Last spring, I made my first-ever bear hunt and passed on a small cinnamon black bear. Ready for another taste of that action, I scored an over-the-counter limited archery fall bear tag for Colorado by buying it within minutes of when sales opened.
My first few days in Colorado were very productive with archery elk hunting and that article can be found here, though the excitement really heated up with my close bear encounters.
In Colorado it is illegal to bait bears, but a hunter can hunt over a carcass where it naturally expired. My elk died right in the middle of a great chunk of bear infested woods, where I had found more sign than ever before.
After a good night’s rest from my 12-hour-plus backpacking meat haul, I made it up the mountain with my climber the next evening in the national forest. I was creeping as stealthily as I could, but my climber must’ve made too much noise crossing all the fallen logs and brush, sending a bear near the carcass running away.
It was just a small jet black bear, but a legal one. However, I was eager to encounter a big 400-pound beast near this patch of woods that was seen by two hunters while they scouted elk in July. Both guys said the same thing: “When I saw the bear, I instantly turned around as quick as I could.”
The next day, I hunted all day but forgot my rain gear. I was cold and wet from a few unexpected thunderstorms, but seeing an elk and a pair of cute, curious minks kept the hunt entertaining. Then things got downright interesting when a giant bear started walking directly toward me.
The massive bruin was lumbering in from my non-shooting side. When it got behind a tree, I decided to stand and ready myself for a shot, but not even the widest tree could block the view of a creature so big. I was busted, and he stared right at me for nearly a minute from just 35 yards away.
He slowly walked to the side and I found a gap, but now shaking and involuntary tremors took over. I desperately tried to range the gap, and after nearly a dozen clicks, the range finder finally marked a tree at 48 yards.
A far shot, but one I never miss in practice. But I admittedly don’t shake and tremble so much in practice, either.
The bear stopped broadside right in front of the ranged tree. I drew, but a small branch covered my 20-yard pin, so I lowered my body to avoid it.
Now, I work out regularly with 1,200 pounds on the leg press, but as soon as my knees bent, my legs buckled helplessly and my hand - with all the involuntary spasms - jerked on the release. The shot never had a chance and landed harmlessly in front of the bear.
Had I even put the correct pin on the bear’s shoulder? I couldn’t even remember which I used — I think my vision gave out on me as well.
I had never gotten so shaken up from any deer before. Of the 48 public-land deer I have harvested, my arrows have always found the mark, with the exception of two shots deflected by limbs. But an old swamp goat isn’t the same as a huge overgrown bruin. Still, adrenaline rushes like that make a hunt unforgettable — no matter the outcome.
That night I slept alone up the mountain in a tent for the first time since college. It reminded me of the beginnings of my big game hunting career tenting out alone on Louisiana WMAs for weeks on end, where I used to blow opportunity after opportunity as I learned to deer hunt.
I finally got a deer after four hard years of hunting, and I would remain just as undeterred on my journey to get a bear.
But for several days, I was definitely down in the dumps about missing the beast. That is, until I went back to the log cabin to pick up my friend from the airport and grilled up supper: fresh elk backstrap. I realized I had 200 pounds of this deboned meat that tastes better than beef, which made me a little less upset about my bear miss.
I had set up my game cameras near the carcass and that giant bear, along with a few other nice bruins, continued to gorge themselves on my carcass, but usually at night. Then, they would fall asleep in front of my camera.
The huge bear even approached one evening but stopped 80 yards from the carcass in front of one camera placed on a nearby trail. He paced back and forth and sat in front of my camera right out of my sight, apparently watching me until dark when I left. Then, he went on in to eat — smart bear.
The picture and videos from my game cameras and the hunts along with my elk footage can be found by clicking here.
Oddly enough, the bears never approached the carcass in daylight before 2 p.m. on any of my three cameras. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the stand early enough in the second week while I was trying to help others.
I was trying to put my friend on an elk, so I bear hunted most mornings while he futilely limped around the mountains with out-of-shape legs. We usually went back to the base cabin in town in the middle of the day to restock the satellite camp or let him rest.
Then, some guys I met from Kansas needed help tracking a bull a 16-year-old kid shot. When I had first met the guys, I told them I’d pack out their elk for them to their basecamp, so they took me up on my offer and woke me up one night to go help find the elk.
We searched that first night with no luck, and then started the next day at daybreak until 2 p.m. — still with no luck. The kid’s Swhacker broadhead didn’t pass through, leaving very little blood to follow. I made four trips, each several miles, to that area to help him look, which left me thoroughly exhausted, but I dug deep and found the energy to go for a bear hunt.
