Black Bear QuestPosted on: August 11, 2020 FHMD
Eleven years ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to hunt both black and brown bear in Alaska, and although I didn’t harvest an animal, the thrill and the memories are like yesterday. At the time, I worked as the Women’s Hunting Program Coordinator for the NRA, which provided me many wonderful opportunities; this trip was my introduction to bear hunting!
Once Maryland opened a black bear hunting lottery in 2004. I participated for several years, with no luck, but in 2019 … that changed!
I was thrilled to hunt on property that bordered Savage River State Forest and the habitat was prime. I was hunting with my good buddy, her son (who also had a tag) and my husband. The property was littered with “bear signs” – scarred trees, and piles of dung around every corner.
The first three mornings were grueling – alarm going off at 4:15am, leaving the house by 5a.m. for a 30-minute drive to meet our hunting party and discuss strategies. We all took tree stands within a few hundred yards of one another; the first two days were uneventful.
In preparation for our hunt, we set up a blind knowing there was rain in the forecast as a place to stay dry if the forecast held true. The shelter would certainly be welcomed. On day two, after hours of no bear activity, I left my perch to check on the blind. It was a short hike from where I had been hunting. As I approached the blind it was clear to see a bear had visited it and kindly left claw marks across the top and sides…so much for getting out of rain.
Day three – as expected the weather was poor. It was drizzling and foggy, but that didn’t deter us. I took a different stand that day and my friend and I decided if we weren’t having any luck by late morning, we would meet and hike down to the now ruined blind and pack it out. It was about 11a.m. when we met. We cautiously approached the blind, scanning for bear, but no luck. I unloaded the Nosler 180 grain round from my Marlin .300wsm and we proceeded to take the blind down, stuffing it into two backpacks. I was carrying one pack and my rifle and my friend had the other. We started our hike out.
This was the last day I was available to hunt due to other obligations in the week. I was feeling a bit down when all of a sudden my friend said “BEAR, BEAR!” She pointed to the ridge ahead of us and we both dropped to the ground. I chambered the Nosler and shouldered my rifle, finding the bear approximately 150 yards out for just for a split-second before he spotted us and made a beeline up the mountain…he was gone.
Prior to the sighting, I was contemplating if this would be my last year hunting bear, but after the adrenaline rush of seeing that big bear on the ridge, I had second thoughts; the quest would continue. I was happy we at least saw a bear and had an exciting experience. I packed my gear and drove home feeling grateful for the experience. I always remind myself how hunting is so much more than the taking of an animal. It is the overall experience of being connected to nature and the camaraderie of sharing the experience with others.
Once home I started carrying my gear inside, but my conscience was in overdrive, nagging me because there was still a few hours of light left if I wanted to go out and sit before closing another year on bear hunting. Fifteen minutes later I was in a tree stand that overlooked a marshy area.
I’ve seen several bears from this stand over the years, though all while deer hunting. I was only in my stand 30 minutes before I heard some rustling to my right; there he was, heading in my direction. I shouldered my rifle and waited for him to stop to make a clean shot. Finally he stopped, but behind a tree that covered all his vitals! He started moving again so I called out to him; he responded but, he’s now less than 60 yards from me with only his head and neck exposed.
As soon as he took his first stride, I took my shot. It was better than I could have hoped and he dropped where he stood. The realization of taking this beautiful animal was overwhelming. I was thrilled and nervous at the same time. It’s funny how emotions can be absent when focusing on the hunt and then surface, sometimes uncontrollably, when you harvest an animal; this was one of those moments.
I gave thanks and sat there a few moments before calling my hunt party. The realization of the scope of work ahead of me was now present and overwhelming. The weather was warm and, thus, time was not in my favor if I wanted to preserve the meat. I field dressed the bear and, thankfully, we had a side-by-side equipped with a winch that aided us in getting the bear out of the woods. Once loaded, I placed frozen water jugs in the cavity to cool the bear. We then drove to the check-in station at Mount Nebo Wildlife Management Area in Garrett County. The bruin’s estimated live weight was 267lbs. We had the bear at the processor within four hours of the harvest. The hunt was now complete, the harvest fully secured and there would be plenty of meat to share with family and friends. The years of waiting, the lack of sleep, the pre-hunt preparedness, it was so worth the final outcome – success!
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