At the mouth of the bruin’s den with my heart in my throat, I didn’t move a muscle. Silent, I waited. Taking no time to think through the possible consequences of the situation, ignoring that eerie feeling crawling up my spine. Knowing that soon I would be face to face with the giant bruin that lay inside.
The lengthening of days, the dawning warmth in the air and the melting of the hard snow on the steep mountainsides all signify one of my favorite times of year; Spring black bear season. Public land hunting for black bear in Idaho allows for several methods of take from baiting, use of hounds, and good old spot and stalk.
For me, there is nothing more exhilarating than spot and stalk hunting. The thrill of the chase is in my blood and I seek that rush on every hunt. On this spot and stalk hunt, an adrenaline rush is exactly what I got.
New plant life, fresh green grass shoots, the appearance of wildflowers, and warm sun filled skies are crucial in spotting the slowly emerging black bear. Overtaking snow covered mountain passes and getting beyond the covered frozen ground into lower elevations where the life of spring has began can provide a challenge of its own.
The sound of spinning tires echoed across the mountain. The snow was deep enough that our ATV’s were high centering making the pass nearly impossible without a snowmobile. The weather was bad for bear hunting with cold temperatures and rain driving down hard out of the sky.
Bear hunting was going to be on hold until the clouds melted away and the wind died down, only then would the bruins be eager to emerge from their dens in an effort to feed on the delicate spring grasses. I held on tight, anxious to get to the other side of the mountain and find out what I was in store for.
At first glimpse of the steep rugged canyon, I was awe struck. They type of terrain that you do not attempt to hunt alone and can be very intimidating to even the most experienced of hunters. This is the kind of place that I live for hunting and I was thankful to be on this hunt with Rockie Jacobsen of Bugling Bull Game Calls and pro staffer Don West.
Unfortunately for us, the weather did not break and we went back to camp with only seeing the rain pour out of the sky and lay thick on the ground like a slick blanket. I could hardly wait to get back there the next day and hope that the weather would break as well.
In the morning, I awoke to the subtle drum of the rain on the roof of my tent. The dark sky showed no sign of letting the warm sun peek through anytime soon. So I did the next best thing to hunting, I made a big breakfast for my fellow hungry hunters as we patiently waited for the weather to break.
That afternoon with the skies still dark and the rain gently sprinkling down on us, we decided to make the trek over the mountain pass in hopes that the weather would break and we would get an opportunity to spot a black bear.
We set up and glassed the mountainside from this vantage point the far side of the canon appeared to be wide open, nice and grassy, but looks in this type of ground is very deceiving. We spotted a bear at approximately 450 yards grazing on the abundant spring grass.
The bear was playing peek-a-boo throughout the dense foliage. One second he was visible and the next he would vanish into the dense spring growth. We literally could not take our eyes off of the bruin as he would suddenly disappear and we would spend ten minutes trying to find him again.
|Setting up to take my shot.
Don was keeping an attentive eye on the bear as I set up to take the shot on the bruin. “I think I broke my nose,” were the first words that came out of my mouth after I took the mighty punch to the face that the .300 Ultra Mag had delivered, ultimately missing the bear. This was not the knock down power I had been looking for.
After having waited for two days for the weather to break and give me an opportunity to see a bear let alone have an opportunity at taking a big bear, my disappointment in myself was beyond words.
Typically lessons learned in the field are from hard knocks and disappointment. Getting this huge reminder I knew that I would have to get closer to my target.
As the evening faded into darkness, we headed back to camp and made our plan to come back to the same spot in the morning and make the trip across the canyon in hopes of closing the distance and getting another shot at the bruin.
|Stream swollen from snow runoff.
Venturing into some of Idaho’s steepest most rugged public lands, with the frost from the night before still laying like a slick blanket on the ground, traversing rock bluffs, shimmying logs to get over a swollen stream from the years snow runoff, proved to make reaching where we had last glimpsed the bear more difficult than I had anticipated.
As we reached the steep mountainside that the bruin had been grazing on the evening before, the grassy openings were coupled with patches of dense underbrush that reached towards the sky, well above my head in some places. Shale rock slides decorated the mountainside, all making for some rough terrain.
Glassing from a high vantage point we spotted a small cinnamon bear and a black bear making their way towards us. Neither of these bears were the bruin from the evening before. I passed on the opportunity that the smaller bears offered, still hoping that the bruin would show up on the mountainside once again.
|Rockie Jacobsen and I.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the bruin appeared, 285 yards and across a small canyon from where I sat. Taking aim, I took my shot and pin wheeled the bear. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone. Gone into his den; which was located less than 5 yards from where he had just stood.
There we all sat in a gasp knowing that he was now tucked away into his home. We were now faced with making the dangerous trek into his territory.
After a grueling hike and well over an hour later, we reached the mouth of the bears den. I had to question my own sanity as to what I was about to do. Quitting at this stage of the hunt was not an option. I never could have anticipated what was to unfold next.
|The mouth of the bruin's den.
Cautiously moving forward, Rockie and I approached the mouth of the den. This is a moment where you are thankful to have an experienced hunting partner, one that you are willing to trust with your life, and them instilling the same trust in you.
A little game of Russian Roulette so to speak was unfolding with the unnerving sounds of the bruins labored breathing and pounding heart beat slamming into my head like a ton of bricks.
The bruin lay less than six feet from the mouth of the den. There we were face to face and eye to eye with the bruin not knowing how incapacitated he was from the single blow that had been delivered.
We could see that we had seriously underestimated the size and mass of this bear. Judging a bear’s size is one of the most difficult tasks you will face and the task becomes even more daunting in thick ground cover.
With few options, I stood at the mouth of the den waiting. Waiting for the irate and wounded bear to expire, or well you can probably imagine the infinite possibilities that were going through my mind at that time.
Slow motion is what I would say describes the next few seconds as the bruin moved towards me and the entrance of his den. I waited, knowing that in a blink of an eye the bruin could be on me, but there was no time for fear.
Two feet, and only two feet separated me from this giant bruin. As he emerged, he met me there, eye to eye. Aiming from the hip I put one last shot into the bruin. He instantly buckled on rolled down the steep mountains face.
As I finally approached the expired bear, I was captivated by his massive size. Measuring in at just over 7 feet nose to tail, weighing in at approximately 400 pounds and having a skull of over 20 inches, the bear was three times my size.
On every hunt you can only expect the unexpected and this hunt was no exception. Never had I dreamed that my spring bear hunting adventures would literally lead me to come face to face with a bruin this massive.
The hunt was over and it was time to pack out the massive bear. My hunting partners carried out the meat and I proudly carried out the 70 some pound cape and skull back across the rugged canyon.
Looking back I spotted a large herd of elk that were getting ready to start calving just above the den of the expired bruin, and was glad that this old boy was down for good. My role as a hunter was complete with a full freezer and having given some of these soon to be born elk calves a chance at life.
|Got snowed out the last day of our trip.