DELAYED GRATIFICATION: A BETTER-LATE-THAN-NEVER BLACK BEAR.
My taking of a Michigan black bear with a bow in 2017 is a perfect example of what comes with this taxing lifestyle we choose. The journey began in 2005, when I drew a tag for black bear in Michigan's Red Oak area, in the lower-northeastern portion of the mitten. With a large quantity of naivete, I was excited to take on this venture despite little to no background knowledge on how to successfully pull it off. It was a crash-course year, with me reading as much as I could on the topic and asking questions to those whom I knew had successfully hunted black bears before. I received permission to hunt land that I knew held bears and secured a steady supply of bait, so I felt ready to get after it.
The baits immediately began getting hit, but Mother Nature decided to produce a bumper crop of pretty much everything she could muster that year--from acorns to blackberries, the woods were full of food. As one might expect, my baits went dead as the first bear season commenced. This was extremely frustrating, because I had no other options outside of those few bait sites. Finally, I talked to my buddy Denver Kline, my source of bait. Denver had rim baits for his friends and family for years and said he would try to help me out during the second season.
In Michigan, there are staggered seasons that start with an archery or rifle option, then, a short time later, an archery-only season. As the second season of 2005 opened, it was more of the same. Although I was sitting on historically successful locations, after the pressure of the first season and hound hunters pounding the woods, I was dealing with some pretty spooked bears. In the end, I had to eat my 2005 tag without a single bear sighting.
At the conclusion of that season, I told Denver I was going to continue to apply for preference points until I had enough to draw (takes about eight points/years now), so when he had a year that was open I could use his knowledge and locations and really give harvesting a Michigan bear my all.
Timing is Everything
Fast-forward to the fall of 2017. I stopped by to see Denver and ask if he had an open fall and was happy to hear that nobody in his family or friend group had drawn. If I wanted to go after a black bear, he said, this was the year. As expected, on June 25, my birthday, I drew the coveted tag. Now, all I needed was to prepare, trust in Denver and hope that Mother Nature didn't throw me any curveballs this time around.
As the season approached and the trail-camera pictures accumulated, I could hardly contain my excitement. My go-to stand was extremely popular, with many great bears frequenting the site. However, I knew from my first experience with bear hunting that nothing is a given when archery tackle is involved.
On the afternoon of Sept. 15, the day before the season opener, we rebaited one last time and found there were bears visiting the site during the morning hours. We also discovered there were a lot more images coming in later at night. This trend of late-night activity, along with forecasted hot, windy conditions, had me extremely nervous. As a result, my sleep prior to the opener was less than sound.
The next morning found me driving at 4 a.m. to my bait site about an hour away. It was then that I realized I would be walking into a bait site in complete darkness; possibly disturbing a very large, tooth-filled, claw-toting creature; climbing a tree that would put me a mere 15 yards away from said bait; and waiting to spot an animal I had never seen while hunting. To say that I was a little anxious would be an understatement. My bowhunting life up until then had been limited to basically native Michigan animals and a couple of opportunities at mule deer while in the Dakotas. Even though black bears are native to Michigan, I had never seen one while hunting, let alone targeted one.
As the first dim light of morning appeared in the distance, I heard a minor disturbance in the swamp. Suddenly, it happened: my first experience at close range with a black bear. It appeared to be a small bear, but I absolutely reveled in the experience. The bear hung around for a short period of time, checking out the leftover bait that hadn't been eaten the night before, and then walked on.
A little while later, another small bear came in and looked directly up at me sitting in a stand that had never been hunted before. The bear gave me the look that all wild things do to make the point that I'm human and, despite my best efforts, mediocre in my pursuits as a predator. I sat until 11 a.m., when the temperature reached 80 degrees and Denver showed up to bait for the afternoon.
Reloaded for Bear
After a short break, I was back in the stand around 2 p.m. in the then 85-degree swamp. The conditions were less than enjoyable, but the image of a black ghost appearing had my senses turned on. At 6:30 p.m., a bear came out of the swamp and worked itself into the bait. This, too, was a small bear, but I knew things were going to be intense for the next couple of hours. I watched the bear feed for 20 minutes, then it looked over its shoulder and bolted from sight. That could only mean one thing, so I took a deep breath.
With my eyes boring holes through the pine trees and ferns, I was determined to make out the figure of the approaching bear before it popped into the bait site. Still, as conspicuous as bears appear to be, a good-size bruin seemed to just materialize from the swamp. I immediately knew this was the bear I had been waiting for, so as it worked its way into the log pile, I focused on my shot. With the bear leaning into the bait, I decided to stay off its front elbow to avoid hitting the bear's powerful front leg.
When the bear's head disappeared behind a log, I drew back, picked a spot and pulled through the shot. The arrow hit where I was aiming, and after a short blast of noise and energy, everything was quiet again except for the ungodly pounding of my heart.
I sat in disbelief as I listened intently for a death moan or any other sign of the bear. Nothing. I hung up my bow and sat down again to regain my composure. As any hunter can attest, that moment provided the typical concoction of excitement, doubt, fear and success.
As I sat and stared at the spot where the bear had been standing when I shot, a small bear came in, knocked over the barrel and started eating like he owned the place. I watched the bruin for a good half-hour, marveling at how amazing my day had been so far and how uneasy I was at not knowing whether or not my shot had been good. Finally, I decided to track my first bear into that awfully thick swamp under the cover of darkness.
After a phone call to Denver and a gear change, we took off after the bear. There was blood at the site of impact and early into the bear's retreat. We tracked for a good while on relatively spotty blood, but then I started to get really anxious. The temps were still extremely warm, the bugs were extremely vicious and I was extremely on edge. Finally, we came upon what seemed like more blood than before. As I crawled under a balsam, I almost put my hand on the bear!
The rush of emotion that ensued is one that I've never experienced in any of my other archery adventures. I was literally touching an animal I had always wanted to pursue and had basically never seen. It was as if I was encountering a mythical creature.
Chasing a Michigan black bear with a bow has been a dream of mine since I was a boy. Pursuing these reclusive predators with such powerful traits and senses elicited an incredible amount of respect and admiration from me. The failure of 2005 and the seemingly endless wait to try it again 12 years later made my horrendously sweaty and bug-bitten time on stand a welcome misery. The memories, pictures, meat and hide of this animal will be special to me for the rest of my life.
My bear wasn't something I wandered onto and shot; it took failure, years of patience and, ultimately, an arrow that was correctly placed after thousands of practice shots with that moment in mind. I'm not saying I'm glad that I wasn't successful in 2005, but that experience made my encounter with this beautiful animal in the fall of 2017 that much more profound.
A special thanks to Denver Kline and Henry Kreger for their advice and for allowing me to hunt such an amazing piece of land. A huge thanks goes out to my wife, too. She may not truly understand my all-encompassing passion for hunting, but she allows me to follow its allure all the same.
Bow: Mathews Monster Chill
Release: Carter Nock 2 It
Arrow: Easton Full Metal Jacket
Broadhead: Rage Trypan
Quiver: Tight Spot
Caption: More than a decade after first drawing a Michigan black bear tag, the author finally put a big bruin down.
Caption: Although the author's time was limited, he jumped at the chance to help bait for black bears, partaking in as much of the dirty work as possible. The effort required to personally stock his bait sites made the hunt even more rewarding.
Caption: One of the author's favorite parts of the bowhunting lifestyle is tinkering and practicing with his gear in the off-season.
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|Date:||Dec 25, 2019|
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