For several years now, and maybe even long enough that I don’t remember a different way of thinking, hunting bears in the spring has been one of my favorite times of the year. Something about the snowmelt, the green-up, the sunshine, and the rain make April and May one of my favorites times of the year outside.
2018 started off fast for me in terms of bear sightings. My very first day out was on Wednesday of the opening week, and within 30 minutes I spotted a great bear in a spot that I just had no way to get at during that day. Another hour later I bumped into a small blonde bear at about 40 yards. This all happened within a couple hours in a unit that I had never hunted before, so I was feeling pretty good about things. I hunted the next evening as well and spotted another couple bears of average size, and at long distance.
By Friday afternoon I decided I was going to hike into the spot where I had seen the bigger bear from on my first day afield. I loaded up my pack and made my way 9 miles over roads that were covered in 2-3′ of snow so that I could spend the night on the edge of a melted off south facing slope. The hike in was fairly straight forward. A decent amount of the snow pack was frozen making life a lot easier, and after a few hours I reached my intended spot. Within a few hours that evening I turned up 5 bears, and had a couple walk by within 100 yards of me, but I just couldn’t seem to relocate the big boar.
After finding a spring on the sideslope, and locating a bench in the timber that was semi-flat, or at least flatter than everything around it, I rolled out my sleeping bag and tarp and called it a night. The next morning was fairly slow, and I then proceeded to hike back to the truck as I had some work I needed to do on Sunday. Unfortunately during my short 24 hour trip, the snow pack had softened significantly though, and I spent the majority of the 9 miles back sinking in snow to between my knees and my waist. The hike was painstaking, but eventually I made it with soaked feet, sun blinded eyes, and tired legs.
After my long snow walk, I decided I would wait a week or so to open up some more country before really hitting things hard again. By this point the big bear had moved off the open slope and up into pocket meadows buried in thick timber. I had found some sign of this on my overnighter but I just wasn’t able to bump into the bear in person.
Fast forward a week and I again spent a few days hiking and glassing. I would spend any evening I could working finger ridges up and down to glass effectively what was beside and below me, and then returning to the main ridge to repeat the process. I saw bears every night, but most all of them were young bears, with the occasional average 200lb type bear. I repeated this for a few evenings over the next week, and kept buying my time. I really had no rush as the bear season in Oregon is 6 weeks, and I had only used about half of it thus far.
That brings us to Friday, May 11. I drove as far as I could until I hit the snowline once again, and then I put my pack on and headed out with enough gear for two nights. I kept my pack light, at around 18-20 lbs so that I could move freely for the next couple days and not worry about being bogged down. I hiked over a mile or so of snow, and then the road continued downhill and eventually cleared up which made walking easy. After about 4 miles, I finally peeled off on a ridgeline and headed cross country for another 1.5-2 miles to reach a spot I had found on a map. To me it looked like the perfect vantage to pick apart the surrounding canyon which had the feeling of an amphitheater.
I reached my intended spot at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and I sat down to glass and eat a snack. After grabbing some food I popped up my tripod and binoculars and started to settle in for the next 6 or 7 hours before dark. Within 10 minutes I spotted my first bear of the day.
I watched closely as I ate. The bear was slow and methodical as he walked, which is something I look for in determining the age of a bear. An old bear has a very different demeanor than a young bear. I decided I though this bear was old. Another 15 minutes went by and he came all the way out of the brush into the open and I could see it was clearly a boar. His front legs were thick, and his chest was large. For the remainder of the next hour I watched this bear feed across 3 draws and into a tightly tucked draw where he fed for about 30 minutes before moving into the brush and out of sight.
This is happening about a mile in front of me, and across a canyon between myself and the bear that spans a elevation loss of about 2500 feet. I was debating on whether this bear would stay still or not for a play, and then he made up my mind for me. After being in the brush for 30 minutes, I saw him briefly come back out of the tree line and then go right back in. It seemed now was as good of a time as ever to try to make my first play of the season, on my 10th day of hunting.
With the wind direction I decided I would have to go around the top of the canyon even though the distance was much longer. It turned the approach into roughly a 3 mile move for me. I quickly packed up my things and went on my way. An hour of hiking at a good pace put me above the bear, and to the south of him on a north facing slope that was adjacent to where I had last seen him feeding.
I spent the next hour slowly working and still hunting my way down, keeping watch of both the area below me where the bear could be bedded up in the timber, and the area across from me where he had been feeding. A large majority of the time, the south facing slope was obscured from view as I couldn’t see out of the thick conifers I was picking my way through. (As a side note, I know a lot of people hate to still hunt like this, but I find it very effective and enjoyable once I’ve spotted an animal in the immediate area.) At about the one hour mark, I picked up a movement of the bears head as he was feeding through a brushy patch of alder.
I sat down and pulled out my rangefinder and read the distance. It came back with 140 yards, and a downhill angle of 39 degrees. Did I mention this country is steep? 39 degrees was an angle across the draw and at least 100 yards or more up from the creek bottom. The slope I was standing on was approaching 50 degrees, with several cliffs ranging from 5-30 feet in height. I took my pack off, placed it between my feet, and rested my rifle on the top of the pack frame. It took him a good 5-10 minutes before I could see a small window in the alders to shoot through, but eventually the shot presented as a quartering to angle. The bullet entered between his neck and shoulder and never exited. Within 5-10 seconds the bear had expired, and I could see where he now laid.
After about 30 minutes of navigating cliffs, and improvising a small rappelling system with some vine maple to get down the last cliff I made my way over to the downed bear. I spent a good portion of the remaining daylight skinning the hide, and boning the meat, and then proceeded to pack one load up hill to the road I had walked in on. By the time I got to the top and set up camp it was dark. I ate a meal, pitched my tarp and went to bed.
The next morning I was back up at 5:30 when I returned to grab the rest of the bear and move that load to the top of the canyon as well. I packed up my camp once I got the second load out, and stashed the bear in the snow with the plans of driving 3 hours around to get my truck to the other side of the 1 mile snowdrift I could not drive across. Luckily for me, I got some help from two guys in a Jeep that is much more snow capable than my dodge 2500, and they were able to move me and my bear the rest of the distance back to my pickup, for which I gladly gave a set of 6 point elk antlers I had found a couple weeks before.