Caribou Gear Tarp

One hella stressful bear hunt! ( long)


New member
Jun 21, 2001
Rural Wa. State/ Ellisras South Africa
I'm not sure if I posted this here before but since bear hunting started recently I figured I would share it with anyone wanting a "long" read.

It was getting dark about 7PM this time of year, the end of September. It would be light in an open meadow until well after 7PM. However here in the dark second growth with such full limbed Douglas fir’s on the tree farm the canopy made up of these giant Christmas trees shut down the remaining light from the setting sun much earlier in the evening. We had been hunting over this bait for about 7 years now, and have taken some monster black bears here. The very first true giant I shot in my life was here several years before with a .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk. I was just getting settled in for the wait when he showed up early in the evening. This was very strange for a big bear. It was only about 6:00 PM when he came strolling in, stretched with his front legs out and then arched his back like a cat and yawned. Then proceeded to walk over to the bait. He moved like he did not have a care in the world. It was obvious from his actions he was the bear in charge of this tree farm, or so he thought.

He stood and reached the food items I placed high in the tree on the ends of limbs. I did it by reaching up as high as I could with my hands; he pulled them down with his mouth! Up to that point I was enjoying myself just to watch him. However when I realized he was that tall I started to get nervous. All at once I realized just how huge he was. I had been telling clients for years that they should be patient and wait for the right opportunity and look over many different bears before they take one. I found I was listening to my own advice and I should have been preparing to shoot this one!

The bear lowered himself to the ground back to all fours and went direct to the bait drum. He proceeded to eat from the drum that I realized was about the same size as his body. I pulled the hammer back on the Ruger Redhawk which was loaded with 300 grain Hornady XTP bullets and lots of WW296 powder. When the hammer clicked to the rear position he stood facing me at 25 yards and started sniffing the air staring right at me. He looked to the right for a second and in my mind I thought I should have raised the gun to shoot, it was too late he was looking at me again. I was careful never to make eye contact. I learned long ago to never look a wild animal in the eyes it spooks them nearly every time. He looked down at the food and I raised the gun taking aim while he was still standing upright. His neck and head snapped back to my direction with his mouth opened, drooling and slobbering the way they always do when they study their options. I have seen this a thousand times when a bear is testing the air trying to identify the other bears coming into his area. They are tasting the air trying to figure out what it is that they cannot see. I’m sure he was wondering what the big lump in the tree was on that shaky little platform. That Big revolver fully loaded is a heavy weight to hold steady with your arms extended for more then a minute or two. I needed just a bit of movement from him to clear the limbs between us. While he was looking me over his footing shifted slightly. At that instant the recoil and the smoke disrupted my view for a moment and the sound from the muzzle blast of the big 44 dissipated throughout the forest. The bear was as dead as a rock laying right in his tracks where he was standing just the previous second.

He turned out to be a real beauty of exactly 7 foot. His skull would be 1/16” short of the record book minimum! He was 10.5 years old and by weight nearly 400 pounds.

I had a hunter on this same stand that had been doing a lot of work for me. I felt I owed him a good hunt. He was very responsible and made a great effort to help me throughout the season maintaining feeding stations and baiting them. Honestly without his effort it would have been tough to do all this work myself. Unfortunately I also had clients that should have been hunting this stand for the trophy bears remaining. Since I promised this guy a good bear I really had no choice but to get him set up and let him take the big bear using this bait. I dropped him off and knew he was responsible enough to take care of anything that came up. I did not need to wait for him until dark to pick him up. We drove in with two trucks. He parked his about ¾ mile down the road and I drove him into the site. He climbed into the stand and set himself up while I refilled the bait and reset the infrared game counter and camera. I drove off and left him for the evening hunt. He has a CB radio in his truck that would reach to my house if he managed to harvest the big bear. He also had strict instructions to only shoot the big red colored bear that was on this bait. If he were to get the bear he would call me on the radio and I would drive down and skin it and we would pack it out.

