Harvesting a Black Bear – 60 hours, rain, deer, skunks

Harvesting a black bear

It was a long bear season. I spent 60 hours at two sites, in a tree stand and two ground blinds. Steve spent at least that much time baiting; he did the majority of the work while I literally sat on my butt most of the time. It paid off in harvesting a black bear on September 16. (A plugin is acting up with photos.)

There were days I had to dig deep to stay seated while it poured. None of the downpours lasted more than an hour but still, I despise sitting in the rain. “How bad do you want it,” I asked myself. My Prois hunting apparel kept me warm and dry. If it weren’t for that gear I’d have been back in the truck and heading home in the first few minutes. When I took this pic I’d lost a battle with the rain. Sit and wait it out or walk the half mile to the truck in the down pour. I chose the walk. It stopped raining before I got there so I went back to the tree stand.

harvesting a black bear, Prois

Behind the Bait Barrel

harvesting a black bear, ground blind
harvesting a black bear, bear hunting, MaineThe light on my phone was flashing so I picked it up to see who’d left a message. It was Tammy; there was a huge bull moose headed her way. I looked up in time to see a glimpse of Three following the trail behind the barrel. I pushed my Browning .308 BAR’s safety off and lifted the rifle off my lap. “Bear” I texted to Steve. She disappeared to the right of the barrel. I knew where she’d come into the site – on the right, about three feet in front of the barrel. I waited. Thirty seconds passed. A minute. Ninety seconds. Where did she go? Two minutes. Was she simply passing through?

I lifted the rifle up and pulled it snugly into my clavicle in anticipation of harvesting a black bear.

She stepped into the edge of the shooting lane exactly where I expected her. I study game camera pictures like an over-achieving high school senior studies for the SAT. Where does each bear come in? What direction does it go as it’s leaving? Does it ever stand sideways to give me a broadside shot? I knew where she’d come in because it’s the same spot she used each time she appeared this week.

Over in a flash

The bear walked six feet into the shooting lane, stood in front of the barrel as I knew she would, and looked up the lane at the ground blind. I wasn’t expecting that; she typically looked at the camera, probably because she heard the click as it snapped each picture. One. Two. Three. She turned her head to look straight ahead. Squeezing the trigger slowly and firmly, pulse normal, breathing normal, no excitement at all. I was the most confident I’ve ever been while hunting.

She went down hard and fast, landing on her left side. It wasn’t an instant death but it didn’t take long.

She started to get up so I took aim and squeezed the trigger again, this time seeing the flames fly from the barrel. I hit her the second time, squarely, and she rolled to the left. “Bear down,” was the second text to Steve, this time at 6:29 pm. From start to finish it took less than three minutes to kill the bear. The first shot, through both lungs, would have been enough but I didn’t want a repeat of my 2014 bear. I didn’t want to look for this bear for hours, spend the night tossing and turning, and wondering if it was still suffering. No suffering. Death should be swift.

I waited and listened, hoping to hear it to be sure she was dead but the death moan didn’t come. I stood, took the safety off again and walked to the right. Death throes are hard to watch no matter how many times I’ve seen it happen. This is the first time I’d watched a bear die. I walked 15 feet to the left and looked through the red pines. She was in the dip but I could see her well enough. No movement, she wasn’t breathing now, but no death moan. I returned to the blind and called Steve. “It’s already dead.”

harvesting a black bear, black bear hunting, bear hunting, bait barrel
harvesting a black bear, Robin Follette, Prois, bear hunting
harvesting a black bear, bear in pickup
Black bears are known as the black ghost of the woods. Heavily furred and padded feet keep their footsteps quiet and their prints minimal unless they’re in mud. You might hear branches snap as they break under the bear’s weight or rotting stumps and logs giving way to their long claws, but you’re unlikely to hear footsteps.
black bear foot,

Confident choice in a small bear

I wanted to harvest Chubby. He’s been a challenge from the start. He came in at 9:30 pm and then sometimes, though not usually, later during the night. On Thursday night he was there at 8:15 pm. I studied the game cam pictures to find out more about the small bear from the night before.  I had four hunting days left. Hunting on Thursday night was out of the question in case I made a shot but had to go back in the morning to get the bear. I’d be on a plane to Texas in the morning.

If a small bear and a big bear walked in together and stood broadside I would most definitely shoot the big bear to harvest more meat. But do I refuse a bear that will feed and nourish myself and family because it’s not a “trophy” animal? Hell no. Maine’s bear population is too high. My bait site has been visited by ten bears. That’s far too many bears in a small area right outside town.

Small bears are tender, especially when death is swift. I had no hesitation at all. No regrets. She provided 36 meals.

No High Fives

I took down the bear in three minutes but there was nothing to celebrate. There were no high fives, whooping or hollering, or anything else when Steve, Peter and Chris arrived. Harvesting a black bear is a huge thing and I’m proud of our work but killing wasn’t something I could celebrate that way.

Sitting with the bear’s head at my knee, I stroked her fur. “Thank you, bear. Thank you for feeding us. I prayed before I left the house today for a swift death for you and that’s what you got.” She walked 15 feet and was dead in 60 seconds. I had more to say but that’s between me and the bear.

Have you heard the saying “don’t shoot anything on closing day that you wouldn’t shoot on opening day?” Hogwash. That lumps all animals and situations into one inconvenient package. I hunt to put meat on the table. I have a big buck, larger bear and big turkey mounts on the walls. And I have a small bear that’s going to be delicious. I’ll never shoot an animal I am ashamed of because of its size. Goodness knows I love to talk about hunting. If I were too ashamed to tell everyone then I’d implode and that’s just too messy.

We worked hard and long for this bear. Better a small bear close to the end of the season than no bear when all is said and done. That’s not a blanket statement about harvesting a black bear that will fit all situations. It’s what works for me. I am grateful for this meat, food on the table and an opportunity to share recipes with you.