This spring when I bought my resident Sportsman Tag I went for the option to add a bear tag along with the deer, elk, fishing, conservation, and upland game. I have always wanted to hunt for and harvest a bear but have never taken the time to learn the ways of the bruin. I have had lots of time on my hands as of late due being laid off but that also leaves me with low cash reserves to travel to some of the better known bear areas of the state. This left me hunting in the area close to my home in Butte. We have had a wet spring with lots of snow and that kept many of the roads into the high country impassable long after the April 15th bear season opener.
For a while I had put off hunting but kept busy fishing with my wife, daughter, and sons. I was on Facebook about a week ago and saw that a high school friend of mine had just posted up some pictures of his spring bear. Those pictures of Cory and his beautiful bear got me motivated but I was still clueless on the who, what, where, when, and how of bear hunting. I chatted with Cory and he gave me some basic tips and clues.
1. Glass a lot. Use optics to glass the open parks, clear cuts, and agricultural breaks.
2. Look for bright green areas that face the Southeast and Southwest.
3. Focus on the last two/three hours of the day.
Using these tips I made a plan to go to a couple of areas in the Big Hole drainage and take a look. The first day I went out and targeted bears I took my wife and daughter with me. We took a great evening ride. Even though we didn't see any bears, we found all the usual suspects, mule deer, elk, and antelope. The next day I was back at it with my daughter. I had an idea of a road I wanted to drive up and look around on. I had seen bear track in the high country at the end of this road but had never seen a bear.
The road into the high country.
As we drove up higher in the mountains the views just kept getting better. This is Henely Creek. I thought the waterfall over the fallen log was beautiful.
The sunflowers were out in force.
I made my way up the desired road and glassed all the parks and meadows I could see on the way up the road. As I was nearing the switchbacks that lead to the trailhead at the end of the road, I saw a park with something that needed investigation with the binoculars. I stopped and as soon as I got the glasses to my eyes I knew it was a bear. From that distance and in the failing light of the day the bear looked dirty blond. I parked the truck in the middle of the road, got my gear ready, and gave my daughter a bottle, some toys, and a small box of crackers to keep her happy till I returned. I only had a half hour of legal shooting light left so I knew it would be a quick all or nothing trip. I hurried to where I felt the bear would be but by the time I covered the 1000 yards in distance and the 450 feet in elevation, I was out of legal shooting light and the bear was nowhere to be seen. There was a spring in my step as I worked my way down the mountain in the dark. I was elated that I had found my own bear, made a stalk on it, and did it all by myself. I was excited for the next day as it was my knowledge that spring bears do not often move very far unless pressured very hard.
The following evening, the third day of my quest, I left earlier than usual because I wanted to make sure I wasn't rushing myself. My wife had softball and my mom was watching my daughter so it was a solo trip. I was up the mountain and to the spot in plenty of time to make a nice walk to where I had last seen the bear. I drove to the spot where I had first seen the bear and started glassing. I saw no signs of life. I continued driving up the road. As I drove past the wider spot in the road I turned around in the night before I thought to myself, "You should park here and walk in the last 3/4 mile. The creek will hide our noise." Well, I argued with myself and kept driving as I thought I would just park at the end of that switch back and walk the last 1/2 mile to the trailhead. This was mistake #1 for the day. Mistake #2 was me driving past the turn and continuing up the last leg of the switchbacks figuring I would just park at the trailhead. As I got to the point where I was just below where I had seen the bear the night before, I saw it... 75-100 yards away from me...round, brown, and furry running away from me as fast as it could was my bear. Crap, shit, SOB, and god dang it to hell! Why do I argue with myself? I never win! I knew better than to keep driving but didn't listen. Dejected and depressed about messing up a great opportunity I drove up to the trailhead and made a 3 mile hike through some meadows only to find all the elevation above where I saw the bear still snowed in with over 3 feet of old crust snow. The only tracks I saw were old snowmobile tracks and one set of bear tracks that were in the direction of the bear I had just seen. I was very disappointed in myself as I drive home that night.
The next day I got ready to go with little hope as I was unsure of how bad I had scared the bear the day before and had real doubts that it would still be in the same spot again but with that day and 4 more to hunt, I still had time to find a bear. I drove up to the same area to take one last look for that bear and to try and find another bear if there was no hope in finding that one. I got up to the switchbacks after glassing some lower areas and shooting my rifle to make sure it was still on after falling the day before with just enough time to give me 45 minutes of shooting light to look the place over one last time. I parked in the spot before the creek and used the sounds of the creek and the trees there to sneak up the hill to the last place I saw the bear the night before.
I made my way quietly up the hill and on to the road up to the trailhead. I walked on the grass in the middle of the road to silence my footsteps. As I walked along in the waning light, I tried to figure out which opening was the opening where I had spooked the bear from the previous day. As I got to the point where the road started to enter the trees I spotted the bear up the hill from me. I was elated! Now I just needed to make the stalk and the shot and the bear would be mine! I made my way up the grass covered gravel on the hillside to the closest tree. I looked around the brush and the bear was still above me. I had to move to my left to get clear of the tree and stumps above me to try and make the shot. It was moving around above me never stopping long enough to give me a good shot. She moved down the hill towards me and behind a small group of trees of to my left. I quickly and quietly moved to the left trying to find her again. By the time she came into site again she seemed nervous but gave me one opportunity at a shot as she stood on a log staring down hill towards me. I settled the cross hairs on her and got my breathing under control as I squeezed the trigger on my Winchester Model 70 Black Shadow in .300 Winchester Magnum. At the sound of the shot I lost sight of the bear. I made my way up the hill to where I had last seen the bear when I shot. I figured with it getting dark, I would just go to the site of the shot and look for blood or hair and then come back in the early morning with more people and guns to track it. When I got to the spot where the bear had been when I took the shot, there she was. Dead. One shot, one kill again for my black cannon. I was not the biggest bear ever but it had a nice heavy coat and is a beautiful chocolate color. I went down to the truck and brought it up the switch backs to just below the bear and then carried her down the hill (as not to mess up the coat and because the hill was way too steep for my game cart and the bear would not just roll down the hill) to the truck.
I got home with my bear and packed the body full of ice and tried to get someone to help me skin it. Well everyone I knew that had experience with a bear was either asleep or at the bar so with the bear cooling I went and had an adult beverage to celebrate the occasion. I skinned the bear out the next day but wasn't done before the FWP office was closed so I had to wait till Monday to check it in.
A few pictures of the skinning process.
Getting started with the center line cut.