A bear at last

Gut Shot

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It's the winter solstice, four days until Christmas. My fingers are cracked and calloused, my eyes are fried and I'm running on caffeine and hate. This is the life of a bench jeweler in December and I need a break. So, here's the story of my West Virginia bear hunt.

It all started at a funeral about a decade ago. A good friend of my mother's died and I reconnected with people I hadn't seen in a couple of decades. Those folks lived in West Virginia and invited me to go bear hunting with them. I'd been invited before, it just never came together. Maybe it was because we were at the funeral, but I realized that there is no sense putting off dreams that are within easy reach. The next year I was chasing hounds up and down mountains looking for bears.

I had a couple of opportunities that first hunt but the bears were small and I was having a lot of fun just chasing them. A few bears were shot by others and I got to help get them out of the woods. I even put a finishing shot in one that had been shot when it bayed up in the rocks. In the end I enjoyed myself and had no regrets about not taking home a bear.

The next two trips I took my kids and both of them shot good bears. My wife went with once and got to see her first wild bear. I helped pack a couple of big ones out from the bottom of deep ravines on public land. In the end we had some of the best game meat you could ask for but I still hadn't punched a tag. There were no hard feelings on my part though, kids and first timers always get to shoot first, and that's the way it should be.

This year I returned for another try. The view from camp couldn't be beat.

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I got five days in October to hunt. The first day saw lots of other hunters and only one bear treed. We had a boy who had never seen a bear and was eager to bag one. Him and his grandpa jumped in my truck and we beat it down an old logging road trying to get to the tree before the bear ran off. I smacked my differential on the rocks a few times and gave my truck a hell of a pinstripe job getting there. Unfortunately, as soon as we started into the woods, heading towards the sound of baying hounds, the call came on the radio that it was a collared bear.

Now, it's perfectly legal to shoot a collared bear but the guys I hunt with don't. Some of the guys have been involved with bear studies in the past, some still are, and one was the WV DNR bear specialist until he retired. A collared bear is a sow. If she doesn't have cubs with her it means she is pregnant with next year's cubs. The kid didn't get his bear this trip.

The next day we got permission to hunt an area with some problem bears.

The rigs are ready to go.

20231011_071355.jpg

The only caveat for this hunt was that we had to kill every legal bear that we treed. This area was crawling with bears. First day I was the first one at the tree for this one.

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It was two cubs. Mom chased them up the tree and led some of the dogs away from them. By the time the dogs were tied off and I got my camera out one of them dropped and ran off. The chase was called off and we went looking for another.

Later in the day I was riding with my friend Dan. We were slowly cruising the gravel hoping a dog would hit on some scent when, there in front of us at the edge of the road, was a bear. There was an instant of stunned confusion before we both jumped out of the rig to turn loose dogs. Seeing Dan had the hounds taken care of I jumped back in the truck and grabbed the radio "BEAR, BEAR, BEAR! We're a quarter mile out from the rock face on Exline Rd!" We only had two dogs and needed a couple of more to get this bear in a tree. A gal in our group showed up a few minutes later and dumped some more dogs on it.

She treed in a half mile or so and one of the girls was up to shoot. She hit it and pissed it off. The bear started around the tree and began to come down. Now, they want the bear to fall out of the tree dead. It doesn't always work out that way. The man closest to the bear took aim with his handgun and pulled the trigger...nothing. He didn't have one in the pipe and quickly racked the slide. Things got western for a moment as half a dozen shots rang out. The bear had a clear path through the dogs and took it, this meant that the backup on the ground had clear shooting lanes (important stuff to plan for in cases like this). Her bear piled up seventy or eighty yards away. I helped wrangle dogs back to the rigs rather than pack bear.
 
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More bears fell that week. One first time hunter got his bear. There was another guy out for his first bear as well. On the last day we treed one and I fought my way through the laurel to the tree. There were three of us at the tree and I loaded up my 7mm-08 pistol for the shot. I found an opening and lined up, just making sure the shot felt right. One of the guys yelled over the barking hounds, "she's wearing jewelry!" Just my luck, a collared sow.

20231012-140613.jpg


We let her go. On the way out a dog pulled me, ass-over-applecart, over a laurel branch and tumbling over some boulders. Luckily I wasn't hurt but I landed on my backpack...the one with the gun in it. I wasn't sure my scope wasn't knocked off so the next morning I'd hunt with my revolver.

