in. I looked down and saw the bear just sitting there, he gave a look left toward us, then a look right. He had not heard my whisper, that was good. He got up and headed toward the can again, he stopped to sniff the ground, then he sat down again. Boy do they look bigger when they sit down.

I was about to tell Brendan to take a shot at the bear as it sat there. It was, after all, a broad side shot, just with the bear sitting. The bear did not give me a chance, it got up and again headed toward the can. Then it stopped about 8 feet from the can, broadside to us. I nudged Brendan, he brought up the rifle, ever so slowly, and aimed in. I told him the word “squeeze”. That was the word I had used to get him to stop flinching in anticipation of recoil. By him silently saying that word to himself once he was aimed in, he thought of nothing else, and thus his shooting had improved greatly over the past few weeks. That word was all it took. He fired, and somehow I had the foresight to have raised my right finger to cover my right ear, the ear on the gun side. As all this went down, my eyes were on the bear and never left him, well except for a second to look at my watch hanging in front of me off the rail. Brendan had 6 minutes left to legally shoot. All else I could think of now was: “remember where the bear was last” – words told to us by Shane should Brendan shoot a bear. The shot rang out, the bear flew up into the air, did a complete somersault, hit the ground, turning around as it did so, and tried to run. It moved all of about 2 feet, moaned a few times. I told him not to worry, that moaning as soulful as it sounded, was a sign he had shot the bear with a good shot. I was hopeful that was correct. I looked again and the bear was absolutely still and absolutely silent. It took a lot less time for that to happen than it did for me to just describe it. Then I had a thought: It had been pretty easy to remember where the bear had been last, right about where it stood when it had been shot.

I turned to Brendan who was now looking at the bear, then at me, and I told him to reload just in case. I knew there was no ‘just in case’ in this case, this bear was dead; but I wanted him to be ready for future hunts – just in case. We watched the bear, it still did not move or make a sound. As I congratulated him on a successful hunt, I noticed Brendan was doing three things. He was making sure to hold his rifle safely with finger off of the trigger and pointed in a safe direction, he was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, and he was grinning from ear to ear. I told him to go ahead and unload the rifle, to make it safe. He did so. Then we talked some more about his success, that was until I remembered to turn on the radio in my pocket to call our guide. Minutes had passed since Brendan had shot, and we were supposed to have called Shane as soon as we realized we had gotten one. Oh well. Shane was on the air as soon as I called to tell him Brendan had bagged his bear. Unknown to us at that time, Shane had driven down the logging road to about ½ mile away from us in anticipation of picking us up. He got on the radio and told me he had heard the shot (later telling me it had sounded like a cannon, and he knew it was Brendan shooting). As he drove down the road we could hear him coming. He got back on the radio to ask if the bear was dead. I told him it had seemed to have been well hit, had cart wheeled, moaned, and stopped moving so I was pretty sure it was dead. He was on site a minute or so later. That is when Brendan and I got out of the stand. We had waited in the stand on the instructions of Shane, this was one of his rules for the hunt – safety was a prime concern.

Brendan finally got to see his bear close up. He was a happy hunter. We got a quick picture, Shane took two others, and then dragged out the young boar, which is what he saw it to be.

He figured about 80-90 pounds and about 1.5 years old. He told Brendan it was a good bear, and Brendan was a happy camper, or should I say a Happy Bear Hunter. Then we picked up Randy, he had had no luck that day either. We then went to meet the others, apparently some of them had also bagged their bears. Brendan was till shaking during the ride to meet the others, oh those adrenalin rushes - but as for me I was quite calm, and quite content!

Mote to come, but shorter parts after this one...