My first bear interaction was in the fall of 1980 while grouse hunting in the Lookout Mtn. Unit of Oregon, close to my home town. We hadn't thought much about bears despite the robust berry crop we were actively hunting as the Blue and Ruffed Grouse were occupying much of our time and talents.
Now, in 2015 I was on my first Spring Bear hunt with my Brother-in-Law Bob, who had drawn the tag and I had the time set aside to help and to enjoy the beauty of Hells Canyon in the spring. I don't really know why I've never applied for spring bear until now, but I sure regret not doing so now!
The ride to the top was incredible as we decided to camp low, and hunt high--as most glass from a high vantage point. A cinnamon bear dashed in front of the UTV (side-by-side) just as we entered the Unit--we took that as a good sign.
The wrap-around weather had been occurring for about a week. It was a rare weather event, and iffy at best as to whether we'd be able to glass and not get caught out in a thunderstorm, but we glassed our second bear just before dusk and agreed to return the next morning to attempt to locate him in a large basin.
Certainly with all the rain, the array of wildflowers was over the top, and of course a late showing of Morels was much appreciated, as we gathered over 100 in a short time.
This year we were told the bears would be out of den early, as it was a mild winter and little precipitation had fallen until the five days prior to our hunt. Many forums reported seeing few bears in the first full month of the season. With the increase in rains and the calving activity ramping up, we felt our timing was good.
I had picked the time for various reasons and we only had four days to accomplish the deed. It had rained for the sixth strait day by the time we arrived at our glassing spot and felt with the forecast we may have a good window to glass and to find our bear.
We chose an old burn for our glassing as it offered the best of habitat and glassing the more open hill sides.
Morning One, Day Two The alarm woke us at 0330--earlier then ever for any hunt, as I normally camp within a fifteen minute hike of the animals I hunt. Blurry eyed but excited for the day of glassing we plunged into the darkness in the UTV with all three new high-tech LED light bars changing our circadian rhythm in the hour run to the top.
Bob and I were geared-up wearing Oregon Pack Works' Orion packs. Mine sporting a .243 Winchester in our gun scabbard buckled-in tight on the outside for a possible opportunity on a cougar, and my Leupold Spotting Scope in between the Overflows. Bob was carrying the Husqavarna in .243 that he'd been carrying since a boy and his first deer. My 2014 Antelope was taken with the gun. Renee' and I offered the second and third set of eyes sporting binoculars secured in Binobro's to shed any weather that came our way.
We hit the ground running by daylight as we spotted a bear almost immediately upon hitting our vantage point.
We made our move down and around a ridge to hide our movements and found a secondary ridge to keep our scent secure and to eventually hide our descent to shooting range.
We were well positioned to make a move when the humidity and the suns warmth conspired against us and created the well known Hells Canyon ground fog--and it silently rolled in .
The cries of a mother elk and the fog had hidden the bears moves and the bear had taken an elk calf right under our noses without us seeing a thing. He quickly moved to the brush to fill his belly and to nap in the now brilliant suns warmth. Momma elk was left barking and looking for her baby calf for the remainder of the day.
We hunted through the suns appearance to where we were shedding clothes and putting on sunscreen. We glassed until dusk spotting a very large black about a two hour hike away. The approach would be too much before dusk--we elected to return again in the morning.
Morning Two, Day Three: At daybreak we were back in the same basin where we left Momma elk looking for her calf. We spotted her immediately where she'd been the last twenty-four hours and began our glassing plan from her location.
We glassed for hours in brilliant sunshine and by1:30 felt our time had run out. We moved to an area with a shaded flat and had lunch and a dirt-nap. By 3:00 we moved to the top of a shaded north face and glassed a very rugged canyon that had burned numerous times. We stationed ourselves there until the evening glassing commenced.
We felt that we had picked a basin that was nearly inaccessible and difficult to make a move down in a timely manner. We made an different kind of evening hunt across the tops through numerous meadows and creeks with good habitat. We moved through some great country with strong sunlight hitting in patches and the hunt for morels then preoccupied our time up until dark.
The walk to the rigs that evening produced one of the most surreal sunsets I've ever seen, as the sun slid behind the great Wallowa mountains and turned an eerily-amazing red.
Morning Three, Day Four: Late dinners and quick-early breakfasts have been the theme all week, and our last morning was no different. Only Bob and I headed for the top for our last morning as the ladies wanted to catch-up on sleep, talk and get us ready to hit the road at a decent hour.
Just after Bob spotted a blonde object and decided it was a bear and not a broken tree, I put the spotter on it and it was indeed a blonde bear. We watched its movements and decided to make a push. Down the knife edge ridge we moved at a good rate until we were within shooting range. We then proceeded upwind and up-grade into the basin where we last suspected it and, nothing.
We climbed back out and up for a thousand feet and called it a day; and a hunt.
The take home lessons we discussed were: 1). Ticks are very prevalent this time of year--take it seriously! Take the time to tick-check everyone. Lyme disease is a debilitating disease and catching it early (or not catching the disease at all) is key! 2). Do your research on bear habitat and be patient. If there are no bears--move! 3). Get in shape. The quicker you can move vertically in rugged country the better chance you'll have of getting close enough for a shot. And, 4). Have fun. Hunt for wild flowers, mushrooms, shed antlers and of course bears.
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