One problem occurred during this plan of ours. There was a great disturbance at the bait this evening and lots of long hair from a dog was scattered about the bait site! From all indications a bear and a dog had one heck of a fight here and there was no sign the bear was the loser. The hair was long and “collie” colored not like what you would expect from a hound hunters dogs. I had seen loose dogs running around here in the past but never gave it much thought. I suppose this one found the bait and got caught by a bear sneaking in or made the foolish attempt at defending his food from the bear. The clumps of hair were big enough to indicate the dog would not likely be back to this site again!

This disruption was funny to me when I drove away thinking how much I would have loved to have been in the stand to watch this battle! Unfortunately my hunter would have to pay the price for this situation. He sat until dark as he was told to, however right at dark the big bear came to the bait and ran off the smaller bear that was on the site. This running and fighting with the associated growls and bawling from their fights scared the interest out of the hunter! He waited until it was quiet for a few moments at which time he climbed down and ran to the truck. He told me of the bear activity and seemed excited to go back the next night. I was mistaken though; I confused his fear of being there at night with excitement of going back for another chance. The next night our plan was the same even though it was obvious the dog episode had made the bears come quite a bit later in the evening when they feel more comfortable being out in a more open site.

Everything was about the same for this evenings hunt. The big bear came in and stayed eating and crunching the bones from the meat scraps we were using as bait. It was too dark to see his scopes crosshairs by this time in the evening. Yet he could not get down and spook this bear while it was there eating. He sat until well after dark before climbing down and getting the heck out of there. This exact program went on for several day’s, I had no idea what was going on, as he would never say. I was beginning to wonder if he was falling asleep and snoring or just not seeing the bear? Then one day he called me after a week of this same evening setup and poor results. While listening to him tell me about his evening of hunting on the phone I was looking out the window, it was light enough to read the newspaper outside yet he was already home!

I said to him, “What the heck are you doing home now, you’re missing the prime time to be bear hunting!” He tried to make a few excuses but slipped up and mentioned he had been coming home at this time for several days now! I was very angry and disappointed he was not hunting during the best hour of the day. He agreed, but finished by saying he was afraid to climb down after dark and walk out after hearing the bears fighting and knowing they likely killed the dog that was at the bait.

I said that I was going to kill that big bear myself if he would not sit there after dark. His reply was “that’s fine you go see how easy it is to sit their hearing bones crunching and bears fighting in total darkness!” We changed places and I went up with my 30/06 using the Leupold 2.5-8 variXIII scope, which I had modified with the German 4A reticle for night or twilight hunting. I sat and watched several bears come to the site and leave after about 3 to 5 minutes. They really had no interest in the area that probably smelled so much like the local boss bear. They all managed to leave with a mouthful of food though. After a while it was really getting dark. It was probably fully light in the open but under this canopy it was racing to darkness. There was still almost an hour of legal hunting light left but the canopy made it very dark in here already. The overcast sky from the storm that was moving in was no help either. The activity from squirrels and those big friendly birds we call whiskey jacks was dying out to. The forest was in the transition from day to night with all the daytime species heading off to their burrows or to roost in the trees. This period of time is always dead quite in the forest. There is very little wildlife movement during this hour or so of twilight. The wind was picking up due to the approaching storm. Gusts of wind with the smell of rain in the air came blowing through. It was very warm for this time of year in the evening because of the cloud cover. The humidity made it uncomfortable and I felt sweaty and sticky. The night species would just now start to become active. About the time I was figuring I should leave I could hear faint breathing. It was deep and labored breathing. I could not figure out what it was at first but thought that it had to be the big bear approaching. It is actually common for these bigger bears to have loud labored breathing even while slowly walking.

