A second is a very small amount of time as measured in some sports activities such as track and field, swimming, etc. Archery is not typically thought of in these terms. Some archers are technically driven to determine the speed of an arrow as it tracks per second.
I was challenged to make a split second decision while on a traditional archery bear hunt in Saskatchewan. The spring bear hunt was located in a two bear per license area. Bow hunting was a big element in our lives, and collectively we had notched over 85 years in the woods. Steve, the youngest in his mid-thirties, Mike, former Marine in his fifties and I was in my forties. We also enjoyed shooting indoor winter leagues together.
Our bear hunt was focused to hunt in the evenings on stands already in place. Upon arrival we freshened the baits and checked our egress avenues. The weather was also cooperating.
Steve’s stand was about five miles away from the area Mike and I would hunt. Mike’s spot was on the way to my stand some 1/2 – 3/4 of a mile away.
We were in our stands by 2:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively. My plan was to hold out and try to take a nice blacky. Plans sure change, don’t they? Only a hour and a half into the hunt a nice all-black bear with a small, white blaze on it’s chest came into view. I was able to get a photo while the bear was settling in.
The bear took a new path toward my stand about 14′ up the tree. The bear choose to join me and up the tree it came—seven feet…then five feet…and then three feet. While showing off it’s pearly whites and snapping it’s mouth, it was then at two feet…and now one foot…now 6″. This bow shot straight down had not been one of my practice positions. My plan was to jam the bow tip in it’s mouth if that was next. As I was winding up for the jab, the bear chose to back off, went down the tree and left the area. Ah, this was good! There was lots of time before dark and maybe another bear would make an appearance. Surely the bear that visited me must be well on the way to elsewhere. So now I could get my mind around hunting and relax a bit.
After an hour or so passed, guess what showed up? The bear’s markings and size matched my recent memory bank. The bear moved about nervously and eyed me in the tree.
Some time after the hunt the bear was aged to be 10 years old per tooth measurements.
Now I knew I couldn’t trust this bear. The very first chance that was offered to me I took the shot and off the bear traveled. I waited for a half hour and started for Mike’s stand so we could track the bear during daylight. We soon found my bear about 80 yards from my stand. It was a dry sow. We pulled the bear out to where we could drive up for a vehicle pickup. All went well getting the bear to camp. Steve and Mike didn’t have any bear sightings.
The next day’s hunt found us on our same stands. I planned to get some more photos as I didn’t feel it necessary to take a second bear. Soon a front moved in with winds blowing from me toward Mike, pushing the tree tops around. There was plenty of daylight left to burn so I stayed put. Once I thought I heard someone holler in the distance when the wind died down, but I passed it off as nothing. As darkness came, I got down from my stand and headed to Mike’s stand to walk out together.
After walking closer I did hear someone (Mike) yelling for help! Mike, the former Marine, was not one to cry wolf. I started jogging and running his way. I hollered toward Mike in the darkness. His voice had changed: a tenseness, a quickness of speech in a higher tone. “What’s wrong?” I hollered into the night. He said there was a bear at the base of his tree that wouldn’t let him down to the ground. We were about 75-80 yards apart with woods and bush amongst 3/4 grown trees. The area was slightly familiar as I had first seen it when we had freshened the bait two days ago.
I could move to the far side of the two track we walked in to get to our stands. That provided me a clear space of about 35-40 feet. I had an arrow on the string, ready if the bear chose to charge me. Mike shouted out “throw some sticks or rocks into the woods to scare the bear off.” I gathered what I could in the darkness, hollered, changing the pitch of my voice, cupping my hand to help change it’s direction somewhat. None of it impressed the bear according to Mike. He told me the bear had been up his tree and he had to climb higher to get away. His voice was all the more tense! I said to Mike, “Just stay put. I’ll go out to the road and when our ride comes they have a gun in the truck. Just hold tight.”
I could visually see pretty well as my eyes had adapted to the darkness. I still had approximately 40′ of open ground. Behind me there was a large cluster of saplings approximately 2-3″ in diameter. No trees big enough to climb. “Stay put Mike,” I said again and again. Then all was quiet—no word from Mike. Then it happened—brush breaking, leaves and branches flying. It sounded like the woods were exploding! All the sound was coming toward me from the woods where Mike was. I drew my arrow to full draw and I was ready for a snap release of the arrow within that 40′ opening. In the next split second, my life passed before me. Which tenth of a second shall I shoot? I realized it was Mike and not the bear! Mike didn’t tell me he couldn’t wait any longer. He had waited for the bear to get on the far side of his tree and he jumped from a limb probably close to 25′ up— stumbled, and started running toward my voice. If I had released that arrow at that instant…well, my life could have changed forever, as well as Mike’s being ended!
Since that situation occurred, I have found out that bears can run up to 37 mph for a short distance and cover 50′ per second! They can outrun a race horse for a short while, also.
Mike was not Mike, but a tight ball of energy. We started walking backwards from the area. He started telling me the whole episode as we moved along farther away and closer to the pickup site. Mike had hung his recurve on a branch mid-afternoon. He had climbed a few limbs higher up the mature pine tree to see further into the woods. He said all of a sudden the bracken parted at the bait pile by a good size black bear. Mike’s plan was to let it settle into the bait and he would then ease down to the hanging bow and arrows below. Then, the bracken parted again and two small cubs appeared. Mom put her nose to the air and let out a woof. Both cubs scurried to nearby trees. One cub went up the tree next to Mike and the other cub went up the back side of Mike’s tree. Mike tried to knock the fast climbing cub out of the tree but couldn’t reach it as the cub climbed well above him. Soon the cubs were crying-“Hey Mom, Hey Mom”. Mom chose to come up Mike’s tree to rescue her cub. She grabbed Mike’s foot. He kicked free using his other foot. He was climbing farther and farther from his gear. She then backed down the tree and that’s when Mike started yelling for my help, to no avail, because of the wind direction.
Mike had several episodes with Mom bear—one of which she got her teeth into his calf. Mike again kicked loose and climbed higher and higher. So did the cub. With over two hours of calling out and numerous bear attacks, it was no wonder that Mike was so hyped. He finally eased down the branches at dusk and that’s when I came on the situation.
Soon we were at the pickup point with my arrow still on the string. The truck arrived and I told the two guys, especially Steve, that Mike needed medical attention. Steve thought we were telling him another whopper, but Mike spoke up. He wanted to see how his leg looked. The headlights showed his torn calf area. Soon we got the calf exposed and we could see down into his calf a good 3/4 inch. Surprisingly, was there wasn’t any blood. His adrenaline had shut it down.
We got him to a hospital about an hour and a half away. They wanted to keep him overnight, but Mike said “No thanks” to that. He and the doctor bargained and Mike agreed to come back in a couple days for review. Just a few stitches for now. The doctor wanted to give him rabies shots, but the doctor and Mike’s Michigan doctor agreed to finish his treatment back home. Mike was back in camp by 3:00 am. Some rest for all and we were on other bear stands the next evening. No other bears were taken the rest of our hunt.
A couple months passed and Mike was at his Michigan doctor’s office for a followup. The doctor laid a probe on the wound and it opened up right away. The healing hadn’t begun at all. Slides were taken and sent to a lab. The bear’s bacteria needed another medication, which was prescribed. Soon Mike was back to his own self, almost.
I have felt since his bear attack adventure, he has mellowed somewhat. I think anyone would be the same if all things were considered. Time heals all! My reflections have resurfaced many times over the years since our hunt. What if I had reacted too soon and let that arrow loose in one of those tenths of a second?