And the Bears Laughed

Stupid Bears. On second thought, since I had spent so many hours this year hunting bears who clearly had me patterned better than I had them, I'm probably the dumb one for hanging in there after getting skunked for so long. I hate to lose. When I want something, I intensely pursue it, using every ounce of brain matter I can muster. With each defeat, I pop back up swinging with a repertoire of new strategies, together with a renewed attitude. It's a good thing I'm undaunted by failure or Id be a nut case. It had become evident that the rascally bears had won again.

I am sitting here in a ground blind, typing on my laptop on this penultimate day of Minnesota bear hunting season. It rained all day for baiting, moving stands and working around camp, and only let up when I got settled in my blind. This ground blind is the last in a series of tactics I've tried to outwit bruins who seem to be more clever than I am. Besides the ground blind, I brought both my rifle and my bow, and I'm hunting over a "dummy bait". This wee bait is the haute cuisine of what I know these bears like, with barbeque beef, venison, a mallard, hot dogs, butter, honey & breads The dummy bait is 100 yards from my main bait and situated on the bears approach trail. My Mom, always the biggest fan of my critter hunting, sent along a concoction of grease and ham drippings which burns in the distance. I did a bacon honey burn while setting up the baits and blind, as a dinner bell to announce the chow, since its been four days since I was able to hunt last. I think I've become the worlds first bear hunting expert who never actually killed a bear. I certainly must be the most tenacious and creative bear hunter. I'm secretly thinking I might even be the stupidest for continuing on with what seems to have become a comically hopeless mission. Besides being a great wind block, the ground blind allows me to move around without being detected. The version I have is one of those "up in five seconds" jobbies, but the manufacturer could give warning that the blind snaps open and startles the new user like one of those spring snakes in a can. A brisk wind can send them flying too, with the hapless hunter giving chase, tripping over logs and briars to catch the blind before it launches like a camo weather balloon. And best not to use the three legged stool that comes with the blind unless you like tipping over and getting folded up in the thing. Besides a deer snorting at the sudden appearance of my camo teepee, the woods was again devoid of bears tonight. Tomorrow there is snow in the forecast.

Baiting began August 10th and tomorrow, October 14th, the season closes and with it I will have logged over 150 hours of stand time. Perhaps I should have quit long ago, when the reality of nocturnal bears was a certainty. However, I have a couple of very large bears on my infrared camera and just knowing they were there spurred me on. Also, were back to that "hate to lose" thing again.

The nearly two months of bear hunting in Minnesota cover an amazing span of climatic conditions. Baiting begins at the hottest time of year, our dog days of August. The woods is lush and thick, tropical, mosquito infested, and very green. Staying scent free is a challenge but it is easy for a hunter to disappear into the landscape of a thick woods. By Labor Day, summer screeches to an abrupt halt and the chill of Fall snaps at our fingers and toes while on stand. By October, the trees have shed their leaves and the forest takes on that stark pre-winter look that makes tree stand and hunter stick out like a sore thumb.

This year I figured I did everything right and hence felt confident I would shoot a bear for sure. After all, last year I did everything wrong and saw a bear the second week. Talent and ingenuity are great, but if the bear isn't there, you can't kill it. This year, I did bacon burns, honey burns, and burns of various other concoctions. I tried no burns, thinking the bears associated burns with my presence. I hung small scent rags with various bear and deer lures. I hung deer sausage from the trees. I used a radio or one of my stinky t-shirts at night to tempt the bears to come out during the day. I tried every combination of molasses, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, restaurant grease, powdered sugar, fruit loops, gummy bears, red licorice, anise, vanilla, liquid smoke, pastries, donuts, bread, donut holes, watermelon, canned apples, my homemade applesauce, tomatoes from my garden, venison and mallards from last years hunts, scrap from my deer kills this year, french fries, corn on the cob, soy sauce, bacon, dog food and beggin strips, peanut butter... and that's all I can remember off the top of my head. I tried moving the bait, moving my stand three times, and making a portable bait crib out of logs. I tried the two man fake where someone dropped me at my bait and drove back to camp on my ATV. I tried hunting from early, mid and late afternoon, always staying until I could not see to shoot. I used scent free shampoo, body wash, clothing and rubber boots. I tried fox urine on the boots. I tried leafy wear and various other camo patterns. I always tried to enter and exit my stand in silence so they would not detect me.

