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The Bear Necessities

August 21, 2012

If he was a little boy, Jim would have been dancing around, snapping his fingers and singing. I’d agreed to go bear hunting. He had me at ‘I’ll haul all the bait…if you’ll just try it.’

It was all set, we were going. I put my fears aside, along with my common sense. ‘What was I thinking?’ I’d be safe in a stand, he said. Really? Surely, he realized that bears can climb trees. Fast. Faster than I can go all Annie Oakley on ‘em and shoot, I‘m sure. Just what did I get myself into here?

But then again, Jimbo taught me to hunt deer. I trust him. How different could it be? Except that deer don’t climb trees, I suppose. And they have hooves instead of long treacherous claws…and flat molars instead of sharp jagged teeth designed to rip flesh from bone in nothing flat.

I agreed to try it. And I’ll keep my word…as long as he keeps his and does all the baiting. The idea of dragging out bucket after bucket filled with thick sticky molasses, pie filling and gummy-bears all mixed together disgusts me. Gross!

Well, he baits, just as he said he would, and I’ve got mixed feelings…if he’d broken his word, I wouldn’t have to keep mine either. I could watch TV, read a book, knit, crochet, or sew in my nice little house. The house with screens on the windows that keep the bugs out. I wouldn’t have to sit 12 feet or so up in a tree…perfectly still. I wouldn’t have to sit still while the insects made a meal of me. I wouldn’t have to worry about what would happen if a bear actually came in to the bait I was presiding over. Again I ask myself ‘What did I get myself into?’

And I’d be wearing camouflage. Not bright orange like in deer season. If I wore orange, someone from the search party would be able to see me. Nooooo, let’s blend in, he said.

Didn’t I hear something about animals being color blind? Does it really matter what color I wear? Or is he afraid the other hunters will snicker behind my back because I don’t have the latest, most stylish hunting garb? Do I really care? Will we even see other hunters? Doubtful, since we’re hunting on our own land. I don’t want to blend in. I want to make a fashion statement. A loud one.

Aside from fashion, I had other concerns…like the size of my stand, for instance. Jim actually expected me to climb up into this portable stand. I was to sit perfectly still. No problem, I think…this stand is tiny. The platform isn’t three feet square! And the seat takes up a good portion of that space. Moving was definitely out of the question. And there are no railings. Who thought up this system, anyway? Didn’t anyone take safety into account? What’s the point of teaching anyone to hunt if all they do is fall out of these microscopic stands and break their necks?

Oh yeah, I won’t fall to the ground…I’ll be wearing my high-falutin’ seat belt. Perfect. I climb the ladder up to the stand, wrap one end of the so-called seat belt around the tree, and loop the other end over my arms and snug it up around my waist. So I can’t even bail out if a bear decided to make a house call. Well, I could, but I’d just bounce off the tree trunk as the bear swiped at me with his paws and tried to take a bite. Kind of like a dry version of bobbing for apples. Nice. This sounds better all the time.

Good thing I trust this man. Otherwise I’d really be in trouble.

So, opening day finally arrives. And we trudge up the hill and into the woods. Finally, when I’m totally drenched in sweat, we arrive at the bait station. So much for the ‘no human smells’ part of this equation. I stink.

We first walk to his stand, a little ways away from mine, toward the edge of the swamp. He’s plans on videotaping me while I shoot my first bear. So, he hangs the camera and his pistol on the tree and returns to the station with two five-gallon buckets of fresh bait. Pie filling, molasses and gummy bears; a bear’s natural food. I’m watching and learning just like he asked. I’m probably not learning exactly what he wants me to learn, but I’m learning just the same.

So, now it’s time for me to get into the stand. He props the ladder up to the tree and makes a sweep with his arm in an upward direction, indicating, I assume, that I should climb. I have a problem with this. No one said anything about the ladder not being fastened to the tree. And I didn’t think to ask…what do I know about it… I’ve never hunted bear before! He’s the pro. He should have this covered. He knows I don’t like heights. It’s bad enough I won’t have railings, and have to trust the thin piece of nylon webbing he calls a seat belt. Now, I’m supposed to climb an unsecured ladder up a tree? Twelve Feet? He must be joking. Only he’s not.

Well, we’ve come this far, I think, we may as well follow through. I make him hold the ladder while I ascend and get myself all comfy-cozy for the evening. This could be a very long night…it’s only 4:30 in the afternoon. We could be here a while. Like till dark. And then we’d have to reverse the whole process and do it in the dark. Sounds like fun.

I’m in the stand, rifle on my lap, loaded and ready for action. I am so conflicted here. On the one hand, if a bear comes in and I actually shoot it, and kill it, season is done. Finished. I don’t have to do this again. At least not this year.

But if I make a marginal hit, we’re in big trouble…it’s the worst case scenario. There’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded bear in the woods. And they have a habit of circling around and coming up behind you while you’re following their blood trail. I’m scared.

If we sit here until nightfall, with nary a bear at the bait, we get to do it all over again tomorrow. Not sure I want what’s behind door number three either.