Sure enough it was a bear walking along the trail right under my stand, just about 8 feet away directly under me. It was so dark in here I was afraid I would have the same problem my previous hunter had seeing through his rifle scope. The bear walked in and started eating. I could see the shape but nothing clear to aim at. I lifted the rifle and turned the dark shape into a shoot-able target with that magnificent Leupold scope. While I was looking for a solid aim point on him I realized he was straddling the 45-gallon drum. I knew he was big but I had no idea he was this big! When I put up the rifle and looked through the scope I could not see the crosshairs where they intersect. I could however see the big thick crosshairs that are the leading feature of the German 4A reticle. I held on the shoulder and slid the safety catch forward. The gentle click of my Winchester model 70’s three-position safety was now in the fire position. When the bear moved just slightly quartering away I took him through the shoulders or so I intended, with the 165-grain bullet.

He rolled over and was up and gone in a less then a second. My eyes were recovering from the muzzle flash and I was trying to refocus on the area he was standing. He ran into a tunnel of black berries that was a main entry and exit for the bears using this site. We had never gone into this berry tunnel before in all the years we had been using this site. I was about to crawl through it into this never never land which is highly off limits to anything but bears. Not even a mean old dog willing to stand up to a bear and fight survived this tunnel trip! Now in the dark I will have to take a flash light and crawl on my hands and knees to see where this bear had gone! Of all the bears I have just dumped in their tracks with good shots in the wide open why did this one have to run off! Do I dare call my buddy on the radio and tell him? What if I don’t find the bear? I will never hear the end of this from him especially after the ridicule I gave him for chickening out of the hunt the way he did. Now I have a wounded bear and I’m stuck here by myself, unless I eat my pride and get some help! Nope, too stubborn or maybe too stupid? Probably to proud to know what’s in my best interest at times like this.

Have you ever watched a horror movie with a brutal serial killer. The people who are getting knocked off one after another always seem to do the most stupid things and make some really poor decisions. They always walk out to the barn alone or look into the dark rooms filled with cobwebs. They go down the ally where several other people have been butchered. Everyone at the theater yells don’t go in there. What makes people so stupid to do things they know are wrong and way too dangerous? No normal thinking person would ever put themselves into these positions of great danger. I know this and understand it. Yet at this very moment I am the one walking down into the dark dungeon with the killer down there and a weak flashlight for my protection. I can hear everyone in the theater of my mind screaming “Don’t go down there” yet I’m drawn into it for some sick reason I cannot control.

I walked out to my truck and drove it back to the entry trail about 60 yards from the tree stand. I took out my florescent lantern and brought along my 6 cell maglight flashlight. One thing I am very specific about after doing this for so long is having enough light for night work in the bush. Having had to track wounded bears in the dark many times I depend upon good lighting. I set up the 6 volt electric lantern at the entry to the tunnel. I used electrical tape to tightly wrap the mag-light to my gun barrel. It is so dark now the light is making it difficult to see when you look away from the illuminated area the light provides. Your eyes adjust to the light and when you look away it is just plain black dark. You can see nothing at all when you use a light and then look outside the illuminated area. I set up the lantern so that I could find my way out if my flashlight failed on me. I also had a little mag-light in my fanny pack as a spare with my skinning knives and a lighter. I was set now except for the fear of what I was about to undertake. The mag-light was so heavy on the end of my rifle it was hard to swing around quickly. The whole idea was not as good as intended when I thought of it, and would prove to be a disaster later this evening.

