Fast forward to the day we had all been waiting for. After doing everything in our power to keep the bears more interested in feasting than sleeping, we were finally on our way out to the stands for our first afternoon sit. Todd was the first to get dropped off at his comfortable double treestand. After spreading some fresh goodies around, we headed out to take Darnell to his stand. Darnell had laughed and predicted we would be back picking up Todd and a bear within a couple hours. Obviously, however, he had no idea what was in store for him.
We were able to drive the truck fairly close to the stand we had picked out for Darnell, and decided we would just sneak in on foot. Darnell would carry his crossbow and be ready just in case, dad would haul the bait, and I would load up on anything else left to carry in. I led the way as we quietly worked our way into the bait, and about halfway in, I froze. The hollow 'clunking' of plastic barrels knocking together could be heard up ahead, just out of sight. Communicating with hand gestures and intense eye contact, we silently decided to have dad wait with most of the supplies, while I took the black seat cushion and crept forward, with Darnell right behind me, crossbow at the ready. As we turned the final bend, I could see a glimpse of black retreating from the site. With our hearts pounding from the close call, we beckoned dad forward and resumed getting everything ready. While Dad was spreading some fresh bear goodies, I climbed up into the stand to get the gear stowed and test the radio. As it turned out the radio battery was low, so I headed back to the truck to grab another one while Darnell stood guard for dad at the bait barrels.
During my short absence, Dad climbed into the tree stand to just double check and make sure it was a battery issue with the radio. While he was playing with that, Darnell whispered from below that the bear was coming back. Assuming that Darnell was just hearing it back in the trees, Dad whispered back to keep an eye out for it, and asked if he had any idea where it was. Darnell, who I imagine was feeling a little confused by this as he was literally watching the bear walk back into the bait site, responded with, "Umm…yeah he's about 30 yards away walking towards us!" Dad and Darnell watched the bear walk right up to the barrel about 20 yards away and start eating, but decided there would probably be a bigger one around.
It was about this time I meandered back into the picture, holding back a laugh as I saw Darnell with a huge smile pointing at the bear munching in front of him. I walked over and was quickly filled in on things with whispers and barely restrained laughter. I passed the fresh radio up to Dad, which now worked crystal clear from the stand back to home base. Dad the motioned for Darnell to pass his crossbow up to him, while I scanned the treeline. The bow had no sooner left Darnell's hand when I saw another black shape moving towards us, slowly and more on alert than the first one. I leaned over to my friend and pointed it out coming down the trail, and then motioned to get Dad's attention. The situation struck me as quite hilarious and would later be the source of lots of laughs around the supper table, as here we were, one of the guides up in the treestand with our hunter's crossbow, while Darnell and I stood on ground level with two beautiful black bears milling around within a stones throw. With a whispered voice I explained to Darnell that this was probably the group of three bears that had been travelling between sites, and that likely the next bear to arrive would be the biggest of the three. So Dad and Darnell switched places, and we left to use the rest of our afternoon freshening up a few more sites.
By the time we got to the next location, unloaded the quad and bait, freshened the site and collected the trail cam pics, and made it back to the truck, less than an hour had passed. Dad radioed mom back at home base just to check in before we moved on to the next site. Instead of the expected "Roger that!" returning through the radio, we caught snippets of 2 different parties informing us that a bear was already on the ground!
As it turns out, Darnell had been keeping a very careful eye out for that third bigger bear to wander in as well as the amount of time that passed from the point we drove out of the site to a bolt leaving his crossbow…a whopping 12 minutes! With a beautiful shot that passed straight through and into a tree (come for a bear hunt sometime and I will show you the broadhead still buried in the trunk!), the bear did not go very far before it piled up. It had come in apparently as we had left the site, but nervously circled for almost 12 straight minutes, being more wary than the two smaller bears that had been in while we were getting Darnell into the stand. Wow what a whirlwind of a hunt! Congrats Darnell on a gorgeous first bear!
Now let's jump back to Todd…we picked him up at dark with no second bear on the ground. This wasn't for lack of opportunity, as Todd reported a single bear had come in not too long after we left, and stayed for quite a spell. This was Todd's first bear hunt, and as with any beginner bear hunter (and even many experienced bear hunters) was finding it difficult to judge the size of the bear. Was it a shooter? Should he hold off? He knew it was very late in the season and the bears could decide at any point to just head off to sleep for the winter, but man oh man…decisions! Todd decided he would use the evening as a learning experience, and so filmed the bear and observed its mannerisms. Todd showed us the video that night, to which Dad and I, without skipping a beat, gasped in amazement that Todd would pass such an enormous animal! Now to be fair, in reality it was a very average sized 2 or 3 year old bear, and Todd made an excellent call in holding off the trigger. But in that moment back at camp, all he had to judge by was his gnawing doubts as to whether he should have shot or not, and then dad's and my taken aback reactions…the look of shock was priceless! We couldn't hold a straight face for long though, and after a good laugh we reassured Todd that he had made a good call. It was a good bear for Todd to have in for so long to study because it gave him a standard to judge the next bear by…which would be a very good bear indeed!
It was late into day two before the radio buzzed us again. We had spend all afternoon going about our daily routine eagerly waiting for Todd's announcement and even though Darnell could have been in a deer stand, he had chosen to help us skin his bear while waiting to hear from his buddy. Well Todd kept us all in super high suspense right through until early evening, (probably as revenge for our joke on him the night previous!), before the excited call came through…"Big Bear Down!!"
Todd had made a beautiful shot, making the tracking job very easy as we could literally see the bait barrels from where we stood admiring and taking field pictures of his first ever bear. The adrenaline was pounding as we all congratulated Todd on a great bear and planned our path to carry the brute back out to the truck. I don't even remember who it was who first noticed, but in the excitement and focus on the downed bear in front of us, a second bear had worked its way in and was at the bait barrels, between us and the truck. A reminder was quickly brought up by our dear friends that Dad had an unused tag in his pocket from the spring season. Todd generously offered his gun and both he and Darnell began urging Dad to make it 3 bears down in 2 days! However, as tempting as it was, legally we are not allowed to be hunting while on guiding duty, and there just seemed like we may have our work already cut out for us. And so we let the new comer bear wander off the site as we hauled Todd's big bruin out of the woods, leaving him for another time and, hopefully, for one of our future hunters.
It was a thrilling challenge Todd and Darnell had posed to us, to try and keep the bears awake and decently patterned for them so late in the year, but a challenge we at BEWA relish. These two buddies, and really good friends of the BEWA Team, went home having each taken their very first bear. As exciting and as beautiful as those two bears were, it was all the added blessings that made these hunts what they were. The friends hunting with friends, the laughs and the jokes, the being all together in the entertaining close encounters…that is what makes these hunts such a blessing and so memorable. That is what Bear Camp is all about.