The last morning of the hunt for me and I hiked down a deep ravine with another guy and his kid. Their dogs are good and got a little squirrely at one point where we found a lot of mast and sign but nothing came of it. That was the end of my hunt. Everyone told me to come back in December, promising me that they would get me a bear. I assured them that it didn't really matter if I killed an animal or not. That, and December is busy time for me.

It turned out to be a hell of a fall. I had a trailer fall apart on me and had to have that welded. At the same time my son destroyed his car doing dumb-assed teenager stuff. Then my mom fell at my house during thanksgiving. She broke her arm, wrist and cracked her pelvis. So there it is, a week and a half before I'm supposed to go back to hunt bear.

My wife told me to go, no sense hanging out at home while mom's in the hospital. Besides, she wanted bear meat in the freezer. Screw it, work will always be here when I get back. I'd just take a short trip, a day out, two days to hunt, then a day back.

I arrived Wednesday evening. They hadn't seen a bear that day. On Monday however, one of the guys killed a 492lb boar! That was the largest bear that anyone in the group had ever killed in decades of hunting.

Thursday saw a single bear killed. It was in the laurel fighting the dogs and wouldn't tree so one of the houndsmen shot it. Another bear was soon treed and we hauled ass down the road to it. I grabbed my rifle and began to climb a chute through the rock ledge that the bear was on top of. As I came around the point of a hill I slipped and fell on some loose rocks sixty yards from the tree. Apparently that was all the bear could take. He dropped down and bolted away never to be seen again. They estimated that it was over 200lbs. Oh well.

The next day, my last day to hunt they had a hounds on a bear. The radio collars indicated that the dogs were in the middle of a paved road but when the rigs arrived they were nowhere to be seen. They could hear the dogs though...in the culvert under the road harassing the bear that had crawled into it to escape them. This was a big bear that wouldn't tree. The dogs weren't a threat, more of an annoyance. The bear was killed near the road as it walked along, fighting with the dogs. It weighed 438lbs.

We went looking for another. One of Dan's dogs hit on scent and we turned loose. The dogs seemed to become confused, this sometimes happens when the bear climbs a cliff or other obstacle to escape the dogs. No big deal as another gal's dogs picked up the scent a little farther up the mountain. We corralled the dogs we had loose and by the time we had them back in the truck the bear was treed. We drove to the top of the mountain and could hear the hounds not far over the lip. "That's your bear, go kill him," Dan told me.

When I got to the tree, only about a hundred and fifty yards downhill from where we parked the bear was treed, surrounded by several hounds and a half dozen kids. If I hadn't mentioned it before this is a family hunt. Wives and kids are always welcome, in fact the woman at the tree is one of the better hound handlers and she juggles twin toddlers and dogs all day.

The dogs were tied off and I had two guns backing me up. I leaned against a tree and aimed down the barrel of my dad's old 336 Marlin in 35 Rem. The bead settled behind the bear's shoulder and I squeezed the trigger. At the shot the bear almost lost its grip and fell but caught itself. She scurried around the tree and I hit her again. This time she fell.


20231208-094530.jpg




It was a small sow, about 130lbs, big enough for me. Once the pictures are taken the dogs get their reward.

20231208-094743.jpg


So there it is, after a decade of hunting, being in on the killing of a bunch of bears, scrambling up and down mountains, looking all over hell's half acre for dogs, I finally got a West Virginia bear. This was my second, I got one in Alaska back in 2006 but this hunt is a lot more fun. The drag out was one of the easier ones. We got someone to unlock a gate and we were able to drag the bear downhill a hundred yards to a logging road and toss her into a truck. I say we but someone else insisted on dragging her down. Someone else gutted it too (I could get used to this). The reproductive system is cut out and sent in for study and you have to be careful not to damage it (I would have screwed it up). This sow was carrying twin embryos.

Here are the three bears that were killed that day, The 438lb boar, my sow and a smaller boar.

20231208-124548.jpg


Grand total for the week was seven bears, the October season was five bears.
 
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That bear hunting is so fun. Some members of my family have a long tradition hound hunting. Congrats on some great hunts.
 
Congrats on the bear. I loved the picture with the dogs ready to do the job that they love, and the family nature of the hunt. Very cool story!
 
When I was stationed in Jacksonville, NC I went on one of these. Nobody got any bears but we tree'ed a ton of them. That was a ton of fun, and id do it again if I had an opportunity.
 
More bears fell that week. One first time hunter got his bear. There was another guy out for his first bear as well. On the last day we treed one and I fought my way through the laurel to the tree. There were three of us at the tree and I loaded up my 7mm-08 pistol for the shot. I found an opening and lined up, just making sure the shot felt right. One of the guys yelled over the barking hounds, "she's wearing jewelry!" Just my luck, a collared sow.

