Sunday, April 12, 2009

First Handgun Black bear

I am by no means an expert bear hunter. So far I have only taken three black bear over bait with a handgun in the state of Maine. I remember the first time I went black bear hunting in the Pine Tree State. A friend of the family had been going to the Grand Lake Stream area of Maine to hunt with Master Guide Dave Tobey. One year Paul had invited me to go on a hunt during the first week. He knew that I would really enjoy that type of hunt and it would be a great opportunity to get a nice black bear.

I drove north to Grand Lake Stream and found Dave's home. Dave is a very quiet and sociable person. He is very good at what he does and we soon began to discuss what to do and what not to do. My main hunting gun would be the Thompson Center Contender with the Super 16 45-70 barrel attached to the frame. So far this barrel has become my favorite. I have taken deer and wild boar with this barrel with the possibility of taking a nice black bear with it. As a rule I hand load all of my ammunition but for this hunt I had used Federal factory ammunition. A 300 grain hollow point load that shot well out of my gun.
I learned a great deal about black bears while hunting that first year. Black bears have poor eyesight. This is more than compensated by their nose and hearing. They have padded feet thus they can shuffle through the woods rather silently. To go with the scent issue I made sure that my hunting clothes were as scent free as possible. I washed daily before the afternoon hunt in scent free soap and used scent killer spray. I did not use any bug repellent but covered my face with a thin layer of Vaseline. One of the dreaded creatures of the North woods is a gnat called the no see um. This minuscule virago is able to penetrate head nets and will leave a burning welt on your skin the size of a dime. Just thinking about them made me scratch my head. Another thing I learned is that when I went to the bait site I asked the guides assistant to walk me to the stand. You see the bear has learned that the baiter's scent means food. If I stepped in the same footsteps as the assistant then that would minimize the contact with the bait area . One of Dave's assistants is a member of the Passamaquoddy Nation in eastern Maine. As a rule, Curt did not speak much. He tended to keep his own counsel and I was told he didn't like too many people. For some reason, we hit it off.
The first night was spent on a bait site next to the tribal lands. It was quintessential Down east Maine woodlands. A bit of a mixed hardwoods but mostly softwoods consisting of spruce, hemlock and balsam. As I sat still as a statue I spotted something. Sure enough, it was a black bear. I didn't know what to make of it but the bear stood broadside to me about twenty yards away. I could have made an easy shot with the Contender but for some reason I didn't want to take the first thing I saw. Soon the bear ambled off without a clue that I was perched above him.After a while the sun began to set in the western sky. At dusk I saw two shapes. One large, the other rather small. It was a sow and her cub. I knew that in Maine it would be legal to take the bear but I don't want to leave an orphan. That cub would not survive and the next day I would find out more about bears and their behavior. That night I was excited about telling all the other hunters in camp of what I had witnessed. Dave agreed that the bear would show up again so I hunted the next day at the same site.
I was escorted by Curt to the site and climbed into the stand. As I sat there I contemplated many things. I think all hunters become very introspective. One of the joys of hunting is the solitude that one can obtain. I have commented that at times I feel closer to God in a tree stand or mountain top than in a Church. I know that may sound sacrilegious but I am sure others have had the same feeling. I am surrounded by the wonders of Creation.
Towards the afternoon I spotted the mother bear and her cub. They came out earlier. The cub would bobble through the woodlands following and staying close to her side. The little guy was a sight to behold. Then all of a sudden, the mother made a sound."Whoof." The little cub ran up a tree next to me. He was at eye level about ten feet away. At that instant the mother took off in a beeline. She moved so fast that there was a cloud of leaves and other forest detritus behind her as she took off. Then she ambled back. Soon she repeated that behavior again. She took off after something. I was looking around and still saw the little cub in the tree next to me. He seemed somewhat concerned and had a look of fear and confusion in his little black eyes. I peered off to the southeast and saw another bear. It was the bear I saw yesterday at about 4:00PM . It was a male bear of about two hundred pounds or so. One fact of bear biology and behavior is that male bears can be cannibalistic. They will kill and eat a cub so they can mate with the female again. I know it is harsh but that is the way nature works at times. I feel blessed in having witnessed such a show in nature. Many people go through their lives without seeing the workings of nature . Many get their natural experiences from a visit to the zoo or a nature program on television. That cannot compare to the real thing.
The next night was rather uneventful. It became hot and humid for that time of year. I was in another stand. I told Dave that I don't want to hunt in that spot. I can't tell the difference between the male and female and I will not shoot a bear with a cub. Self defense would be the exception. I think that impressed Dave and he put me on another stand that was close to the New Brunswick border.
That Thursday evening I went out with Curt and he dropped me off at this level site. The woodlands were very thick and near a stream shadowed by tall spruce and hemlock. I was facing west towards a bait in a small clearing. I climbed the wooden stand and sat still. I don't know how long it was but after a while I spotted a black bear. It was alone and there was nothing with it. I learned that a female with a cub will usually stick very close together. The little fur balls will be within twenty feet of their mother. This bear was alone and after several minutes had moved towards the bait. I raised the TC Contender and centered the cross hairs of the Burris 2x on the shoulder area. I slowly squeezed the trigger. It is hard to believe but time slows down when you take the shot. I could see the bear through the cross hairs as the shot went off . She dropped in her tracks. The Federal 300 grain hollow point did the job. I learned it was a dry female a few years old. She did not have a cub with her and there was evidence she was not nursing. I felt elated at my first bear. I attached my tag and then put a sprig of balsam in her mouth. I remember as a child listening to my father's friend who had hunted in Germany. He talked of the traditions that were ingrained in the hunting culture of that nation. One such was the last bite. A branch is placed in the mouth of a game animal taken and one would then sit and contemplate the life of that animal. It has always been a time for prayer. Whenever I had taken an animal I would say a short prayer of thanks. I waited until night fall and soon spotted the headlights of the Toyota pick up truck that Curt drove. He congratulated me on my first bear and we spoke of hunting and the traditions associated with it. He said that following his people's tradition he would burn some sweet grass or a smudge. I believe that there is a connection between hunters that transcends most other bonds.
At camp we skinned out the bear. We had weighed it at the check station and it went at 140 lbs. That is the average Maine black bear as far as weight is concerned. I was very happy and elated at the first bear. When I arrived home I made arrangements to have the head mounted. As I sit here there is a reminder of that first bear hunt in Maine in the den. This would not be my last trip to Maine for bear. The following year I would take my largest bear of my life , but that is another story.

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