Alone and on Target

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There are few things more thrilling than having a bear walk in on your bait while bear hunting. Unless that is, you are alone and your nearest back-up over an hour away at best. Hunting alone adds a whole new dimension to things. It is dangerous, you have no one to rely on, and no one to back you up. In a way it is the closest to nature you can get, it’s simply you vs. whatever is coming your way. Now before you go lecturing me like my mother, you need to understand I’m not your typical girl. Personally, I’d rather be sitting in a bear stand alone than be strolling around the crowded mall with a group of people. I’ve never really done things the traditional way and my parents brought me up to believe that being a girl is not a limitation in life. On top of that I’m stubborn as hell (something I rarely admit), I do things my own way and I often get tunnel vision when I get a “good” idea into my head. So far this stubborn streak has produced some good results in regards to hunting. This hunt, thankfully, was not an exception.
Returning home for the summer during my break from grad school, my boyfriend Pete and I decided to start abear bait station. I don’t get many opportunities to hunt down in the states due to state regulations, crowded conditions, and school demands. That being said, I try to take advantage of my surroundings when I am home, hunting and fishing as much as possible while I’m here. After weeks of baiting, Pete and I had a single, mid-sized black bear regularly hitting our stand usually around 7 am and 9 pm, but occasionally at 3 pm. Trying to balance work schedules and other commitments with this particular bear’s odd timing was difficult. After weeks of being slightly “off” on our timing, I had become consumed by hunting this bear. All I wanted to do was go sit watch in the stand. We’d wake up at 4 am and sit as long as Pete could stay and then return late in the evening after work and sit until the wee hours. After days of this we were both feeling a bit discouraged. To add insult to injury, on solstice morning, Pete and I went to sit on the stand hoping the bear would show up. Rather than finding success, we found a blood trail leading down the path from another known bait station. Dismayed, thinking the other hunters had gotten to our bear first, I was set back and decided to take a couple days off.
THE DAY OF
I woke up Monday morning and had a gut feeling that I should go and check the stand. I convinced my friend Melissa to accompany me so we could catch up and get out of town for a bit. Melissa, a hunter herself, and a lifelong friend is someone I knew would be a good partner to have in this venture. As we stalked through the woods on the trail to the stand, my heart soared when I saw the sticks had been torn from the barrel. I quickly made work of checking the trail camera in hopes of getting a shot of the culprit. A new bear, a larger cinnamon bear, had staked its claim on the barrel and had just hit a couple hours prior to us being there. Scrolling through the pictures it appeared that the bear had scented our barrel and had been stopping by for a snack every 4-8 hours since. Sure enough my hunch had paid off and my obsession was renewed.
Regretting not bringing anything but my gun to the site, I decided to retrieve the tools and supplies I needed, and come back in a couple hours. I hoped that Pete would be off work in time to join me, but I was dead set on going regardless of whether or not he was able to come. If the bear continued to hit as regularly as the camera projected, I estimated he would return around 8pm that evening. Though I hoped he would return on time, I was committed to staying until the early morning hours if it meant finally finding success. I informed my concerned parents and boyfriend of my plan and set back off into the woods.
THE KILL
I rushed back up the trail, hoping to get in good position before the bear returned. Much to my relief, nothing had hit during my time away so I was still in the window of his return. After pouring the last of some leftover baked beans on and in front of the barrel, I positioned myself in the stand just a little bit before 5 pm, and the waiting game began. It was a pleasant evening, not too hot, and thankfully not raining as it had been for the past few days. There was a slight, charitable breeze blowing my scent up hill, away from the bear’s game trail.
A little after 7, I heard the scuffling of leaves coming from down the hill. At first I wrote it off as one of the many squirrels in the area, or perhaps the spruce hen I had almost stepped on the day before. The noise persisted and grew louder. My body tensed and heart began to pound. Seconds later, the cinnamon bear stepped in to the clearing about 30 yards in front of the stand. Adrenaline began to pump through my body. Holy crap! Here is my chance. I shouldered my gun, and peered through the scope.
It might be redundant to say that shot placement during a hunt is everything, but in my situation this is exceedingly true. My dad, a true sportsman, has always taught me to be patient with my shot placement. He stresses the animal in front of you is a gift, and proper respect must be paid. A rushed shot can mean losing the opportunity for a successful hunt or worse, injuring the animal and inflicting unnecessary pain. Secondly, unlike a lot of predator hunters, I don’t use a .30-06 or.300 Win. Mag. Rather, I use a 7x57mm Mauser with 140 grain loads. This gun was hand selected for me by my Alaskan “granddad” who was a huge gun collector and unarguably one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. He told me with dedication, practice, and faith he believed I could take down any big game animal with this gun and if anyone doubted me to tell them to look up a gentleman named W.D.M.Bell.He passed a couple years back and each time I go hunting with this gun I feel a connection with him.
Patiently I waited, praying the bear would step into a better position. Unaware of my presence, and clearly comfortable with the bait, he took his time settling in. He spent what felt like hours swatting at a few mosquitoes and climbing a tree to swat at our trail camera. I grew nervous I was not only going to lose my shot at this guy but also our $300 camera investment. Luckily the bear’s attention was quickly diverted by the scent of the latest treat I had left him. He slunk down the tree and plodded over towards the source of the scent. He did exactly as I hoped and began to lick the beans I had poured on the ground in front of the barrel. Here was the shot I had been waiting for! I placed the crosshairs squarely behind his right shoulder, low in his chest. Fighting the adrenaline, I steadied myself, took one final breath in, and squeezed off a shot. The shot pierced the air and the seconds that followed played out like a movie.
The bear took off in a dead run: Dammit! I missed! How could I have missed?! He ran about 20 yards into a thicket of alders and took a barrel roll down the hill. After the bear hit the ground, he let out a couple heart-wrenching cries and then the forest fell silent again. Thankful his suffering was minimal, my heart still pounding, I relaxed slightly. Adrenaline still pumping, head spinning with a mix of joy, pride, and gratitude I began to collect myself. It wasn’t really until that moment that I realized exactly how alone I was. I forced myself to wait about 10 minutes to ensure that the bear was in fact dead. I climbed down the tree, rifle in hand, ready for what lie ahead. Slowly I walked over to where I could just barely make out the figure of the bear. I decided it would be best to hike out, retrieve the four-wheeler from where I had stashed it, and call my dad and boyfriend to let them know about my success in case I needed back-up. By the time I returned with the four-wheeler it had been about half an hour since the bear had gone down, but it didn’t make it any less scary approaching the animal. I grabbed my 12 gauge shotgun from the stand thinking it would be better in this close range. Cautiously I approached the bear. Within a few feet of the animal, it was clear he had passed. Feeling a connection with the animal, as cheesy as it is, in that moment I knelt down and took a moment to thank the bear for its life and its sacrifice to my freezer.
My plan to get the bear out was pretty simple. I thought by using enough leverage coupled with my limited strength that I could load the bear on to the four-wheeler and ride it out to the truck. I was a little concerned with the dense brush around me and didn’t want to have another black bear, or worse a grizzly, sneak up on me attracted by the smells of fresh blood and the gutting of the bear. Even though I was certain the bear was dead, I was still nervous as I attempted to pull the bear onto the four-wheeler. It’s not that often you find yourself so close to something that could kill you so easily. After a few tries, it quickly became apparent that despite my best efforts and I was going to need some help. 200+ pounds after all, is a lot of dead weight to try to lift. My boyfriend, Pete had texted me that he was at our parking place so I rode the four-wheeler out to retrieve him. I’ll never forget the look of pride on his face when he saw me riding out of there.

