Bearing Strong Feelings
Decades of dreaming end emotionally with bucket-list bear
NORTHERN SASKETCHEWAN, Canada -- There’s an unofficial, official rule in North Saskatchewan: There is no crying in bear hunting.
As a 51-year old, seasoned hunter I was grappling with that rule during the second night of my black bear hunt in the Boreal Forest.
The night before, I had just watched a potential Pope and Young black bear come into range, bluff charge the treestand I was sharing with Pat and Nicole Reeve, move away and then walk up a 45-degree angle pine tree laying in front of me before I spooked it, forcing it to hop down from his perch and move off.
Click the image to view photos from Timberclaw hunts.
In all that time, I could never get a shot I was comfortable with taking. That should be amended to say, I had plenty of opportunities early, but this was a hunt that needed plenty of video before the shot was taken. Within the first half of the bruin’s appearance, it provided at least a half dozen clean shots. The second half, though, was a different story.
Understand I don’t get sentimental over not bringing home the protein on most hunts. Emotions, though, are an integral part of any hunting scenario. Having reverence and respect for the game you hunt is a vital part of the hunter’s make-up.
You can feel the rush, the adrenaline and excitement. It all eventually centers around something much deeper.
Bears were plentiful but getting a good shot wasn't easy for Bowman.
(Nicole Reeve photo)
A black bear is something I’ve wanted to take for many years. It goes back decades actually.
I live in Arkansas. At the turn of the 20th century, our state was known as the “Bear State.” Back in the early settler days, the bear trade was big business. Some of the towns up and down the White River still carry names from those days. The most notable is Oil Trough, Ark., which was the center of the trade.
It got its name because bear hunters would gather there, pack bear fat into hollowed out logs known as oil troughs and float them down the White River, then to the Mississippi down to New Orleans. That trade though nearly wiped out the bears in my home state, leaving only a small remnant in what would become the White River National Wildlife Refuge.
I grew up loving the folklore of bear hunting in the state, but not ever getting the opportunity to take one. Time moves on, and the stories of close calls and almost good hunts are too numerous to mention. But the desire never left.
Then Pat and Nicole Reeve of “Driven with Pat &Nicole,” entered the picture. OutdoorChannel.com was looking for an opportunity to show a live hunt on this site. The Reeves jumped at the opportunity and after months of preparation, they pulled off the improbable by airing a successful archery bear hunt in Northern Saskatchewan for thousands of viewers.
With that done, it left me perched in a tree with them, trying to get bear on video, with me slinging the arrow this time. That first evening was hard, knowing such a fine animal was there and not bringing it home flooded the brain with yet more close calls and unmet desire.
Nicole takes a selfie of the Live Hunt crew; Steve Bowman and Pat videoing for her hunt.
(Nicole Reeves photo)
The next evening would change that. Timberclaw Outfitters in Northern Saskatchewan operates in one of the most bear-infested regions of North America. Seeing black bear is so common, often we would be climbing into our stands while bear were watching.
This was one of those occasions. We watched bear for four hours move in and around us, often standing below and letting their curiosity of three camouflaged blobs in a tree appear as if they might join us.
“That would be so cool,’’ Nicole Reeve whispered, prompting me to wonder if she was crazy.
None of the bears joined us. God does answer prayers. Despite Nicole’s desire for something cool, I never stopped praying she wouldn’t get her wish.
Click the image to see screen grabs of the webcast.
Then it came time to shoot. Having only hunted whitetails with archery equipment, I never realized how few good shots a bear presents. If you want to dispatch one quickly, a double-lung shot is the only option. Unlike a whitetail, which will stand still for you, a bear seems to be in constant motion. And unlike a whitetail, the shoulder of a bear provides a good shield for those vitals.
Releasing an arrow with the front leg forward and the bear sitting still can be an intense waiting game. One that finally played out, even then I didn’t make the perfect shot. But one good enough to produce the bear rug I had dreamed of since I was a kid.
At that moment, those emotions returned: Emotions only a hunter understands, but stronger than they have been in 35 years since I started bow hunting.
I look back on those moments just a week old now and still feel them. I have a good bear story. A great bear rug. But better, memories of emotions that if they ever leave me, will mean I no longer hunt.