Monday, June 9, 2008

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme by Stephen Vose

The Maine Sportsman - New England's Largest Outdoor Publication – Will be publishing this short stories in their July 2008 edition. The article will be part of the magazines “special sections” and will highlight my adventures with family and friends during the 2007 bear hunt. For more information on the Maine Sportsman Magazine or to order a subscription click this link: The following is a copy of the submitted article in its original (unedited) version. Enjoy!

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme - I have to admit that standing half naked in the middle of the Maine woods with two individuals I had met only hours before was a little unnerving (especially as the sound of the dueling banjos from “Deliverance” began to play in the back of my head) but this was my first bear hunt and I was determined to take every step possible to insure I provided myself with the highest level of opportunity to tag a massive bruin. I guess what I had forgotten to think about, as I reveled in the brilliance of my advanced preparations in scent control was how I was going to change into my scent free clothes once I had arrived at the bait spot. Unfortunately, things had not gone as planned and upon arriving I was forced into putting on a “show” for my new friends; while taking a barrage of sarcastic comments on how they planned to rent me out to a few bachelorette parties that weekend for beer money.

To better understand how I had allowed myself to arrive at this point of humiliation, I need to rewind to last October 2006 when in a casual conversation I mentioned to my Uncle Kim (a registered Maine guide from Grand Lake Stream) that I would like to go on a bear hunt. A few months later, my Uncle called to inform me that he had cashed in a couple favors and come September 2007 I would be going on a bear hunt. As I hung up the phone I had a huge smile on my face and could barely contain my excitement with the anticipation of fulfilling one of my lifetime dreams. Like many of my other adventures this one began with educating myself with the task at hand and almost immediately I began researching all things “bear” in books, on the Internet and on hunting shows trying to learn as much as possible about their habits, haunts and behaviors. Part of this research, had informed me that a bear’s sense of smell is as sensitive if not better than a deer and because of his fact, I planned to take the same precautions as I would on a deer hunt and washed all of my hunting clothes in no scent soap, dried them outside and finally packed them in a dry bag with pine and spruce boughs to preserve them from absorbing any offensive odors. My plan had been simple, to wear my regular street clothes on the drive to the bait site and then change into my hunting apparel once I arrived. So perhaps now you can see how I ended up with very little clothing on in a desolate and unnamed Township somewhere in the wilds of Washington County with two individuals I barely knew.

Well, I can honestly tell you that during that first evening on the stand I knew that I was hooked on bear hunting. Every squeaking tree branch, changing shadow and crunching leaf set my heart racing. Though I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is about bear hunting that makes it so definitively different from other hunts but for me there is a thrill to it that sets it far apart for other big game. For over three hours, I sat overwhelmed with my good fortune at being able to be in this place and mesmerized by a gymnastics display by what I believe to be one of the largest red squirrel colonies in the state of Maine. Those of you who have never sat over a bear bait let me assure you that doughnuts and cake are as much liked by red squirrels as by bears. As I watched the sun slowly sink to the horizon, I heard several shots in that critical half an hour before the end of legal hunting time when bears become increasingly more active and I waited intently hoping that my chance might be next. However, by the end of my first night on the stand no bear arrived but I was still filled with excitement and hope as to what the next evening might bring.

Upon arriving back at the truck the CB radio crackled with activity that indicated the other members of the various parties had taken sizeable bruins. I was very excited at the chance to see a bear up close and personal, as until this evening the few bear I had seen in my lifetime had either been by chance encounter while deer or partridge hunting or road kill. With suicidal intent, we raced back toward town down the twisting dirt roads narrowly missing large boulders protruding from the road surface and washouts the size of the Grand Canyon. We incredibly managed to arrive back in town, shaken but not stirred, and immediately went to check out the bruins. Two of the harvested bears were in the 300 lb range and each where beautiful specimens both with thick black coats and one with a large white chest patch. The third bear (actually filmed by the hunter and watched by me about half a dozen times) was hit with what appeared to be a beautiful shot just behind the huge bruins forward shoulder with a Marlin 45-70. Unfortunately, although tracked with hounds and my very enthusiastic cousin until about 1:00 AM that evening and then again at first light the following morning the bear even after these exhaustive measures was not recovered.

During a late dinner that night that consisted of appetizers of deer venison jerky, jalapeño cheese and crackers and a main course of ½ lb moose burgers, fresh corn on the cob and garlic mashed potatoes my uncle expressed a list of concerns with the “limited” power of my 30-30 Marlin. As many of you know the Marlin 45-70 is a sizeable caliber capable of launching a projectile that packs an incredible amount of down range energy (especially at a bear bait site where most shots are less than 25 yards) but after the previous nights unfortunate recovery debacle and my inexperience with bear hunting I listened intently to his argument. I attempted to explain that I had used the 30-30 Marlin extensively on whitetails for over 15 years with zero recovery problems, however, he was adamant that I needed to take this hunt to the “extreme” and use a more substantial firearm. My presented weaponry of choice, produced from his extensive arsenal, consisted of either a pump action 760 Remington .308 or Remington semi-auto .270. That afternoon after taking both guns to the gravel pit and poking at a target at about 50 yards from various sitting and standing positions I decided that the .270 was a better fit and even though I was shooting a gun that I was completely unfamiliar with, typically a BIG no-no for me personally on any hunt, I relented to his pleas.

The second night I arrived at the stand around 3:00 PM and once again put on a show for my new friend and another buddy of his who was planning to shoot his bear with a Smith and Wesson 500 magnum. I noted that the other hunter was wearing his hunting clothes and seemed unconcerned that my “extreme” scent control measures were the least bit necessary. Having come this far, however, I decided not to change my tactics and I put on my clothes and sprayed down with a healthy dose of activated carbon scent eliminator. I sat on the bait for the entire evening watching the red squirrels and listening to the calls of the chickadee and as the shadows lengthened and as the golden hour approached I heard a single distant shot from the Smith and Wesson 500 but as the sun sank below the horizon I knew that a bear this year for me was not going to happen.

I arrived back at camp and was pleased to see that the other hunter was excited to have been able to shoot his bear with a pistol and he was busy making plans to butcher it for future table fare and of his good fortune I could not have been happier. To say that I was disappointed would not be entirely correct but I had been hopeful. In the end, it was an “extreme” privilege to be able to get a chance to hunt for bear this season and the people of Grand Lake Stream always make my visits incredibly enjoyable. I have a saying that hunting is only about 5% about the actual taking of a game animal and the other 95% is about the friends you meet, memories that are made, stories that are swapped and time spent in the field learning about the many wonders that Mother Nature has to offer. As I sat in the camp on Wabassus lake that evening playing a friendly game of cribbage with my uncle I rejoiced that I had been allowed to spend this time with him and in my mind I was already making plans to come back next season on another “extreme” bear hunt.

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