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Upon returning we took some obligatory field pictures (I wish I hadn’t left my rifle in the truck) and proceeded to begin gutting the animal, keeping watch for other predators. Shortly after zipping him open, we heard THUNK THUNK THUNK!!! Another bear was hitting the barrel!! After weeks of not seeing any bears in person, here we were with TWO in one evening! Our heads swimming, we tried to decide what to do next. Since we were going to have two people and a decent sized bear on one four wheeler, in efforts of saving room, I had left my rifle at the truck and kept the shotgun on me. Wanting Pete to have his turn, I handed him the gun and we snuck around the trees, on to the path, to get a better look. There sat a tiny black bear, head fully in the barrel, feasting on our bait.

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He couldn’t have been much older than a couple years, probably recently ditched by his mom. We quickly decided that it would be better if we let him have another growing season, and saved him for next year. Two bears in one night would have been pretty great, but would have been slightly tarnished by the taking of a such a young bear. It was eerie how quickly the second bear had snuck up on us, and even more eerie that he clearly heard and saw us but did not show any fear. We took turns standing guard, completed the gutting process, loaded my bear on to the four-wheeler and were on our way out.
I spent the next couple days butchering and processing the meat into burger, sausage, and snack sticks. I took his hide to our local taxidermist to be properly salted and prepped for tanning. As with most small towns, word has spread quickly about my story.

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For the most part, it’s been fun hearing people’s reactions. Most of the time people are impressed that I got a bear period. After asking to see pictures, they usually ask who I went with, assuming I had a guy setting me up on the bear. When they find out I went solo that’s usually when the conversation goes one of three ways: A. The person is impressed and offers congratulations. B. The person is caught off guard and doesn’t know what to say for a few minutes. Or, C. I get told I am crazy, and I get a lecture on my boldness (or stupidity, depending on how comfortable they are with me). I don’t take the lectures too personally, I know most of their words are in general concern for my safety and are coming from a place of love. Yes I am a girl, and not a lot of people, regardless of sex, go out predator hunting alone. Was it the safest thing to do? Probably not. Would I do it again? Without a doubt in my heart, YES. Timing is everything and I just couldn’t risk missing out on this opportunity. Sometimes you just have to take a risk to get what you want.

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Story by C.M.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dwight Phillips says:

    I know you will be an inspiration to other young people to get out and experience what Alaska has to offer. Not only are you a successful hunter but you are also a fine writer….Well Done Caitie!

    Like

  2. Jane Brewer says:

    Caitie, speaking for myself and your grandpa who is presently on a fishing expedition, “Congratulations!” You do your family proud – not to mention all of us among the female population who admire the courage of your convictions.

    Like

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