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Monarch of the mountain: there are many ways to hunt bears, but none more exciting than bringing them on the run with a call.

THE ENORMOUS chestnut-colored black bear's head snapped to attention as the soft, plaintive wails of a distressed, mule deer fawn wafted through the air, triggering the "on" switch in his massive brain, Ears pinned back, eyes red-rimmed, saliva streaming from his formidable jaws; the bear spun on a dime and charging behemoth and quickly raised his bow. As the was heading full bore toward veteran bowhunter Dave bruin charged past a small ponderosa pine a scant 21 feet Butler's hidden, ambush polo. I3utler caught sight of the to his right side. Butler released his arrow. A millisecond later the tree was pulverized as the snarling bruin crashed right through it.

Butler, 72, is a retired police detective from New Jersey. When he wasn't actively chasing "bad guys," he was either practicing at our club's archery range or behind his Bergen County home. He's a Senior Member of the Pope and Young Club and has six species entered into the Club's record book. His pursuits have taken him across the Lower 48 states, Alaska, and to each Canadian province.

One of his more recent adventures was to New Mexico. Having failed to draw an elk tag there, guide Lou Probo, of Bear Creek Outfitters in Silver City, New Mexico, convinced Butler to take advantage of a special black bear hunt he offers in August.

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Probo has been an outfitter and guide in southwestern New Mexico for the past 20 years. His hunt area includes private land in Bear Creek, and he also guides in and around the 3.3-million acre Gila National Forest and Wilderness area. Probo himself has been bowhunting for 40 years, during which time he has taken 80 big game animals, including 20 bears.

New Mexico hasn't had a spring bear season since 1991, but they do have a fall season that runs from August 16 to November 30. The state is comprised of several bear zones, each with a sustainable kill and a sow quota. If either of these quotas is reached before the November 30 deadline, then the season is closed in that particular area. According to Probo, bears in New Mexico are any color but black. "True black bears are very rare," Probo said. "In my area, 80 percent of the bears that we see and take are color phase, ranging from various shades of brown to cinnamon, red, or blonde. The average size has been 250-300 pounds, and my hunters have taken bears up to 500 pounds."

Due to low hunting pressure and u, limited road access, the remote canyons where Probo guides hunters contain many big, mature boars. Probo employs several different hunting methods including running them with hounds, spotting and stalking, and sitting near waterholes. But his favorite tactic, and one he discovered quite by accident, is calling in these big boars with commercially made predator calls.

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Eighteen years ago, a client who had tagged out asked Probo if he would take him out and call coyotes for him. Lou obliged, and after a short calling sequence, a blonde-phase bear came charging in. It didn't take Probo long to master the technique, and that year his hunters killed three bears. His success rate for calling in bears has been about 90 percent, and he is equally proficient in his quest to call in cougars. This past season his hunters went 100 percent on bears, and the season was actually cut short because the preset quota had been met.

The Gila National Forest and Wilderness area is made up of some of the most beautiful, difficult to traverse terrain imaginable. Years of Mother Nature's worst have carved out canyons, gullies, arroyos, and many other funnel areas well known to Probo, and to the bears living there.

Probo and Butler were searching the Bear Creek area for the ideal location to begin calling on the first day of Butler's hunt. Food was plentiful during the 2010 season. Acorns, juniper berries, and prickly pears--a bruin favorite--all were in abundance. Bear sign was also good, and on the first calling session they spotted three different bears. One of them was a true giant. Suddenly a hellacious thunderstorm rolled in, cutting short their efforts. Returning to camp, Probo and Butler made plans to head out after breakfast the following morning to try and get one of those bruins within bow range.

A typical day's hunt begins with an eight to 10-mile ride on horseback, searching constantly for fresh bear sign. The next morning was no exception.

Working their way up an arroyo, they dismounted and tied up their horses. There, in the still wet sandy dirt, was a massive track. "Wow!" Butler said. "That track is 6 1/4% inches wide!"

"He'll square seven feet," Probo said. "I think I know where he's headed."

They climbed 300 yards up to a rocky ledge where Probo sat down with his back under a rock outcropping at the head of the canyon. Years of experience have taught him to always cover his back. That, and the silent cougar that once snuck up behind him and almost got him!

Probo uses several different types of calls to lure in bears. If he's in an open area and trying to get a response from a long distance, he uses a loud, raspy call like that of a dying jackrabbit. For closer calling he'll use a fawn-in-distress call, at times throwing in a sheep bleat. One of the lessons Probo has learned is that once a bear responds, as long as he keeps calling the bear will continue coming. But if he stops, the bear will put on the brakes. This trait allows Probo to actually help position the bear for a good broadside or quartering-away shot.

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Probo also cautions that this adrenaline-charged type of hunting is not for the faint of heart! "The majority of bears that respond to my calling are big, dominant males," Probo said. "Most come in thinking that they're going to kill a cub, a wounded prey animal, some type of easy meal. They have an aggressive attitude--even if they catch the hunter's scent!" he said.

Now seated 10 feet to Butler's left, Probo let loose with a series of fawning-distress calls, and on this fateful day time stood still as Butler raised and drew his bow in one fluid motion. With the arrow gone, Probo quit calling as the beast smashed through the small ponderosa pine, sending branches in every direction. Butler's arrow had burst through the massive boar's lungs, vaporizing them. Crashing to the ground in a nearby gully, Butler and Probo listened for what they knew was coming. Almost on cue, they heard the death moan of the Monarch of the Mountain.

In the silent aftermath, the only thing they could hear was their own heartbeats. Calling bears will do that to a man.

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

Dave Butler's bear weighed an astounding 550 pounds. The hide squared 7'4" and the skull green-scored 21 3/16 Pope and Young-style inches, making it the largest bear ever taken by one of Probo's hunters.

Dave killed his bear with a Hoyt Pro Hunter 38 bow, Easton ST Epic 400 arrow, and NAP Thunderhead 125 broadhead.

Lou Probo's bear hunts are five days long and include lodging, meals, guide service, and game care. He guides for several other big game species as well. For more information, contact: Lou Probo, Bear Creek Outfitters, PO Box 1137, Silver City, NM 88062; (575) 574-7728; www.louprobo.com.

By Lou Martinez

The author is a diehard bowhunter from Fairview, New Jersey.
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Author:Martinez, Lou
Publication:Bowhunter
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:Aug 16, 2011
Words:1265
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