20231012-140613.jpg


We let her go. On the way out a dog pulled me, ass-over-applecart, over a laurel branch and tumbling over some boulders. Luckily I wasn't hurt but I landed on my backpack...the one with the gun in it. I wasn't sure my scope wasn't knocked off so the next morning I'd hunt with my revolver.

The last morning of the hunt for me and I hiked down a deep ravine with another guy and his kid. Their dogs are good and got a little squirrely at one point where we found a lot of mast and sign but nothing came of it. That was the end of my hunt. Everyone told me to come back in December, promising me that they would get me a bear. I assured them that it didn't really matter if I killed an animal or not. That, and December is busy time for me.

It turned out to be a hell of a fall. I had a trailer fall apart on me and had to have that welded. At the same time my son destroyed his car doing dumb-assed teenager stuff. Then my mom fell at my house during thanksgiving. She broke her arm, wrist and cracked her pelvis. So there it is, a week and a half before I'm supposed to go back to hunt bear.

My wife told me to go, no sense hanging out at home while mom's in the hospital. Besides, she wanted bear meat in the freezer. Screw it, work will always be here when I get back. I'd just take a short trip, a day out, two days to hunt, then a day back.

I arrived Wednesday evening. They hadn't seen a bear that day. On Monday however, one of the guys killed a 492lb boar! That was the largest bear that anyone in the group had ever killed in decades of hunting.

Thursday saw a single bear killed. It was in the laurel fighting the dogs and wouldn't tree so one of the houndsmen shot it. Another bear was soon treed and we hauled ass down the road to it. I grabbed my rifle and began to climb a chute through the rock ledge that the bear was on top of. As I came around the point of a hill I slipped and fell on some loose rocks sixty yards from the tree. Apparently that was all the bear could take. He dropped down and bolted away never to be seen again. They estimated that it was over 200lbs. Oh well.

The next day, my last day to hunt they had a hounds on a bear. The radio collars indicated that the dogs were in the middle of a paved road but when the rigs arrived they were nowhere to be seen. They could hear the dogs though...in the culvert under the road harassing the bear that had crawled into it to escape them. This was a big bear that wouldn't tree. The dogs weren't a threat, more of an annoyance. The bear was killed near the road as it walked along, fighting with the dogs. It weighed 438lbs.

We went looking for another. One of Dan's dogs hit on scent and we turned loose. The dogs seemed to become confused, this sometimes happens when the bear climbs a cliff or other obstacle to escape the dogs. No big deal as another gal's dogs picked up the scent a little farther up the mountain. We corralled the dogs we had loose and by the time we had them back in the truck the bear was treed. We drove to the top of the mountain and could hear the hounds not far over the lip. "That's your bear, go kill him," Dan told me.

When I got to the tree, only about a hundred and fifty yards downhill from where we parked the bear was treed, surrounded by several hounds and a half dozen kids. If I hadn't mentioned it before this is a family hunt. Wives and kids are always welcome, in fact the woman at the tree is one of the better hound handlers and she juggles twin toddlers and dogs all day.

The dogs were tied off and I had two guns backing me up. I leaned against a tree and aimed down the barrel of my dad's old 336 Marlin in 35 Rem. The bead settled behind the bear's shoulder and I squeezed the trigger. At the shot the bear almost lost its grip and fell but caught itself. She scurried around the tree and I hit her again. This time she fell.


20231208-094530.jpg




It was a small sow, about 130lbs, big enough for me. Once the pictures are taken the dogs get their reward.

20231208-094743.jpg


So there it is, after a decade of hunting, being in on the killing of a bunch of bears, scrambling up and down mountains, looking all over hell's half acre for dogs, I finally got a West Virginia bear. This was my second, I got one in Alaska back in 2006 but this hunt is a lot more fun. The drag out was one of the easier ones. We got someone to unlock a gate and we were able to drag the bear downhill a hundred yards to a logging road and toss her into a truck. I say we but someone else insisted on dragging her down. Someone else gutted it too (I could get used to this). The reproductive system is cut out and sent in for study and you have to be careful not to damage it (I would have screwed it up). This sow was carrying twin embryos.

Here are the three bears that were killed that day, The 438lb boar, my sow and a smaller boar.

20231208-124548.jpg


Grand total for the week was seven bears, the October season was five bears.
Cool story! Congrats on the bear.
 
Congratulations on your bear, nothing like standing on top a mountain and listening to the sweet music of trailing hounds moving a hot track, great job and thanks for sharing
 
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