The Terror of the Bear!

Some years ago I was hunting over on the east side of the state for mule deer and Elk. We arrived the day before the Elk season started and setup camp. It has been sort of a tradition to have a camp fire to kick off the season and although it is often dryer than I would prefer to have a campfire we’re extra careful to ensure we’re safeguarding the land. Of course as we sat around the fire there were stories of all sorts. Those stories of course included all the near death experiences associated with cougars, snakes and bears oh my. I expect much like fisherman the hunting stories also grow in drama each time they are told so I assumed most of those thrillers were actually totally made up at this point. Well at least that’s what I was telling myself as I packed up for the morning hunt. It was a typical 50 degrees out but soon to be 90 degree day in the desert. I dodged the occasional bovine that was grazing the national forest land as I drove the short two miles to the place where I had planned on hunting.

The east side is an interesting place to hunt, it is relatively wide open and you often get to see a lot of game. More often than not the animals are in an inaccessible places to stalk them or they are a long way away. On this day I hadn’t seen a darned thing and I had logged a lot of miles in search of an elk herd worthy of my time. By worthy what I really mean is any elk any elk at all. As is often the case when you aren’t seeing any game you start to lose focus and my mind started to drift back to the stories of the previous night. Yes I know it is counterproductive to be daydreaming while hunting but such is my typical mental state. I began to wander without much notice of exactly where I was. By the time my mind meandered back to the task at hand I had found myself in the bottom of one of the many heavily brushed draws in the area.

There was a well-worn trail that snaked its way up the bottom of this draw. All along it there were beds and sign that the area had been used. It seemed to me that the logical course of action would be to sneak my way up through the bottom. As I Walked it became clear to me that visibility was not in my favor. I started to get this feeling that something was watching me and to be on guard. I looked down to avoid stepping on a stick and giving away my position. It was then that I heard it. IT was a long and ominous sound that rumble from deep in the throat of the beast. “Eeeeerrrrrr”, I froze terrified of what that horrific sound had meant? I struggle to pinpoint the source of the sound. With laser focus I scanned the brush in front of me. At first I thought that one area was more shaded than the area around it but then I realized it was black fur. Holy crap I’ve walked right up on a bear. The death defying stories of the previous night came flooding in on me with the force of a tidal wave. My pulse quickened and my mouth became dry my body without prompting started pumping an unhealthy dose of adrenalin through my veins. It seemed a near certainty that my life was about to end. At that time I didn’t carry a side arm so I nocked an arrow just to ensure I would have the best chance of protecting myself when the imminent charge happened. I remained motionless hoping that my lack of aggression would lull the beast into losing interest in me and leave in peace. I understand it was a long shot because once a predator has honed in on you it’s very difficult to dissuade them of their dinner. It appeared we were in a Mexican stand-off neither of us moved for a long time.

My experience with bears has been that once they figure out what you are they typically will turn tail and run or if they are startled may charge. But this one seemed to be overly cautious in that he did neither. I felt the breeze hit the back of my neck so I knew he could smell me which made the fact that he didn’t run all the more ominous. There was a partially obstructed trail off to my right, I began to think that my best chance of survival would be to sneak out of that basin and get a shot as the bear broke cover. Three steps into my escape plan I was greeted with yet another verbal response from the massive black bear. The sound was strangely familiar yet odd in that it seemed completely out of place. Growing up on a farm I knew what that sound was but I had never heard a bear make that sound before. It sounded an awful lot like “Moooooooooo” I took one more step towards what I hoped would be safety of open ground and sure enough that massive black bear that was waiting to eat me was actually a big fat Angus cow wanting to know if I had any grain in my backpack. The relief of stress and the shear silliness of the situation took hold and I began to laugh uncontrollably.

The thing is your mind can play a lot of tricks on you. What I was certain was an imminent threat was actually a benign bovine. Imagine trying to explain to the cow’s owner how you had mistook his cow for a bear. The thing is these cases of mistaken identity are not all that uncommon and too often do end in tragedy. That’s why taking the bowhunter education course can not only improve you hunting skills and knowledge but can also be a good reminder to know your target and what lies beyond. Better yet if you are mentoring a new archer there is nothing better than sharing your experiences with certified instructors while making sure that your apprentice is getting a comprehensive overview. Sign up for a Bowhunter education class today, schedules can be found on the WDFW website.