By Tom in Oregon
Having grown up in Southern California, I had few opportunities to hunt game. My friends and I tried our hand at rabbit and carrier pigeon. Great on the former, poor on the latter. When I moved to Oregon at the age of 19, I took up archery and became fairly proficient at slinging arrows.
I dreamed of exotic hunting, like the kind Ox Ranch offers, with its multitude of game animals, all within reach and a possibility.
When I was invited to my first archery big game hunt, I discovered something unreal. I could hunt deer, elk and bear all at the same time! Bonus: the season is a month long starting in late August. But I had one major issue . . .
I had read about Fred Bear and others who hunt bear with a bow, but there’s no way I am that comfortable. Or that confident. The rules stated that you can hunt bear with a gun during Archery season, but you couldn’t carry both gun and bow at the same time.
Caring more about my wellbeing and longevity more than I do some stupid rule, my solution was to carry a handgun anyway. Specifically, a Smith & Wesson model 27 with a six-inch barrel that delivers particularly potent .357 pills. Being somewhat innovative, I chose to carry it in a shoulder holster under my camo coat.
I hunted this way for years on end, enjoying great success on mule deer and elk. While I saw lots of signs of bear, I never saw one in the wild. Complacency had taken hold.
A couple of years ago, my best friend and I were hunting a favorite spot in the coastal mountain range. We had discovered an old abandoned farmstead with an abandoned fruit orchard. We were nonchalantly walking in from where we parked, as we had well over a mile to go before we needed to start stalking our game. We came to a split in the road and as usual, we went separate ways in order to check for game trails and other signs of the elk herd that frequented the area.
The road split around a deep drainage in the rough shape of a football. The pit was about 50 feet deep and about 100 yards across and was chock full of blackberry vines, raspberry vines and salal plant. Unless you’re a walking brush hog, it’s all but impassable. The raspberry grabs your shoes, unties them for you, then tries to remove them. While tripping you. The blackberry vines grow over 10 feet high and have piercing thorns that rip your clothes and leave you bloody.
About half way around the pit of horrors, I hear a racket similar to several trees falling in a forest. It becomes quickly evident that my buddy is hearing it too. He yells “ELK!” I nock an arrow and make ready.
That’s when I see my buddy drop his bow and draw his Ruger Blackhawk .44 mag and take aim at something below me. I’m thinking what the…? He can’t shoot an elk with that. Then I hear him yell BEAR! just before he got off his first shot (Remember Mr. Complacency? My buddy had switched to a hip holster after Oregon law changed and allowed hunters to carry handguns while bow hunting. I still carried mine in the shoulder rig.)
I unbutton the second button of my camo jacket, reach in, and unsnap my Smith, grab a handful of goncalo alves and yank. A second shot rings out. Dang it, I can’t get this…. Bang! A third shot breaks. Crap. I’m at the top of a game trail that comes out of the pit. I drop my bow just as a rather large black black bear comes fogging it up the incline. Straight at me. He sees me at the same time I see him. He jukes right. I’m still struggling to get a 6-inch object out of a 5-inch hole.
Boom. Another shot gets my attention. I’m hearing brush getting torn up about a hundred yards to my left. I finally realize my dilemma, let go, unbutton, re grab and yank.
Boy am I ready for nothing. I finally have my bear killer out, and the bear is gone. A total of about six seconds has elapsed. My buddy has fired four rounds. I have a bow on the ground and a hand full of steel, lead and copper. No gunpowder smell for me.
We get together at the last sighting point, side by side. We follow a kind of trail where the grasses have been laid flat. About 80 yards later, we find the bruin. Piled up over a log. Best of all, it’s not breathing.
As it’s about a 300 pounder, we decide to at least gut it before trying to carry it out. That done, we find a stout branch about 10 feet long to hang it from so we can carry it over a mile back to the truck. This took a sweaty long time.
Once home, we skinned it. We found that it had been hit twice. As my buddy alternates hollow points and jacketed soft points in his hog leg, we determined that a hollow point round had hit the back left knee. The round did little damage. The second hit went into the right arm pit, took off the top of the heart, then exited the left arm pit. A 50% hit ratio on a running bear? Not bad.
We took the meat to a butcher. Aside from a few roasts, the majority was turned into sausage. Summer sausage and breakfast sausage. Best breakfast fare anywhere!
The skin? While not anything close to a state record, it’s still impressive. The current Oregon records are 469 lbs. for archery and 490 for rifle. At around 300 lbs. he was still impressive.
A few months later, it was back from the taxidermist. As it was considered a tag team effort, we agreed to share the rug. After a round of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock, my buddy got to hang it the first year in his home. Now it’s on my wall…
Mind you, that’s an 8 foot ceiling.
I give it a good luck touch on weekends, as I head out to find another. There are some impressive tracks again in the old orchard.
Though the meat has long since been consumed, I get to see it every day, a reminder of an awesome hunt.