Just Bearly

Crispin and I pulled into the small parking area well before first light. I was really excited to finally be sharing a hunt with my good friend. You see, I have known Crispin Henry for many years but though we talked about it many times we had never hit the woods together until this morning. As we gathered our gear we spent the time catching up on family, work and our experiences in the woods thus far, then we strung our longbows and started the mile and a half hike to one of my favorite public land spots.

Hiking in to this particular location is no easy task. First you have to cover about a ¼ of a mile on an old farm road that is full of waist deep grasses and weeds which were wet with dew this particular morning. Next you have to find a hidden path that I clear each year through an old clear-cut.I never clear the path all the way to the road so the entrance stays hidden in a massive tangle of blackberry vines, ragweed and other nasty Georgia flora! Crispin found the creativity amazing but I do not think he was very fond of the blackberry thorns hiding the path. From there the next ¼ mile is an extremely steep route through a valley between two rolling hills. By the time we reached the top we were both pretty winded and sweating profusely. After a 10-minute rest to lower our heart rate and steady our breathing we continued on. The hard part was over, now it was a matter of pointing Crispin to a tree and then finding one of my own.

I situated Crispin on a natural terrain funnel that has proven successful for me many times over the years. Located at the southern end of a saddle between two peaks and with a steep valley immediately west of the location it creates a natural hub for wildlife traffic and has provided numerous encounters with deer, black bear and even wild hogs. The tree is easy to locate due to numerous scars from my ascents over the years so I spotted it in my headlamp, gave Crispin some final advice and well wishes. I then turned my headlamp North and headed to a similar spot a few hundred yards away.

Night was finally beginning to surrender to the day when I hoisted my bow and pack into the tree. It was hot, stiflingly so. There was very little wind with both temperatures and humidity hovering above the 80 mark. I spent the next few minutes clearing the fog and accumulated spider webs from my glasses so that once shooting light arrived I would be able to see well enough to make a shot. I then settled back and waited for the world to come to life.

Squirrels, Chipmunks, Blue Jays and Crows soon filled the trees and forest floor with barks, chirps, clicks, coos and caws. The rustling of leaves by the ground dwellers always keeps my heart rate in a state of flux.Mentally I remind myself that the first sound I ignore will probably end up being a monster buck doing his best to imitate a squirrel.

Morning turned to mid-day, the temperature was now nearing 90 but a slight breeze had begun so it was at least bearable. Crispin and I had decided to stay put until 1pm and then regroup for a quick snack and discussion about the afternoon hunt. I glanced at my watch at around 11am and then began my next scan of the surrounding area. To my 1 o’clock I spotted sligh tmovement, in very dense cover, a couple hundred yards out. My first thought was, “Did Cripsin shoot something and has climbed down to track?”. I reach for my binos and begin scanning for the movement and soon I was able to identify the source. A Black Bear was slowly working his way in my general direction and my heart rate quickened.

In Georgia the deer season and bear season are one in the same. Regulations prevent baiting or hunting bears with dogs so for the most part they are opportunistic targets while hunting for whitetails. You can still hunt while listening for activity in White Oaks where they are gorging themselves on acorns. However, this area had no producing white oaks this fall,thus this tactic would be difficult at best. The flip side of that problem is the bears appear to be moving a lot more searching for food.

The bear continued working my way albeit very slowly. For along time, I had little hope that he would pass within range. He was meandering a lot, looking for red oak acorns, insects or other food as he slowly made his way across the saddle between Crispin and I. Then he turned and now he was working his way directly towards me. I slowly stood in my stand and readied my bow just in case. He was still around 100 yards out but if he continued on his current path he would pass to my right and within range. Five minutes later he had closed to within 30 yards and then he paused briefly behind a large pine.My bow was up, I was zoned in and ready to take my first black bear with along bow. He began moving again and is no longer feeding, just walking. I realized that his gait was sufficient that when he passed through my shot window, at 20 yards, I would need to lead him slightly. I picked a spot near center mass and began following the bear, my eyes and my focus are locked on“the spot”. In my peripheral vision I saw a gap that will be to the right and just slightly behind my vantage point. That is where I would take my shot! As the bear began to enter this opening I brought my bow to full draw, focused on“the spot” and slightly lead with my bow hand. Then with a soft “thump” the arrow was on the way. The world seemed to slow down, I saw the arrow in flight.It was arcing towards my chosen spot and looked to be absolutely perfect until I heard “C-R-R-R-R-A-C-K!!!!!’. The bear trotted forward a few more steps and then just sat down. He was directly behind a large laurel bush and I could see his head slowly moving back and forth but not much else.  After perhaps 30 seconds he tore out of the area and was completely out of sights within seconds. 

Once my knees stopped shaking I began thinking about what had happened.Initially I thought I had shot low and the crack I heard was my arrow striking the ground beneath the bear. Using my binos I began searching for my arrow but I could not locate in the ground anywhere. Then I thought well maybe it skipped on whatever hard object it had hit. I sat back down and begin thinking about the entire scenario that had just played out. Then a sickening feeling entered my stomach. Had I hit that bear? Had my shot been off and was the crack I heard the sound of broadhead meeting with bone? I went back to searching with the binos refusing to believe I had just wounded the bear. A few moments later something caught my eye in the binos. There is was, plain as day. My broadhead,with arrow still attached, stuck DEEP into a 2’ diameter maple tree that I never saw. Relieved and a bit irritated at the same time I slumped back into my seat. The next thought that crept into my head was a similar occurrence from a few years back when the same thing had happened to Nick Viau. I then remembered how I had immortalized the event my making a trophy from the very tree that Nick has sunk a broadhead into while trying to shoot a doe here in Georgia.While I was very disappointed I was also relieved. Mostly because I knew I had not wounded that bear but also because NO ONE but me would know where this tree was!!!

Shortly after I decided to end my morning hunt and lowered my gear to the ground. I had just stepped off the last step when I heard steps behind me and turned to see Crispin walking my way. “Did you shoot?” came the question from my friend. “Yes” I replied. “I am surprised you did not see the bear, it looked like it came from your direction.” Crispin’s eyes got wide,“Did you shoot a bear?!?!?!?!” “I shot AT a bear” came my reply with a bit of sarcasm in my voice. I motioned for Crispin to follow me as I walked over and pointed at the maple. Locating the bear’s track and looking up into the tree I had been in it indeed appeared the shot was near perfect, right up to the point where it had hit the tree!

Crispin was quick to offer condolences, and we exchanged a good bit of dialog as I tried to retrieve my arrow. I finally did manage to save the arrow but the broadhead would not budge. I decided it best to just leave it there in it’s final resting place. It would serve as a reminder of the hunt for many years to come. We gathered up our gear and headed to a cooler spot to have a bite of lunch before heading to another spot deeper into the woods for the afternoon sit.

During lunch I relayed the story of Nick’s “Major Award”from a couple of years back to Crispin. He thought it was an awesome story as most people that hear it do. As I wrapped up the tale I remembered the quote I had placed on Nick’s trophy. It was one from Ernest Hemingway,  a favorite of both Nick’s and I.  I find often serves as a reminder to keep me grounded in reality when I begin to believe I am better at this art of traditional archery than I really am.  Now for anyone thinking to contact Crispin about the location of the tree, as we hiked out later that evening in the darkness he made a statement about halfway out that he sure hopped I knew where the heck I was going because he was completely lost and would never be able to find his way back solo. Mission accomplished!!!

So close, but no cigar

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no oneever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

This article was originally published in the Winter edition of “Stick Talk” the official quarterly publication of the Michigan Longbow Association

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