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>> Memorial Day Surprise :: By J. Marshall Stanton on 2002-06-06
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It had been one of those really hectic years. Winter seemed to hold on forever, until spring had nearly vanished and summer was upon us. Memorial day weekend came with me working through Saturday evening, so my traditional Memorial Day bear camp didn’t materialize. My wife worked Sunday afternoon, and that left me to tend our (then small) kids and again, no hunting trip on the horizon. Monday was to be a repeat, with her working evening shift, and having to leave home about one in the afternoon.

Well, I awoke about three fifteen on Monday morning, and was wide awake, with all the family very much asleep. I purposed in my mind to make the most of the hours available to me, and make one last trip into the bear woods to look for a critter. Actually, I wanted more than anything, some time away from the house, alone. My wife asked what I was doing getting dressed at the insane hour of three in the morning, and I told her I was going bear hunting for a few hours. All she said was be back before noon.

I filled my battered old stainless steel thermos bottle with hot black coffee, grabbed a couple of blueberry bagles out of the fridge, a baggie full of peanuts and an orange, my binoculars, a half box of shells, and my battered and well used receiver sighted Springfield ’06, and was gone. A quick stop at the gas station an I was on my way out of town.

My first choice to look for a bear was to go up a network of roads that originated about nine miles north of Priest River, Idaho. When I arrived at the turn-off for the Quartz Mountain Road, there were at least four ATV’s unloading from both a pickup and trailer, yet still in the dark. I decided that I didn’t want to be hunting around a bunch of noisy two-stroke motorbikes so I opted to proceed to choice number two.

Another five miles up the highway I turned off the road to the east, and low and behold, two pickups, both with trailers unloading dirt bikes and four-wheelers! Again, a prime hunting area runs amuck with two-stroke recreational vehicles. I should have expected such on Memorial Day weekend.

I proceeded up the highway for another five miles or so, to a place that I enjoy hunting, and a network of logging roads that reaches west, and north, straddling the Idaho-Washington state line. I crossed the familiar pasture, then the creek, and headed on up into the timber. When at the first split of the road, here sat an SUV with a trailer, and two pickups all three vehicles unloading dirt-bikes and ATV’s. I was out of ideas, out of patience, and burning daylight. I decided to ask the folks I encountered which way they were headed, and I would go the opposite direction. They indicated that they were going north, and eventually into Washington state where they would rendezvous with friends for a picnic. I explained my intentions, and that more than anything I really just wanted to be alone in the woods, with half a chance of finding a bear. They assured me that if I went to the south, that I wouldn’t be seeing or hearing them all day.

So, off to the south I headed, happy and content that they had been so cordial, and considerate, and that while the morning was still young, I had an excellent opportunity to see a bear before it got really hot in the afternoon sun. I’d scarcely gone a half a mile past the juncture where I talked with the ATV enthusiasts, and I came to another fork in the road, and a huge clear-cut that had been logged over about five years earlier. Since it was on a north facing slope, the ferns and grasses were just now really coming into their own, and the bright green foliage contrasted sharply with the burned-out stumps and snags left over from the logging operation. I parked my Suburban off the side of the road, and grabbed both my rifle and binoculars and strolled over to a big cedar log about two hundred yards away, and sat down.

The log rested at the bottom of the north-facing slope, about dead center in the length of the skid-trail separating this clear-cut from the heavy cedar and fir timber below. I had sat down just momentarily, when I realized that I had forgotten the most important part of all, when watching a unit for a bear. I forgot my coffee thermos and cup!
As I contemplated whether to go get the thermos out of the rig then, or wait a while, I heard a strange sound, almost like a bawling, babbling sound. I looked to the east, along the skid trail, and there at the far corner of the clear-cut tramped a large whitetail doe. She would stamp back and forth just a little ways, and then bawl out with a mournful call. I’ve heard whitetails in the past, and since, but I’ve never quite heard a deer make such a dreadful, sorrowful type of commotion.

I watched her attentively, until movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. A stump moved! I slowly turned my head, and there, about two-thirds the way up this slope, nearly in the center of the clear-cut I could make out the front shoulders of a bear. The bear moved back and forth, intently foraging on something hidden from my view by the lush grass, and knee high ferns. I watched the bear for nearly twenty minutes as it was oblivious to my presence, and intent on it’s feeding. I kept a close eye for any tag-alongs, as this area harbors many sows with cubs in the spring and early summer months. No cubs showed, and I decided that since season ended the first of June, that I would take this bear.

When I shifted my legs around just slightly, that I might shoot across my knees for a rest, with my back supported by the cedar log, I caught the attention of the bear. He looked at me for just a moment, then made a quick shuffle up the slope another fifty feet or so, and stopped next to a distinctive cat-faced snag, where he stopped, and once again looked me over, trying to determine what I was in his woods. There wasn’t a puff of a breeze, and as I looked through the old Redfield receiver sight, that bear looked mighty small against the front bead of that Springfield rifle. I thought hard and tried to estimate the distance, based on the relative size of the stumps around me, compared with the appearance of similar stumps where the bear was stopped, looking at me. It was a long ways, a very long ways for a shot with iron sights.