When I had only gone about 10 feet I was hung up a half dozen times from these little thorns that are more like small fish hooks then blackberry thorns. I had already ripped my flannel shirt to shreds and was just starting in to this tunnel nightmare. I wondered how a 300-500 pound bear could fit through this tunnel so easy and actually run while I was trying so desperately to keep my gun ready, vision sharp, bugs and sweat out of my eyes, and my skin intact from the blackberry hooks! I was gone what felt like a long time and thought that my hunting partner had not heard from me and would start worrying about my lack of a call at this hour. Should I go back out and call him? If I did would I have the nerve to start this whole tunnel trip over again, no I had to keep going. I’m not even sure I can turn around in here. I might have to crawl out backwards. At least I know the bear is in front of me someplace. I must have gone 30 yards now, while crawling on my hands and knees shuffling my rifle along the ground each time my knees and hands were moving forward. My hands are slipping and wet, I stopped to look for any blood from the bear using the light. The bear’s blood is so thick on the ground that my hands are all red and sticky. It’s disgusting, as I had been wiping my brow with bloody hands from the bear’s blood, and didn’t even know it. I guess I never noticed it because the blood was still warm. My arms are also bleeding from the thorns ripping at my skin every chance they get. I have to stop and catch my breath here for a minute. My heart rate is racing as if I had just run several miles yet I have only covered 30 yards in 10 minutes. The bugs are getting worse too, not that I really care much about it. I’m covered in sweat, bear blood, my blood, and I have thorns broken off in my shoulders, elbows, and the palms of my hands.

While continuing down this vegetation tunnel I can smell something awful. It is not the bear, I know a bears smell very well, this is something rotting or spoiled. I manage to crawl and move about 5-6 more feet and I feel something sticking to my hands. Using the light I see dog hair every place, it’s covering my sticky bloody hands now as well. Then I can see the pelvis of the dog and some of the leg bones. I manage my way over this and come to the head of the dog with the gaping jaws and dried out eye sockets. The bear did kill the dog and dragged it into this private spot to eat. Only pieces of the skin and many of the bones remained. Some of the internal organs were there and covered in fly larva and beetles. I clearly did not need this sight right now!

The tunnel is now taking a sharp drop down hill. It is very narrow and slightly turning to the right. When I make the corner I realize I am getting a bit lax in my attention to the position of the rifle. I stop again and try to calm myself and refocus my attention. If a bear was to get me in here they would never find me because no other human being would crawl down here looking for my corpse. Not to mention that the bear activity here is so high that I would be disassembled in a couple days and scattered about the forest like the dog that they caught trespassing here last week! If you have ever been afraid as a child in your bedroom, to be left alone in the dark because of what might be in your closet, under your bed, or just the fear and horror going on inside your mind because of the dark and the unknown, then this is the adult version of that! I had no blanket to pull up over my head in this tunnel. I did not have the luxury to reach up and flip on the light switch!

Then just as quick as can be there is the bear laying with his back to me in this tunnel! Oh my goodness it’s laying right there 10 feet away but mostly in the bush, not the main trail through his blackberry tunnel. I’m trembling a bit from shock and fear and can hear my own heartbeat. There is zero margin for error in judgment right now. Actually truth be known my error in judgment occurred about 4 hours ago deciding to hunt this bear. My mag-light is getting weak and has a yellow beam now not the bright white one it started out with. I gently moved back for a better angle and picked up a rock to throw at him. I have a rock about the size of a golf ball or bigger and crouch down to try and throw it at him. While holding the rifle as ready as I can and trying not to get my throwing hand caught on the blackberries while I throw the rock at the bear.

I wind up the best I can and launch the rock which hits with a loud thud but it springs back off of a branch hitting me with equal force square in the fore head stunning me with it’s impact. I’m sitting here looking now at this dead bear and my bloody hands swollen head and ripped shoulders wondering what I am I doing here like some idiot with a death wish. The bear must be dead or he would be after me by now. I might just let him get me because it would be easier then climbing out of here. I just stumble a bit further down the path and soon realize that it is a big rotten log covered with moss! Its not a bear at all, I’m stunned at the misidentification I am having with a fallen tree, embarrassed as well but who will ever know this? I climb over this log and the blood is still rather heavy surprising for a .308 diameter bullet. Indicating a large exit wound, a good sign. Probably the only reason to keep me going at this point!