Week two was perfect. I hunted alone one day and it was a perfect day. I was perfectly organized, perfectly scent free, perfectly silent sneaking to my stand and climbing my tree, perfectly motionless, remembered all my gear, perfect grease burn, perfect bait pit. Perfect weather, perfectly silent dusk where bears will sometimes break their nocturnal tendencies and creep out for some chow before last legal shooting light. The only thing that wasn't perfect was my aching posterior after sitting for six hours on a left butt cheek muscle that got badly bruised when I took a pratfall the day before. When I could no longer see the pin sights on my bow, I perfectly executed the switch to my rifle with its light gathering Leupold scope... all without a sound. So much perfection, I thought as I walked back to camp twenty minutes later in the pitch dark after seeing neither hide nor hair of a perfect bear. I left a radio at the bait pit, as I did at my second pit, to spook the critters away from their midnight binging. Either these bears are really smart or I just am one clueless broad thinking that all my ursine psychology is anything more than a sheer stupid luck game, even when you DO actually have everything go perfectly.

On week three of hunting, and after baiting four days before, I anxiously wheeled my ATV up the muddy north trail to my bear bait site while the diminishing rain pattered on my hat brim and yellow rain suit. As expected, the logs over my bait pit were strewn about like tinker toys and several inches of water stood in two foot deep hole. I shoveled out the water, replaced the bait platform, and filled the hole with donuts and sweets. Replacing the logs was precarious in the mud, but once done I decided to trace the bears approach trail in hopes of locating another stand near his staging area. After twenty paces, I heard a low sustained guttural growl 30 yards ahead in the thick swampy cover. I stopped in my tracks, my hair standing on end as I stifled the urge to wet my pants. I had no gun, no knife...what was I thinking? I have no fear in the woods, but realized I had been just plain stupid to not know that this bear had claimed ownership of my bait pit and would certainly be bedded nearby. I backed away slowly, did a hasty about face and tried to walk normally back to my ATV. In my mind, I wanted to run like one of those cartoon characters with the whirling legs. Beads of sweat began to form on my neck, and once aboard my ATV, I hauled back to camp to get ready for the afternoon hunt. My rifle looked much more comforting than my compound bow after getting growled at by my intended prey. The rain picked up again, so I donned rain gear and began my 1/4 mile stealth approach to my stand. The final 200 yards took me 15 minutes to traverse in absolute silence. Once settled in my tree, the rain became torrential. There is something strangely comforting and peaceful about sitting in a tree stand in pouring rain. The rain let up and gave way to a few rays of sunlight and hoards of voracious mosquitoes. As the woods grew dark, I called it a day and walked without a flashlight back to camp. I imagined at one point that my bear was following me, so took the safety off my rifle and poised the firearm for a quick dispatch if the need arose.

Hunting continued into weeks four, five and six. But you know, when those big old bears are nocturnal, its darn near impossible to coax them into coming out during the day. I am the poster child for that fact, and I have the healthiest well-fed bears in Kanebec County to prove it. They had me pegged and would stage in the swamp and wait for me to leave. I had become a zookeeper.

"Duck down boys, there she goes again, ... lets see if we cant get her trail timer to record our arrival ONE minute after she leaves this time. And tomorrow, let's send our pal Skunky out right when it's just about dark. That gets her goin'! Heh heh heh. Did you see how I chewed up her fancy infrared camera last week? Gee, I feel a long winters nap coming on."

And the bears laughed.
© October 2001