As I began taking up the slack in the two-stage trigger, I heard the mournful bawl of the whitetail doe once again from my left, and caught movement in my peripheral vision as she paced back and forth in the corner of the clear-cut. The bear seemed uneasy, and anxious as the final slack came out of the trigger, and I reconfirmed the front sight holding steady at the very top of his shoulders. While the rifle recoiled against my shoulder, and the resounding echo of an ’06 reverberated through the finger canyons above me, I observed my bear disappear into the ferns and horse-tails. I racked another round into the rifle’s chamber, and renewed my rest, looking for signs of life at the base of the burnt-out snag. Sure enough, there was a head stretched forward, enough that I could see from just behind the ears forward, and once again the canyon echoed as another 180 grain bullet found it’s mark.

I was by myself, and the clear-cut was large, and all looked the same, with knee high and taller ferns and grass gleaming bright green in the morning sun, punctuated with charcoaled stumps that all blended together. However, I had my landmark, that cat-faced snag was unique to the entire hillside, so off I hiked, up the slope towards the last place I’d seen the bear. As I neared the general area, I came across a well-used game trail heading directly towards my destination, and I followed it. The whole while after my shots, that confounded doe kept up her mournful vigil, calling, bleating and bawling at regular intervals, as she paced back and forth at the base of the slope, in a corner of the clear-cut. I thought it such an odd spectacle, and stranger still that she hung around after touching off two rounds of .30-06 ammo, while being only about a hundred and fifty yards from her.

Hiking up the game trail, I became perplexed. Here I was still some fifty feet from the burnt-out snag that was my landmark, yet the grass was matted down in an area about twelve feet in diameter, and blood covered the trampled grass and ferns. I knew that I hadn’t shot the bear there, as he was still another fifty feet up the slope, at the base of the snag, yet here was lots of blood, and a trampled area of some significance. I stopped just a moment and scratched my head to evaluate the situation. Well, not wanting to waste any more time, I continued up to the place where I had last seen the bear, and sure enough, there he lay just where I expected to find him, and quite expired. One round centered through the shoulders and spine, the other neatly at the base of the skull where the neck and head join. (a sheer piece of luck to be sure).
After confirming my bear’s disposition, I returned to where I found the blood, with a whole host of scenarios running through my mind. Upon examination, I found a small patch of light brown hide, with delicate cream-colored spots on it in the patch of matted grass. Amongst the smears of blood were tiny bone shards from shattered and chewed young bones, and tufts of light brown hair clinging to the wet grass and ferns here and there. Only then did two and two make four in my deductive reasoning.

The bear that was so intently feeding while I sat and watched him for twenty minutes, was totally engrossed with the whitetail fawn that he was feasting upon, while the doe that so mournfully bawled in the corner of the clear-cut apparently was lamenting her fawn. It was the first time that I had actually seen a bear eat a fawn, and let me tell you, there was a real feeling of satisfaction when I field dressed that bear, knowing that it was the last fawn he would kill.

I didn’t even think about the size of the bear, or the chore of getting him to the vehicle, until I had finished gutting him out. Any direction I went out of that clear-cut, I had about a quarter of a mile of logs, logging slash and obstacles to drag that bruin over. Too, it wasn’t an altogether small bear, weighing somewhere around 275 pounds. About the time I was looking for the most effective way out of the situation, I heard one of the ATV’s I’d tried so hard to avoid all morning. Here he came, up the road, past my parked Suburban, and on up a skid-trail bordering the west side of this clear-cut until he was roughly at the same level as I on the slope. He then shut down his four-wheeler so I could hear him, and he asked me if I could use some help! He had lagged behind his partners for a time, waiting for yet another part of their party to arrive, when he heard my two shots ring out, and wondered, if me being by myself could use a hand.

With the help of this young man, my bear was loaded into the back of the Suburban in short order! Was I glad for some assistance. Then we made some conversation, shared some coffee, and he looked at my old battered Springfield, and asked if that was the gun that had done the deed. I affirmed that it was, and that I really would have brought something else with me that morning had I even thought that I’d have the opportunity that had presented itself.

He asked where I was when I shot the bear, and I pointed out the big cedar log at the bottom of the slope sitting along the skid-trail parallel to the timber below. He whistled softly, and then said he’d be right back. He jumped on his four-wheeler, and zipped down to the log where he stopped, and pulled something from the box on the back of his ATV. Soon he returned where I was standing next to the Suburban, and he explained that he had just used his laser rangefinder from where I was sitting at the log, to the burnt-out stump where he had helped me drag the bear from where it had been shot. He looked at me a little funny, and said 383 yards… three times! He hadn’t believed the first reading, so remeasured the distance twice more for confirmation. It gave me a new respect for my old Springfield. That old rifle has accounted for lots of game, being a “pickup” gun for many years, but this was my longest shot with the rifle.

Arriving home, I looked at my watch, and it read 7:43 a.m. and all was quiet, and the drapes were still closed. I went into the house, made another pot of coffee, and went into the bedroom to talk with my wife. She said, “ I thought you were going bear hunting this morning.”

“I did,” I replied, “the bear’s in the back of the Suburban!”

“Yeah, right!”, she said, “Why don’t you go make us all breakfast?”

So, I did go make breakfast for everyone after changing my clothes, and it wasn’t until after we’d eaten that anyone took me seriously, that indeed a bear was in the back of the Suburban, and I really had gone hunting that morning!


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