I perked up quickly when I saw the head of a nice jet black bear next to the carcass. I was 80 yards away, and spent 30 minutes creeping painstakingly slowly to stalk it within 30 yards. That’s when the bear finally got a whiff on the swirling wind and got up. Bears can smell seven times better than a bloodhound, and can detect a carcass from 20 miles away.
I drew and had my pin on the shoulder of this nice long-haired black bruin through a very shootable gap, but another much larger gap was just two steps ahead. So I passed and waited for a cleaner shot.
But the bear veered 90 degrees and never gave me another open look. Instead of having great footage of a quality shot in HD, my camera shows me only one minute later on film in defeat again. After looking for that kid’s elk and unsuccessfully stalking the long-haired bear up and down mountains, I had covered more than 20 miles of rugged terrain in 24 hours.
Another evening after bringing my buddy to the cabin to rest up from soreness, I once again got back in the stand much later than I wanted. The giant bear came walking through as I was setting up camera gear in the climber, and yet again, I lost my composure.
I had moved trees the previous evening and ranged a nearby tree at 40 yards. The bear was momentarily broadside and stationary. I took the quick shot, but the arrow sailed just inches low.
Then, I realized the tree I shot next to was a 50 yard tree — not the 40-yard tree I ranged the evening before. And just my luck: the bear had walked practically underneath the tree I had climbed the previous day.
Now I was really frustrated and I began stalking him with no luck, but finally something did go my way. I had spotted a grouse — or did I?
I had been trying to down one of the highly-camouflaged birds that roam the Colorado woods since last year. I had a couple that got away using smaller broadheads, but I was determined to get one of these delicious mountain chickens by the trip’s end.
Earlier, I had shot a grouse then put down my bow to go grab it, but the bird was far from being finished off. I chased that grouse in circles around trees, but my lunges at the bird came up empty. With the grouse in sight, I reached for my bow, but with one turn of my head, it disappeared for good.
Sure enough, while following the bear, I spotted a grouse — or was it just a grouse-shaped log? These birds don’t flinch, and are so well-camouflaged that even at 10 yards away I wasn’t positive.
In several previous situations, I had thought a grouse was a log, only to have the bird fly off when I moved closer to investigate. Other time,s I found out that what I swore was a grouse ended up being just a log.
So I decided to sling an arrow: if I ended up hitting a log, the joke would be on me.
Sure enough, my arrow sailed low and I hit a log. I had gone to the store after my “Rocky Balboa Chasing the Chicken Experience” and bought some wide 3.75-inch diameter, 125-grain turkey broadheads. But with no time to practice with them before my hunt, I learned after the second arrow struck the same log that my new turkey broadheads flew low.
I decided to burn a Ramcat on the third attempt, and feathers flew everywhere with a perfect neck shot. My friend and I grilled up the bird over the fire that night, and both agreed it was the tastiest bird meat we had ever eaten.
The next morning I startled a grouse and carefully scanned the forest floor. They are usually in flocks of two to three birds, and behind a log I noticed a stick that appeared to be too round: I thought it was a grouse head.
My next step would most likely startle the bird out of range, so I went for the tough head shot at 12 yards. I slung my first arrow with an old dented Ramcat, but it flew an inch too high. Next, I tried one of the new 100-grain turkey broadheads, and recorded another miss.
Still the round stick hadn’t moved. Was I just an idiot shooting at a tree branch? I decided to let loose my last 125-grain turkey broadhead. Remembering it flew low, I aimed 3 inches high, and once again, feathers flew everywhere.
I marinated some elk backstrap and that grouse, along with an additional grouse I ended up downing the following day, in a bag with pineapple juice, Tiger Sauce and seasonings. I left it in the cold running creek while we hunted the last day.
That final night my new friends from Kansas joined us around a campfire dinner. Surprisingly, my wife and her friend unexpectedly braved up the mountain by themselves at night and got to enjoy the meal as well. How these two women made it the two-hour trek up the mountain without getting lost was a miracle.
Over a hot fire with seasoned meat, we really got to enjoy the best-tasting meal I can ever recall eating. But it was about more than just good food. Most people go to the grocery store to buy their cow and chicken meat, whereas I had gotten mine the natural way — from the woods with a bow.
My trip ended with some neat three-shot scores on grouse, but I only wish that big bear would’ve given me a third shot. But on second thought, I would’ve probably missed again.