Raise your hand if you consider yourself a diehard, through-and-through traditional bowhunter. Also raise your hand, if you’ve found that any time you try to deviate from the creed…things have a way of going south. Well, I’ve come to find that in the thick and steep country where I live and hunt, walking up on critters within stickbow range is a rare occurrence. So, when you do find yourself with an opportunity…well, let me tell you a story.
My family never took bear hunting very seriously. A bear tag was just something that you bought along with your deer and elk tags, just in case. Back then, it seems like no one ever ate bear meat. If they shot a bear, it was simply because they had a tag, the opportunity had presented itself, and now they had a nice bearskin for the wall. My father was of the sort that you ate what you killed. When I was just barely in elementary school, I remember that he killed a bear that was raiding my grandparent’s garbage cans. But then, after both him and my mother (and the dog, apparently) found the meat not fit for consumption, he just never killed another bear again. That was how I grew up; not giving bear hunting much thought. But after I took up bowhunting as an adult, the thought of killing a bear with my bow seemed to always hover in in the shadows of my mind. A few years back I managed to kill a nice black bear with a 10mm pistol, while shed hunting with a friend. But I secretly felt robbed that I hadn’t done it with my bow, and cursed myself for leaving my bow at home that day. The desire to get it done with a longbow began to simmer.
One May evening, I found myself with just enough time to walk an old logging road that I had found not too far from our house. The road wasn’t gated, but it was a derelict spur of a Forest Service road, that besides the occasional wood cutter, just didn’t see much traffic at all. I drove my rig in about a mile, and then decided to walk from there. The road followed the contours of a very steep canyon, and displayed all the lush trappings of the “snow-fed rainforest” that this area is considered to be. I was slowly walking along, my footsteps silent on the moss that covered the road’s surface. I had just wrapped around a dark patch of the mountain and emerged onto a southeast-facing slope that was much more open and arid. There was a series of blowdowns that I had to navigate, and then the road took a sharp left that veered away and out of sight. I hadn’t made it much farther, when I got “the feeling.” You know the feeling that I’m talking about. The last bit of primal instinct that’s still alive inside of my modernized DNA was telling me that something was near…and that something was about to happen.
I took a few more steps before I heard something startle, up on the steep embankment above me, and on my right side. By the sound of it, I knew that it wasn’t anything ungulate related, and automatically thought “bear!” I made my best impersonation of a raspy turkey call with my mouth, immediately followed by a quick gobble. There was a short pause, and then a medium-sized black bear emerged from the bushes, and only a stone’s throw away. I quickly had an arrow on the string and made a few steps toward the bear. I was only a scant 15 yards from the bear, and could see his entire front half, but…I had doubts. The bow that I was carrying that day was a prototype of a new bow model that my friend Bob Smith recently had sent me to test. Oh, I had no doubts in the bow, it shot well. My doubts lay in the fact that I was still messing around with arrow configurations, and I had just missed a turkey only a few days prior. So, I took a few steps closer, all the while the bear was casually watching me from the bank above. Now I had a thin screen of boughs from a young white pine partially obscuring my view of the bear. But I could see his vitals clearly…and he was so close! Not wanting to miss a rare opportunity, I had a fleeting thought of using my pistol instead of the bow. “NO, dummy!” I inwardly shouted to myself. Looking at the jet-black hide covering the bear’s vitals, I didn’t find any definitive “spot” to focus on, as I came to full draw. I hit my anchor point, released the string and then watched as my arrow shaved hair from his chest and narrowly missed an old stump, sailing into the unknown. The bear flinched as the arrow whistled beneath his neck, and with perked ears he sprang into a wispy pine tree that was six feet to his right. Bewildered, that voice spoke up again… “Use your pistol! Don’t screw this up!” Newsflash: I had already screwed up! The die had been cast, and now I was trying to change the playbook. Numbly, I laid the bow down, drew my pistol, and took five more steps toward the bear, who was still clinging to the tree. The bear looked absurd, three feet up and hanging onto the spindly tree that couldn’t have been more than ten inches around. The wind switched, allowing the bear’s stench to assault my nostrils with an attack of anise oil and rotten fish. Or at least, that’s the only way that I could categorize the smell.
Deep down I really didn’t want to kill this bear with my pistol. Which led me to not really wanting to kill this bear at all. There I was, less than twelve feet away, and looking up at this goofy-looking critter…when the thought occurred to me that first, I’d take some photos with my phone. That meant game over. As soon as I holstered my pistol and reached for my phone, the bear shoved himself away from the tree with a lunge, propelling himself deeply into the brush. Needless to say, after some time spent searching for any sign of a hit, it was clear that the bear got away unscathed. Deflated, I looked in vain for my errant arrow, and tried to wrap my head around what had just transpired, and the opportunity that I let slip away. I never did manage to find that expensive carbon arrow…or my dignity.