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Max's Meanderings: "The Boar's Nest.", by Max Zeller

August 15, 2014

When I retired in 1999, I decided to move from my home in Washington State back to property I owned in the central Coast Mountains of western Oregon.  After the move, I made it my mission to explore all the mountains and drainages I could access in order to ascertain the best bear habitats in my immediate area.  After all, I had six months to kill until I could re-establish residency in the state. I looked over maps, areal photos, and studied bear stats in order to pinpoint very specific locales to scout.  When the academic portion of my scouting was complete, it was time to get physical and that meant boots on the ground. 

I wore out boot leather climbing into every nook and cranny of the temperate rain forests and mountains I had marked on my maps, eliminating most areas as not very bear worthy and giving a big “thumbs-up” to others.  One small area in particular caught my attention as a potential bear hot spot, a small bench in a steep drainage with difficult enough access to deter the casual hunter.  This small bear oasis had the potential to hold promise for both the Spring and Fall bear seasons, a rarity in bruin real estate.  To me, the bench appeared to be a natural bear travel corridor that paralleled an impossibly impenetrable creek drainage. The bench made for easy access to feeding and bedding grounds but also included prime habitat that held bruins for brief stays on their travels.  After cutting accessible (but hidden) trails and setting up a stand overlooking the bench, I dubbed my little slice of bear nirvana the “Boar’s Nest.” Over the years the Boar’s Nest has produced dozens of bear sightings and eleven harvests. 


But alas, time and natural succession has taken it’s toll on the Boar’s Nest.  After 15 years, the world renowned rapidity of growth and biomass that is western Oregon has reduced the bench to a jumbled mess no longer conducive to attracting bears as it once did.  Fir trees that were once reprod juvies surrounded by succulent grass and berry-laden brambles, are now 60 foot sentinels surrounded by a barren, duff-encrusted forest floor with a spattering of blow downs and small islands of unpalatable greenery where the sun just manages to sneak through the canopy.  And still after all these years, possibly due to loyalty and appreciation, I have maintained my hidden trail and stand unable to abandon my favorite bear honey hole of all time.  I hadn’t taken a bear there since 2008, but memories just wouldn’t let me let go.  A decade ago, I packed two dozen concrete blocks and rebar on my back over a winter season to build steps leading down the steep canyon walls so my dad, with weakened legs from cancer, could enter the Boar’s Nest, that he loved, a few remaining times.  I still think of him sitting in the same marine swivel chair I bolted to the old growth stump overlooking the bench so many years ago.


Being nostalgic, I decided it was time to rejuvenate the Boar’s Nest, and that meant weeks of habitat rehabilitation throughout the winter and early spring.  With hand tools in tow I took several days off each week to hack, cut, slice and de-limb the bench so sunlight could enter the forest floor once again and start the successional process all over again.  I figured by autumn’s general bear season enough early successional growth, along with the various stands of blackberry briars, Chitum trees, rotten stumps and various edible sedges, would once again attract bears to the nest.  I must have raked, pitchforked and piled enough conifer limbs and ten foot salmonberry switches to cover a half acre six feet high.  Now the work was done and time would tell if all the sweat would pay off in the fall.


I was on stand in the Boar’s Nest before first light on opening morning.  It was going to be another hot summer day, but for now I was feeling the morning coolness as the thermals pushed the crisp air uphill into my face from the bench below.  To avoid the heat of the day, I knew bears were feeding at night, then working their way to cool bedding areas by mid morning.  The bench below was, once again, the perfect travel corridor between the two. 

At 7 AM, in the thick stand of timber to the right of the manicured bench, I heard a twig snap under heavy paw followed by the eerie, thick breathing of an approaching bear.  The old familiar feelings washed over me as adrenaline was being dumped into my veins, but my first thoughts were of my father.  I readied myself hoping the bear was a large mature boar.  Ten minutes later the bruin materialized like an apparition from the dark forest into the open glade.  Unfortunately, he was a sub-adult boar (a three year old), long and lanky with some real big front paws.  I laid my rifle aside, picked up my binoculars from the Bino-Bro and enjoyed the show.  The bear’s intentions were clear---after devouring two mouthfuls of succulent new grass from the clearing he moved to each rotten old-growth stump on the bench.  With his powerful arms and sharp claws he ripped chunks of spalt  from these remnants of bygone days, exposing grubs and larvae which he sucked in like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.  On the taller stumps he would stand on his two hind legs as far as he could reach and use his weight to topple the rotted tops.  Red sawdust would rain down on his black hide, briefly turning him into a cinnamon bear.  Before shaking off the dust he would ram his whole snout, up to his eyeballs, into the rotted spire loudly sucking in huge amounts of bug-scented air and fine crimson dust.  After eating his reward I never heard a bear sneeze so loud, as his beady little dark eyes peered through a red face covered in bark dust.  Comical.  He quickly worked his way through the glade and was gone.  By mid-morning it was time to leave as the heat of the day descended on the Boar’s Nest.  I decided to wait a couple weeks before returning to the Boar’s Nest---by then the blackberries would be ripening and I still had a half-dozen other bear hot spots to check out.


During the following week my brother Eddie, and his friend Scott, showed up from southern California to do some business in Portland.  Scott is originally from Maine and is an accomplished interstate hunter, so I was more than eager to have him come along each day on my outings and brag up our diverse state and all it has to offer.  He was great company and I learned a lot about hunting environments and terrain of the northeast and the other states in which he deer hunts.  Together we encountered over 40 Roosevelt elk (his first), jumped a mountain lion which we tried to call back in to no avail (also his first), numerous Blacktail deer, and three bear encounters, one of which was in the Boar’s Nest that we jumped on the way in but never got a visual.  We covered a lot of ground, had great conversations and learned a lot from from one another’s hunting experiences---it was a good week.


They left on a Saturday, and I was back in the Boar’s Nest first thing Monday morning to see if the bear we jumped was different from the bruin I encountered the week before.  Before I made it to my stand I heard a bear feeding in the blackberry patch 40 yards to my immediate left. 

The breathing and snapping of vines were a dead giveaway.  My only hope was that the bear would enter the open ground after it fed and not stay in thick cover to bed down for the day.  After a 15 minute glutinous performance the bear emerged into my clearing, eating grass in front of me for several minutes as I sized it up.  It was definitely a different bear from two weeks prior.  This bruin was an averaged sized bear just pushing the 200 pound range, but it was perfectly round and jiggled when it walked.  I had another SW tag in my pocket so I decided this berry-fed bear would be perfect table fare and a little easier to haul out the steep canyon.   The .45-70 Marlin made short work of the deed as the death moan and struggle ended right before my eyes.  I bowed my head and thanked the bear, my dad and the creator of all these things.  

The whole process of unzipping and quartering the bear smelled of blackberry and was a very pleasant task.  Loading up my OPW Orion with the first load made it a pleasure to pack half the meat up that steep slope, some of it on hands and knees.  My final pack trip involved the simple removal of the Hydro and Lumbar bag at my truck, and replaced by the larger Greengate bag.  The remaining load of meat and gear in the Greengate was now just a mere formality and I was home before noon and the heat of the day.

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