Bears and Sharks
The following is based on my seeing Jaws the movie, and an actual bear hunt in the Colorado Rockies.
Bears and Sharks are similar in many ways. Both have a keen sense of smell; their heads, as if mounted on a swivel, are constantly scanning ahead, side to side, and behind. Their bodies are large and without definition. Both animals maintainconstant movement, never stopping, and occasionally exhibiting blistering speed when closing in on a meal; their hunger is insatiable. Sharks and Bears are omnivorous; they’ll eat anything, or anyone. They’ll even eat their own.
I recently had the privilege to accompany my three boys on a bear hunt. It’s a father and son rite of passage that, given the opportunity, shouldn’t be missed. The hunt had been promised since the days of Gerber and in the actual planning stage for nearly two years. Our chosen hunting spot was the High Lonesome Ranch, a three hundred square-mile spread in western Colorado.
Bears move from food source to food source. Sometimes a bear will feed once and then move on. They don’t always return to the same place, but find where bears have been feeding and eventually one will appear. The best way to spot bears is to scour the area for sign and once evidence of bear activity, such as scat or tracks has been found, watch from a distance, sometimes as far as a mile away. A spotting scope is essential.
Seeing a bear in the wild for the first time is a visceral experience. One’s imagination vacillates between Yogi and Booboo at one extreme to scenes from Anthony Hopkins’s “The Edge.” They look playful; they’re not. Mountain Lions will relinquish a fresh kill to an approaching bear; that ought to tell you something.
Eventually it’s time to setup on the bear area. Under normal circumstances bears will avoid humans, so it’s necessary to spray down with a scent killer. Scent sufficiently masked and gun loaded, the next step is to find a vantage spot downwind of the area where the bears were last seen. And then wait.
In my case a sow and cubs first moved through the area. A few minutes behind them lumbered a large bear. To my advantage, the bear was preoccupied with the sow and cub. Bears will kill cubs. It’s thought they do so to force the sow into estrus.
Finally, less than fifty yards away, the bear simultaneously came into position for a clear shot, took his eyes off the cubs, and spotted me. A fifty yard shot at the shooting range is a piece of cake. Except when considering the cost of ammo, there’s no need for one’s pulse to surge. But at fifty yards it’s possible to make piercing and disturbing eye contact with a 350-pound black bear, especially one that’s looking directly at you through a high-powered scope. He paused momentarily, rare for a bear, my pulses surged; his stopped.
Since the bear died, the cubs lived. I feel good about that. It took several minutes for my pulse to resume safe levels, and more than an hour to reach my normal resting rate.
Skinning a bear, unlike the rest of the hunting experience, is something that can be missed. There’s nothing scent-free about a bear. The fact that they can smell anything when they stink so horrific is an olfactory wonder.
Ask a mountaineer if they like bear meat and you’re likely to get one of two responses. A few will lick their lips and begin a dramatic expose’ on bear meat recipes. Most will gag at the notion and recommend inviting B-list friends and relatives when bear is being served. I plan to serve it to my wife’s relatives at Thanksgiving.