The spring bear season was winding down. In fact, it was the last week to hunt this unit and the last day I had to fill my own tag. This season had been an absolute blast thus far. I had gotten to spend a fair amount of time in the mountains and was blessed to see numerous bears. Mr. Big had yet to show himself.
As the season passed, my feelings began to change. I had never gotten a bear. Over the years, I've passed on a good number of them with never a huge desire to fill my tag. This year, something was different. I entered the spring season intentional about finding a bear. I told myself I only wanted to get one or two throughout my life so they had better be big. Yet, each bear I saw made me want to bring one home even more. So on this particular day, as the season wound down and my wife and I headed up the trail one more time, I told her I was going to take the first legal bear I saw.
I knew this area particularly well. Our destination was a high vantage point where I could glass into hidden meadows of lush grass. I was certain I would see at least one bruin snacking on nature's groceries.
The hike took us through steep timber with a few small open benches. I knew to pause at the edge of each clearing for a look before walking through. As I neared the second clearing, I slowed my pace. My head crested the bottom edge of the mini-meadow and I immediately saw black streaking through the grass.
In an instant, my rifle was at the low ready with scope covers off and my thumb on the safety. I stalked forward for a better view. All was quiet. I put my lips to my fawn-in-distress call and four searching cries ventured into the wood line.
The underbrush rustled. Rachel was sure she heard the bear "Woof!" Suddenly, I was face to face with a bear curiously standing on its hind legs—the distance was maybe 40 yards. As my crosshairs settled, my mind admired and evaluated the beast. The bear dropped out of view and I could hear it walking away. I hit the fawn and distress call again. One more time, the bruin returned and stood up looking for me. At the roar of my Tikka, the bear somersaulted from a log and lay still.
I looked back to my wife where she gave a smile and two thumbs up! Together, we walked the short, few yards forward. The hide was beautiful, thick, and solid black. It wasn't a big bear, but, it was my first bear. After a few photos, we broke the bear down and were hiking back to the truck in short order.
That night we had our first experience with bear steaks. The flavor was excellent. However, it was exceptionally tough and my jaw was worn out after three bites. I will have to hone my bear meat cooking skills.
The new experience of caring for a bear and getting one checked in was slightly intimidating; however, everything went smoothly. The greatest part of the experience was having my wife there. I'm quite hooked now. Rachel has already warned me not to bring too many bears home. Paying to tan or rug a hide is not cheap! Either way, I can't wait for next time!
- Jess Patrick