Rock Eater: Chris' AZ Black Bear Hunt
Updated: Feb 26, 2022
"We need to push this hunt back, to the end of the month if Chris is flexible." I stated. With other hunters scheduled and bear activity at a very low level I did not want Chris coming to camp unless we had a fighting chance to take a bear. Without much convincing he was willing to wait just a bit longer to arrive, hopefully timing his hunt perfectly. "I won't know with 100% certainty if any hunt units will remain open until the Wednesday prior, but if they are I have a plan." It was a gamble. Waiting to hunt meant possibly not hunting at all, if the female harvest quotas were met. Our current camp, where I stood as I talked to Chris on the phone, would not be an option for the next hunt. There was a near certainty that unit would shut down and where we would be next was to-be-determined, officially.
Wednesday rolled around and I checked the AZGFD black bear hotline. I was relieved to hear that not every unit had yet closed. Chris was coming bear hunting. This late in the season I had a fairly comprehensive understanding of the ground conditions. The plan was simple, check the spots I determined were most likely to have bears. Then, figure out how to harvest one with Chris.
After struggling to find a suitable camping location my wife, kids, and I settled the trailer into a large clearing. It was not where I wanted to set camp but it would certainly work. I unloaded the Honda Pioneer, tossed in my optics, and headed out to glass the last few minutes of remaining light. The sun cast long distorted shadows across the hillsides and amber light signaled the final few minutes before sunset.
Having driven over the crest of a ridge, I parked and hurriedly put my BTX atop the tripod. I panned towards the furthest clearing and feeding area and slid my hand up to focus the image. Heat waves distorted the view but a dark figure came clearly into focus. "The was fast." I thought to myself. I laughed audibly. This was a scenario worthy of a witness, yet I was here solo absurdly pleased to have found a giant bear in literally the first spot I had focused my optics on. I watched the bear until last light observing its behavior. I knew why it was there and knew we could relocate and kill it once Chris arrived. I returned the next day and once again glassed up a bear late in the evening, then another. I had seen all I needed to, now my hunter simply needed to get here quick so we could go after them!
11:30 PM Chris' truck rumbles into camp. I woke up briefly to make sure he was getting settled then killed the lights. The 3:15 AM alarm cut through the silence of the night. Drowsy, I donned my clothes and gear, threw together breakfast, and fired up the truck. We trailered the SxS to a separate location to offload and then began the long, slow, technical drive into the area I had seen the bears. The sky was already light enough to walk unassisted by a flashlight as we parked. Both of us grabbed our stuff and hustled up the ridge. There was still a solid 20 minute hike ahead of us. As we climbed I navigated through the brush and choose a line that would keep the high point of the ridge line between us and the basin until the final approach. Once hitting the turning point Chris and I would cross the apex and be in full view of the basin, our approach having been shielded.
Two thirds of the way in, I watched the drainage to our right, below us. This was an entirely different mountain than where I had seen the bears previously. One dark body exposed itself in an opening below. Carefully I pulled my Sig Kilo3000 10x42 binoculars from my Marsupial harness and examined the animal. "We should go down and shoot that one." I stated to Chris. "Are you sure? Is he a good one?" He replied. "We need to go shoot it, trust me." I said calmly. In a purposeful manor we descended towards the bear. My eyes scanned the route in front of us for a shooting window. En route, two more bears came in to view, each 200 yards apart feeding. We now had three jet black bears within range. Lower and lower we proceeded. A rocky grass clearing became visible below us. This would be our shooting location.
The first bear fed towards us and dropped into a drainage out of sight. As we set up the rifle he reappeared on the intermediate ridge below us and much closer than before. Preparing for the shot took several minutes in the steep terrain. I wanted Chris to be perfectly comfortable before he pulled the trigger. The black bear fed around from bush to bush as we settled the rifle and Chris got into position. He stepped behind a large juniper tree the out the right side facing us. Sticking his nose into the prickly pear fruit in front of him he turned to our left. A small branch rested in front of the bear's shoulder. "If you are steady, you could put it through that tree branch, if you can tell where his vitals are. Its up to you..." I stated. A shot ripped off. "Dude. Holy crap!" Instantaneously the bruin was down. The shot placement was perfect. The bear bellowed a death roar echoing through the canyon. It was all over.
After a brief celebration we continued down the canyon and across to the bear. He was as big in person as I had anticipated. Without a doubt, Chris had taken a bear-of-a-lifetime. One with the broken teeth and battle scars to prove it.
While beginning the breakdown process I contacted Jeff and his son Adam, two fellow bear hunting diehards, and asked for their assistance. As I made the final cuts Jeff and Adam joined us at the bear. With their help we climbed up the treacherous spine to the top and back to the Honda. The temps made the trek a grueling experience but by early afternoon we were back at camp and exhausted. Chris was blown away by the experience and gravity of what had just played out. It was a if a day dream had come into existence.
Chris' AZ bear hunt was conducted entirely by the CHASE'N THE KING team on the behalf of AZDO.