Jim decides to take the bait buckets to the car. Bears tend to drag them off into the woods to lick them clean after dinner. But Jimbo takes a peek down the hill toward the swamp before he leaves, and mimes to me that there’s a ‘shooter’ bear milling around down at the bottom of the hill.

So he leaves, and now I’m alone…with a bear in the vicinity. Up a tree in my oh-so-fashionable mismatched camo sitting stock still on this contraption he calls a stand. He even said it was comfortable. I beg to differ. What’s so comfortable about aluminum tubing framework around sturdy metal mesh? The edge of the seat cuts into the backs of my thighs, even through my sweats. And the backrest in non-existent. I don’t dare move. Not because I’d scare a bear off, but I simply don’t have the room. What have I gotten myself into here?

I sit with a death grip on the .270 gauge Remington I have balanced my lap. I don’t dare let go…I’m not the most graceful person God ever created, and if I lessen my grip, with either hand, I’ll probably knock it to the ground. And this bad boy’s loaded. Being the nurse that I am, I made sure the safety was on. How reassuring.

Finally, I see him. Just snatches of black at first…a patch of solid black here or there, getting larger as he approaches. He emerges from the brush. And Jim’s right…he’s big. I think he’s bigger than any of the dead bears Jimbo’s brought home over the years.

My heart pounds…I can hear the throbbing in my ears. My vision blurs and I have to blink several times to see clearly. I’m sweating like a stuck pig. Especially my palms. They’re really slick and I worry about the rifle slipping out of my hands. Better grip it tighter, I think. Get a grip, woman! Concentrate! Breathe. Easy, in…out. In…out. There, that’s more like it. Now all I have to worry about is the shaking. How am I supposed to shoot this thing if I’m shaking like a leaf? This is tougher than I thought. My brother says bear hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel. Ha! I’ve got news for him!

The bruin lumbers up to the bait. He climbs on top and licks the pie filling; cherry, I think, off the lid. Then he stands and rips the top right off the station. Jim said he sets it up this way because it takes a big bear to get inside and get at the bulk of the bait. Hmm…I think this guy qualifies.

So, I get ready and wait. I shift the rifle up to my shoulder and wait for him to give me a shot. He needs to put his front leg forward while he’s broadside.

He pauses to lick his paws. I can see his claws. They‘re shiny black and wicked! Can we just get on with this, I think. C’mon…bear. Turn just a little…please?

And he does! So I take it step-by-step just like he taught me. I can hear Jim’s voice telling me to snug the rifle tight into my shoulder, set the crosshairs on the animal halfway between his back and his belly. Aim just behind the front shoulder…with his front leg forward so it opens up his vitals. Otherwise his scapula might stop the bullet and that would not make for a happy bear. Or happy hunters. Especially me.

I keep listening to Jimbo…‘let out a breath…squeeze the trigger gently…if you pull it, you’ll jerk and make a bad shot. And after you shoot, stay on him…shoot him again if you can. Bears are hard to kill.‘

So I squeeze off a shot…and I hit him! He totally flips end over end and hit’s the ground running full tilt. I try to pop him again, but he’s just too erratic. Then, suddenly, he flips again and lands in a heap about twenty yards in front of me, right in front of a perfectly shaped Christmas tree. I keep the gun on him, watching the blood spatter from the wound as he breathed his last. Finally, he’s still.

But I’m shaking, and I can’t breathe. Relax, I tell myself. Breathe.

When I work up enough spit, I whistle. A signal to Jim. Like he didn’t hear the shot? He doesn’t answer, so I whistle again, as best I can with what little saliva I can muster.

Now what? I’m alone in a tree, twelve-plus feet off the ground with no good way to get down…not that I wanted to at that particular moment. But I’d have to get down sometime. And Jim’s not answering. Where the heck did he go, I wonder.

Finally, I hear a weak little chirp…then a stronger one. Coming from the Christmas tree. Or the bear. All right, probably not the bear. I hope.

‘I see him’, he says. Then he steps out from behind the tree. The Christmas tree.

‘What the Hell are you doing there? The car is that way’, I point.

‘Yeah, I know, but he came in quicker that I thought he would. I wanted to at least watch you shoot him since I didn’t have the camera.’

‘But I have a loaded gun here! And I was just doing what you said!

‘Umm…did you remember to put the safety back on?’

‘Oops.’ I quickly secure the gun and point it upward.

He holds the ladder as I climb down. Being the woman that I am, and a nurse, I berate him for two things…one, that the ladder is not nailed to the tree, and is therefore dangerous. And two, that he was not where he said he was going to be. Did he forget he’s wearing full camo, blending in exceedingly well and I’m sitting in a stand with a loaded rifle, safety off, just a few feet away?

My point made, we move on. He field dresses the animal while I pack up our gear and lug it back to the car.

The bear looked a lot bigger when it was alive, I think to myself. But it’s still a respectable bear…about 200 pounds or so. Smaller than most of Jim’s but a trophy to me.

  1. Diane Hyland permalink

    Love it! I, too, had an opportunity to shoot a bear, but I was on my first and only deer hunting excursion.

  2. You are such a good writer I felt as tho I was with you in that stand (not that there would have been room!). You realize I cannot let my husband read this as I NEVER go hunting with him and he must never know that some women actually do!

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