Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme (Part II)

The 2008 Maine bear season found me back in Grand Lake Stream for my second chance at harvesting a black bruin.  Last season despite my extreme measures of caliber selection and scent control, I still managed to leave the woods bearless. Returning this year with renewed vigor, I vowed to turn the tables on old Mr. Bear and finally fulfill my life long dream of harvesting my last of Maine's big 4. 

Arriving at my final destination found me standing in the Grand Lake Stream town store gathering last minute supplies and drooling over hundreds of wet and dry fly patterns and an assortment of handsome handmade ash pack baskets. My eyes wandered over to the chart listing the number of bears harvested since the season opened. I noted few bears had been harvested and even fewer above 160 pounds. The guides explained that an unusually large crop of black berries and beechnuts had combined to create a smorgasbord that was keeping bears away from the baits. It became immediately apparent that taking a bear this season was to be no easy task. Never one to be discouraged, I ignored this data and decided that if it was to be my time I would indeed harvest a bear.

In the faded light of the second evening, my peripheral vision spotted the shape of a bear slowly creeping up my right hand side toward the bait.  The stealth of the creature gave me pause as it silently navigated through a tangle of blow downs. As Mr. Bear entered a blind spot, I slowly raised my Browning (BAR) .30-’06 Springfield loaded with 220 grain core-locks and settled into a braced position.  The bruin edged around the bait bucket causing my adrenaline to surge, heart to race and a euphoric feeling to wash over me. As the bear began feeding, the cross hairs of my Leupold 3x9 VXI settled behind the bear’s forward shoulder. Unfortunately, the remainder of this story doesn’t have timing on my side as legal hunting had ended 10 minutes before the bears appearance and the cambered round had been removed.  In the dying light, I instead enjoyed watching the bear greedily gobble doughnuts, until the sound of my approaching ride encouraged the bear to sneak back into the woods as quietly as it had arrived.

In my final days of hunting, no other bears were seen and my second year slipped past with an unfulfilled tag. While unsuccessful in harvesting a bear the memories of this hunt and the lessons learned from the previous two seasons have allowed this bear hunting rookie to amass much knowledge. Suggestions include:

1.  Bear hunters need to be patient and wait for a good shot option to present itself. Bait sites typically offer hunters shot opportunities at 20 yards or much less. This tends to be an unusual hunting situation from most hunters so practice sessions at this yardage with your chosen firearm should be organized.

2.  A firearm should be selected with sufficient knock down power. Maine guide favorites include the .30-’06 Springfield, .270 Winchester, .45-70, .444 Marlin, .500 Smith and Weston and a dozen other acceptable selections. No matter your caliber choice remember that shot placement is more important than caliber selection.

3.  Low light situations often exist at bait sites so use quality optics or open sights. Test your sighting choice in your close range practice sessions in light conditions similar to those expected to be encountered at bait sites.

4.  People have shot bear while smoking cigarettes and with little care for personal hygiene. My method of scent management is significantly more aggressive. My system includes making sure that body and clothes are washed in no scent soap. Boots, backpack and primary clothing layers when not worn are packed in garbage bags filled with pine or cedar branches. Properly matched cover scents are also employed.  Don't use acorn or earth cover scent if you are sitting in a pine tree. Most importantly be consistent and do not get lazy.

5.  Limit your movements while on stand. Pack to be comfortable by being properly prepared. Bringing water, cough drops, food, pee bottle and other necessities designed to make your long sit enjoyable. Have bug netting and a comfortable seat.  There is noting worse then trying to remain motionless with mosquitoes drilling into your face and a wooden plank biting into your posterior. Camouflaged clothing matched to your surrounding will mask any small movements that you make.

6.  Bring your GPS, map & compass and know how to navigate using both. Ask your guide where you will be hunting and what is in the immediate area for roads, streams, etc. Prepare for an emergency should one arise and understand how you will contact assistance should it be necessary.

7.  Should you be fortunate enough to shoot a bear plan for extracting the animal and your role in the process.

8.  Maine's weather in September can be fickle, during my 4 days of hunting temperatures ranged from 40-70 degrees with heavy rain and wind.  To combat the worst of Mother Nature wear layered clothing matched to the anticipated weather conditions. Bring a winter hat despite the predicted weather as it takes up almost no space and is invaluable if you begin to get cold. A wide brimmed baseball hat is also helpful in either keeping the sun’s glare or pouring rains off your face and out of your eyes.

9.  All guides want you to be successful so listen carefully and be receptive to their ideas.  If they want you to sit on a stand for 4 days so the bear learns not to fear your scent or that certain stands are better in different wind/weather conditions then don’t second guess their advice.

10.  Don’t leave the stand until the time designated by your guide. If possible wait for the pick-up vehicle to arrive and scare away any bears in the area so that you don’t accomplish this task while leaving. Best not to educate the bear that someone was at the stand site.

Driving back to central Maine over snaky route 6 and down mind numbing I95 gave me plenty of time for reflection. Pondering over the two years worth of bear hunting experiences had me comparing and contrasting the various hunting scenarios I had grown so accustomed to over the years. Sitting on a bait site had been an odd departure from what for me was considered usual and I relished every minute of it for the lessons learned. Sportsmen who view every time out in the woods as an educational opportunity greatly increase their chances of having a positive outdoor experience regardless of the final outcome. The ability to maintain a positive attitude despite adversity and level of success is tied to an understanding that anything worth achieving never comes without a serious investment of time and energy. Through persistence, consistency and patience your hunting successes will greatly improve as will your overall outdoor experience. If I know that on a hunt I tried my absolute best then I will leave satisfied even if not successful. A poor shot in the dark my look like a great option when your thoughts wander to going home bearless but true sportsman rises above. Be patient, your time will come.

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme (Part I) can be found HERE.


  1. RO, I just wanted to say good job of respecting the laws. A lot of hunters would have made the shot and took the bear....10 minutes past legal hunting time. You did not. I admire that. Thanks for setting a good example.

  2. Thanks KT. This is actually the 2nd year in a row for me that a bear has decided to visit the bait at an hour where seeing the cross hairs was a challenge. Though I still remain bearless, it is always better to go home empty handed then leave one in the woods wounded and in agony.

  3. Do you know of anyone who hunts bear with a bow? I'd imagine it was quite common around 400-500 years ago. I'm sure your got to be a crack shot to do it though.

  4. DEM,

    I had two clients at bear camp hunting with bows. Very cool stuff. One guy had a bear sneak in on him and stare at him the entire time he was feeding . . . so no chance to draw the bow. The other hunter fired a single arrow at the bear but miscalculated the distance and hit low, barely scraping hair from the bruin.

    Even with a direct hit with an arrow I would be very cautious about following a large bear unless the client heard a death moan. Even then I would have a tight grip on my pistol going in!


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