Bear Hunt NSSF
Courtesy Mark Oliva
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By Mark Oliva

There’s that moment in the woods that comes right after the shot. It’s when the rifle’s crack is done echoing. It’s when anticipation, exhilaration and disappointment all hold their breath. The hunt is about to be over, but for a few precious seconds, it still lingers.

That was my moment in Maine’s North Woods. I was peering through my riflescope and just yards away was a black bear. The first shot sent her spinning and tumbling. The second anchored the sow. She moved no more.

My long breath escaped, held since the decision was made to squeeze the trigger. My thumb found the safety and flicked it back on. It was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, tempered expectations and days of rain and mosquitoes.

A Vision

The hunt actually started a year before. A nonprofit veteran organization with which I’ve volunteered, AHERO USA (American Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors), asked me to meet Paul and Dee House, founders of House in the Woods.

The two organizations share similar goals. They both engaged veterans to get out into the woods, hunting and fishing, creating networks of support through fellow veterans. The hunts that both organizations host give a chance to thank veterans for their service and offer healing and recovery and rekindle the hunter’s soul.

house in the woods logo

Paul and Dee started House in the Woods in memory of their son, Army Sgt. Joel House, who was killed in action in Taji, Iraq. Paul said Joel loved being in the woods and built House in the Woods to heal veterans through outdoor recreation. It’s the same place that AHERO’s founder, Marine Maj. Lee Stuckey, found his healing. logo

Paul offered to partner with AHERO, and with two other veterans, I joined other groups in Maine. For a month, volunteers – all veterans and their families – had been preparing for the hunt. They cut trails, set stands, baited sites, cooked meals, cleaned linens and picked up and drove veterans. They literally did all they could to welcome veterans to House in the Woods.

Hunt Camp

The lodge was buzzing with anticipation. Paul warned that while every volunteer, including the veterans who are all registered Maine guides, wanted each guest to take home a bear, the success rate in Maine is roughly 30 percent. The previous wet spring would make that even tougher. The bears were gorging themselves on the plump berries that grow native in Maine.

Strangers quickly become friends in a hunting camp, especially veterans. Stories are traded of service, dates of combat tours are swapped and eventually hunting tales that have grown bigger through the years are retold to fresh ears. Each morning, the hunt holds promise. Each night, the stories of close encounters, “might-have-beens” and even a couple bears that came in. When they did, hunters gathered to see the harvest and congratulate the successful hunter. They even did it while quietly hoping they were next, myself included.

Looking down at the bear, the hunt over, the unique specialness of this hunt struck me. There’s something special about sharing time in a hunting camp, in the solitude of the woods as it goes to sleep. The night creeps in, but the shadows that often linger of physical, emotional and spiritual tolls are pushed back. In the fellowship of fellow veterans and hunters, there’s healing and restoration. I got to share it with them. It’s good for the soul.

bird hunting field upland
Peter Schechter for TTAG

A Hunter’s Heart

Celebrating a hunt, successful or not, is something with which all hunters can relate. It’s why we celebrate our heritage. President Richard Nixon first set aside a day to honor our outdoor heritage with National Hunting and Fishing Day, observed the fourth Saturday in September, this year on Sept. 28. Across our nation, the fall hunting season will be in full swing. Birds will be flushing, waterfowl cupping for landings, deer, moose, elk and even bear will be quietly picking their way through the woods.

It’s the perfect time for all to rekindle their hunter’s heart. Take someone with you. Share the hunt. Make memories. Connect.

Find that brief moment for yourself, the one that comes after the shot and just before the realization, the hunt has become a harvest. Better yet, make it a moment that adds to your restoration, and that of someone else’s, that can only come at dawn in a marsh, under the sun flushing fields and the quieting of the evening woods.

This is where the hunter’s heart longs to be.


Mark Oliva is Director of Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation

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    • That was my thought, too. Undoubtedly legal in that region due to bear population and species (or they wouldn’t be offering up a pic for the Internetz), but they sure look smaller than what I’d consider to be something worth hunting. But I wasn’t there, so I guess that’s all I can say on the matter.

      • Nowadays people freak right the fuck out to the point of offering to murder a hunter and his family over these pics. Kneeling next to the propped up animals head with a shit eating grin, well earned I might add, plastered on your face is a no-no.

        Those bears may have looked bigger in such a pose instead of shoved back down a long bed pickup with the hunters doing a ‘forced perspective’ type of shot.

    • I’m no bear expert, but I’ve been on a few hunts. Bear sizes are dramatically different, depending on area. Looking at Maine averages, a real big bear is 300lbs, and most of them that are shot are between 150-250lbs.
      Looking closely at that photo, it looks like one of the feet is against the cab, and the noses are near the edge of the bed. Assuming that’s a 6′ bed, those are all decent bears, at least if what I’ve read of the Maine bears is true. I’ve never hunted bears there.

  1. From the article:

    There’s something special about sharing time in a hunting camp, in the solitude of the woods as it goes to sleep. The night creeps in, but the shadows that often linger of physical, emotional and spiritual tolls are pushed back. In the fellowship of fellow veterans and hunters, there’s healing and restoration. I got to share it with them. It’s good for the soul.

    I could not have possibly said it better myself. There is something almost magical about being out in the woods with friends while hunting and camping. It is calming and soothing almost beyond description. A friend of mine long ago coined the EXACT same description, “It is good for the soul.”

    If you have never set up a hunting camp or stayed in a remote forest cabin and hunted in the wilds, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to try it at least once. It really is THAT special, peaceful, and restorative.

  2. I want to add to the description in this article and I am struggling to find the words for it.

    Walking out in pitch black darkness through the wilds to a hunting location is amazing.

    Settling down in that pitch black darkness and watching the glow of day slowly take hold and blossom into daylight is amazing.

    Listening and watching what happens in the wilds as pitch black darkness gives way to daylight is amazing.

    And reversing the whole process at the end of the day is equally amazing.

    Finally, sharing your experiences of the day with friends and hearing about their experiences around a meal and some drinks are even more amazing.

    Like I said in my previous comment above: if you have not ever experienced this, please do everything in your power to do it at least once.

  3. In Wis. a bear need to be 42 inches from tip of the nose to the tail.

    About 100 pounds give or take.

    I have seen a lot of bear weighed.

    Yesterday my wife shot a bear that dressed at 159 pounds so about 200 lbs live weight. Had it in back of my F150 6.5 foot box.

    Those bears look smaller. So what as long as they are legal in the state they were shot.

    They well be very good eating bears. I have eaten several 100 to 200lb bears all very tasty.

    I eaten a couple 500lb black bears and some in-between they were all good also.

    • I’ve eaten cat in some of those ranges. Never over 200 but maybe 180 at most. The sweet spot is that 110-130 range. 😘

  4. Beautifully written!
    As a Wisconsin hunter myself, I can FEEL your experience in these words ❤️🐻
    As a volunteer for HOUSE IN THE WOODS this last week, I also experienced the healing that happens there, first hand.

    I’m not a veteran, but rather a bystander with a shoulder to lean on, and knife in hand to help clean bear so that was amazing as well.

    I cried as I left, but knew without a doubt that it was because we built a bond in that week and I have vowed to help Paul and Deanna as much as possible to grow the amazing mission they have, which is growing in momentum!!

    Thank you again for writing such a nice article,
    What a place!! 🥰

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