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Gun notes.

In some sections of the country, wild thorn apple occurs and bears feed on these a great deal in season. By fall the black bear is usually rolling fat and after a few hard frosts his coat takes on a glossy appearance. He is busiest at this time of the year as he makes final preparations for his hibernation and is constantly on the go, always in search of good and ever more food, as his appetite is then insatiable. In most sections of the West is found a small red berry growing on very low vines and in a solid mat at high elevations. The vines have a green waxy appearance and slick leaves, the berries are small and mealy and the grouse, both blue and ruffed, feed on them a great deal. In Montana when I was a kid they were called grouse berries, but others have called them bear berries. At any rate, black bear eat them in quantities in late fall. They also feed on the scarlet-colored berries of the mountain ash before denning, probably to give their intestinal tract a thorough cleansing before taking on a couple of handfuls of fir needles to keep the tummy from collapsing.

One spring, Bob Hagel was hunting up Sheep Creep a few miles above my ranch. He located a nice bear digging out a gopher across a canyon from him on an open sidehill. The bear had his head in the hole and was digging for all he was worth, probably being able to smell the gopher, when Bob took a long-range shot across the canyon at him. The .30-40 slug went low and the bear, in his haste to get away, started throwing the dirt with his hind feet. He made several passes with his hind feet up and down the slope, while his head was still imbedded in the hole, before he ever got his head out and took off, over the ridge. Bob laughed at his antics so much he was unable to shoot again.

Ed Lovedahl and I were working up the tidal arm that swings to the right just above the mouth of Snug Harbor on the north or rather west side of Cook Inlet, looking for brown bear signs when we saw a nice black. Wanting to try out my .35 Whelen, which I had sighted at 4,100 feet here in Idaho before going to Alaska, I held on the bear's chest just back of the shoulder at 200 yards from a cmfortable prone position and shot. The rifle sighted at 4,100 feet, shot at least 18 inches low there in Alaska, and the 275-grain slug went under his chest and threw up a big splash of water on the other side. Seeing the slug had gone so low with a perfect hold I next held level with the tops of that black's ears, as he turned and ran straight away from me. This 275-grain slug caught him in the seat of the pants and came out well forward, near the brisket, but did not expand at all. The bear dropped, but was up and into the alders while I was throwing the bolt of my rifle for another shot. Ed and I spent a half hour searching that bit of alders before we found him, too sick to continue, and Ed gave him a 220-grain .30-06 Western soft point boattail in the shoulders broadside. It broke both shoulders but lodged under the skin on the off side. My 275-grain W.T.C. Company bullet, with too heavy a jacket at the top and too small a hole in same, had not expanded at all. Needless to say I resighted my rifle. Others have found the same trouble and rifles sighted at sea level will invariably shoot way high up at high altitudes and those sighted at high altitudes will shoot low at sea level. Don Martin sighted in his rifgles here before going to Alaska to serve as deputy U.S. Marshall for seven years and when he reached Alaska found all his rifles shot way low at sea level. It's something well worth remembering.

One day Al Ellinger stalked a nice black, but just as he was getting in good range the black must have seen or heard him and lit out in a hard run for the alders. Al was using his .375 Magnum double rifle by Webley & Scott, with 300-grain bullets, and rolled this bear over in great style. He was running so fast he simply turned somersaults and laid there; then, when Al had taken down his rifle from his shoulder, thinking the bear was done, he was up and into the alders in a flash and we never did find him.

I shot another one up the river with the .35 Whelen and lost him. We had just anchored the boat and rolled out our beds and camp for a shore camp when a nice black scamp came out on a big rock about 100 yards above us and poked his head over, watching us. His chest was fully exposed and I had only to roll over from where I lay against my bedroll and turn the safety on my .35 Whelen by Griffin & Howe and had a dead rest. I placed the top of the front sight square in the bottom of the white spot in his chest. He was turned slightly quartering toward us and though I struck his chest square, the bullet no doubt ranged through him to the right of the spine. Anyway, at the shot he simply curled up around the bullet entrance as he bit at it, then took off in a hard run through the alders. In spite of our best efforts we lost his trail over that huge jumble of slide boulders in the rain. This shows the fallacy of using too stiff and heavy bullet jackets for black bear. Though his shoulders will usually stop a 220-grain .30-06 slug from a broadside shot, you want a bullet with a large hollow point or else plenty of lead exposed, that will surely expand on impact, for though the black bear is not nearly so hard to kill as a grizzly, he can carry off wounds that would usually put almost any hoofed animal down except goat and elk.

I believe in using fairly heavy rifles, with ample power, even for black bear, and the .300 savage, .30-40 Krag and .35 Remington are all excellent timber rifles for black bear. When the bear is hunted in more open terrain, such as the tide flats of Alaska or the more sparsely wooded sections of the Southwest, where long shots will often occur across canyons, then such rifles as the .30-06 with 150- or 180-grain bullets, the .300 Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum and .340 Weatherby Magnum are excellent. For most black bear hunting in the timber one should use either a big wide-field hunting scope, with plenty of illumination, or a fair-sized gold or ivory bead, as most shots will be had very late in the evening, usually long after sundown. I particularly like the .358 Winchester load for black bear in the timber, a bit strenuous on the pelts perhaps, but a sure bear producer. The .256 Newton, 6.5 mm and the 7 mm are also excellent for black bear, but be sure to use bullets that will expand reliably on them. Al and Mrs. Ellinger have had great luck with the .300 Savage, while Frank Mosteller has used the 7 mm with a Hi-Speed W.T.C. Company bullet handload, with perfect success. I have killed them with about everything from a .44 Special heavy sixgun load to the .35 Whelen. With black bear, as in all bear shooting, strive to break down their skeletal structure on the first shot, particularly the spine or shoulders, and you will then surely have them.

In some sections of the deep South and also in some brushy sections of the Southwest, bear will rarely be obtained except by the use of dogs and traps, and when such is the case their use is justifiable, and many exciting chases may be had with a good pack of dogs. In other sections, I believe in hunting the little bear without dogs. Though a comical clown, he is very intelligent and well worth the highest skill of any still-hunter.
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Title Annotation:bear hunting
Author:Keith, Elmer
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1984
Next Article:Washington report.

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