Bottom of the Ninth: Arizona Bear Opener
Sometime the reality of hunting is that you come home empty handed. As a hunter losing an animal is an unexplainable pain to those who have never experienced it. It is, however hard we try, inevitable, that at times everything falls into place except for the recovery of the animal you are hunting. It is every hunter's worst case scenario. That knot in your stomach and the gut feeling that this animal won't be found...
The opening week of the 2016 Arizona August Bear season proved to be a challenging experience. I was joined by Tanner and Judge for six days of chasing the illusive black bears of central Arizona. Both from Texas, neither had witnessed a bear in the wild outside of their hunting experience with the CTK Team.
The days prior to the hunt our state was slammed by storms. Inches of rain fell across large areas of the state. With the cooler temps bear activity was fairly high. The first day of the season we had encounters with five individual bears; we hoped this would continue throughout the season. Unfortunately as the weather shifted so did the activity. Over the following days we covered miles of country to no avail. It seemed as if El Oso had simply turned into a dark ghost, slipping into the thick tangle of forest.
We hunted hard over the remaining days of the hunt putting on many rugged miles and hours of glassing from the harsh sunlight until the shadows fell across the landscape and night consumed the hills. We took to calling several occasions only interesting the odd few mule deer around.
On the final day of the hunt we glassed from our high outcrop early and turned up only a lone elk. Mid morning we set out to call a few stands once again. The first was uneventful. The second stand around 11 in the morning would prove to be memorable. We started calling, sitting in the thick timber of oaks and ponderosa. 18 minutes into our set Judge looked back and signaled that there was a bear coming. Cole and myself snapped over to see a large jet black bear coming in fast. In seconds the bear was only a few yards to Judge's right side. He cocked the hammer of the Super Blackhawk and slammer a round into the bear. Instantly it spun and ran out of sight.
In a blur of excitement we waited giving the animal time to expire. We were on an all time high for the hunt. After some time we began to track it. To our dismay there wasn't a drop of blood. Over about a two hour period I was able to track the bruin only by its tracks and the occasional bent piece of grass or moved rock. We took the track nearly a quarter mile without any blood through the thick forest.
Our hopes were extremely low at this point. It didn't look good for his shot placement. We were sure the nerves had pulled the shot off mark possibly hitting high. We sat to regroup then began working a grid after losing the trail in the rocks. We said a prayer and continued. Following the path of least resistance we struck blood another 75 yards further! We had hope once again.
The only spot of heavy blood where the bear had rolled around
Tracking blood we took the track a quarter mile further and found where the bear had bedded and rolled. He then had doubled back to the bottom of the cut. At this point the blood became inconsistent. We could tell our fears were accurate the shot had been high. Over the next 2.5 hours we tracked it further down the canyon. Eventually losing the track after three quarters of a mile. Beaten and defeated we again gridded the flat basin below us. The bear could have chosen hundreds of paths. We searched further eventually conceding to the tangle of brush.
With knots in our stomach we cut our way out of the thick bush and headed for the ranger. The sun set in the sky, closing the season behind us as we packed up camp. It had been a hard hunt physically and mentally.
Effort helps in your success on a hunt, it does not however guarantee it. Bear hunting isn't easy, if it was, everybody would do it. With more hunts upcoming I look forward to the challenge.