I manage another 20-30 feet and see a brief plume of steam in the flashlight beam. I freeze and direct the light right on the bear. I can now see the bear for sure, no more moss covered logs. He is laying right there not 25 feet in front of me. I am nearly prone to get through this section and while lying there I decide to shoot him again. I can see his breath in the foggy appearance of the beam of light. He must be curled around laying with his head tucked into his belly. I don’t know which is front and back? I hate to shoot him dead center and blow his head apart with the bullets exit. I held the light steady to look for an indication of front and back. The bush and the dark make it nearly impossible to see him clearly. I consider throwing another rock but there are none where I’m laying. I can smell the bear now, he is so close. I manage to make a good identification of the hair swirls around his hips. I know which end is which and decide to put a shot through the shoulders. I steady the rifle and click off the safety catch. At the shot the bright muzzle flash blinds me and then it goes 100% dark. All I see is golden spots with a black background in my vision. It is so black now it’s like being inside a charcoal briquette. The shot sounded strange too, something was wrong but the bear was not moving. I wondered if my rifle exploded? I soon realized that I blew apart my flashlight that was taped to the end of my barrel. I had to quickly look for my little "AA" mag light. If ever a second seemed like an hour this was it! It’s black dark and my pupils are not adjusted for the dark having used the flashlight all this time. The noise from the gun shot, the deep guttural sound from the air escaping out of the bear, and the pieces of aluminum and plastic from the lights focus adjustment are everyplace. I locate the little flashlight by feel and turn it on. I see the bear has not moved but my bullet did rip a nice quarter sized hole through his shoulders. What a relief he is dead and this adventure is over! I look down at my mag-light or what was my mag-light. I guess I forgot that the bell of the light has a greater diameter then the tube the batteries are in. With the tube taped tightly to the barrel the section with the lens and the bulb sticks out right exactly into the line of travel the bullet follows. Seemed like a good idea at the time though. It turned out the steam I was seeing was coming from the first bullet hole through his chest, not from his breathing.

I back track out as quick as I can and call my partner for help. He was wondering what had happened and said I was lucky that I had called because he was about to leave to see where I was. I told him to bring his gas lantern and I would clear the area with the machete. I crawled back in and brought my machete to chop out a bit of space for skinning before he gets here. During rest breaks from chopping I pull out a couple dozen Blackberry thorns from my hands and arms. Thank goodness my lantern is still working. My sorry looking mag-light! They are tough but I doubt this one would justify warranty for its failure.

When my partner showed up and saw the bear he was sick when he saw how big it was. He could not believe the mass of this beast. I never really gave that much thought until he mentioned it. It was a big bear that seemed to get bigger the longer I looked at it. It turned out to be the first bear I shot over 7 foot in Washington State. The skull would measure 1/16” short of the record book, again! The best thing about it was that it was the oldest bear recorded in Washington’s hunter report card system. He was 28.5 years old and by length and girth would have weighed 465 pounds. He was clearly on the downward curve of his life and would probably have been well over 500 if not close to 600 pounds in his prime. I wish I would have had some photos of him but the area he was in with the problems I had and the difficulty in getting far enough away to get him in the viewfinder with the thick blackberries was impossible. We did not finish packing this beast out until 2AM and then we had the drive home. He was an old warrior; that had no tail, if he had his tail he would likely have been very close to 8 foot square. Several claws were missing and his nose was nothing but a mass of scar tissue. What an old bruiser we managed to take from this site! My partner also took a bear from this site a week later; his was a nice adult male of 245 pounds and just over 6 foot square. A nice bear but nothing like the one he could have had!
That is okay JJ. It is so natural for you to be posting in a forum about Africa.

Great story and thanks for sharing.

I will move it to Bear now.
The Mud and The Blood and The Bear! Fantastic account. When you say these two bears were 1/16" under the record book does that mean they were 19, 15/16" or 20, 15/16"? Rufous.
Heck of a story JJ. I hope I have some like that to tell my grandchildren someday!
I like the horror movie additions!

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