Thursday, October 4, 2012

Grizzly bear charge - a first-person account

This is a guest post, written by my childhood friend and new hunter, Jesse Howe:

If you asked me 3 weeks ago if I am a hunter, the candid answer would have been no. If you had asked me 4 months ago it would have been a resounding no. Hunting is new to me, but every morning I venture out I learn something and become more entranced by its spell. I now completely comprehend why my brother’s former business partner postponed every fall semester from the University of Maryland, and took about 7 years to graduate in the process. Now I am fully entrenched; having bought my first ever gun 2 months ago (a Savage 30.06 in case you are wondering), completed my hunter safety course this past June, and bagged my first animal 2 weeks ago.

A pronghorn was my first kill; it is often labeled an antelope, which it is not. Some folks call it a speed goat, which paints a vivid and accurate portrait. That hunt certainly was not as challenging as hunting other big game in the Jackson, WY area, but I do feel it was valuable to peer through the scope for the first time, pull the trigger, and then have to deal with the aftermath. That butchering process took about 10 hours at the kitchen table, I hear it gets easier.

The past week I have been searching for a bull elk on the south side of ______ (in true hunter fashion my one and only treasured spot will die with me), accompanied by my roommate Ryan. I have been hunting this area as often as possible, and the hairs standing on the back of my neck 30 minutes before sunrise as a bull elk bugled from 2 ridges over is something I will always fondly remember.  Tracking and putting him in the crosshairs, as well as pulling the trigger, has been a different story.  It is easier said than done!  Complicating things is our current weather model, hot and arid. It is so dry out there I may as well be stomping around while eating a bag of potato chips.  Each morning I have ventured out, something memorable has happened.  The first of October did not disappoint.

Ryan and I camped after a night hunt, and were out stalking shortly after 5am.  It was an uneventful morning for me, although Ryan spooked a bull elk at 6:30 and had the great fortune to sit in the moonlight and observe as the bull gathered his harem and skedaddled.  We had plans to reconvene at a meadow around 11am, so at nearly that hour I approached the rendezvous point after not seeing or hearing much of anything. I crossed a marsh (where my footsteps were nearly silent) and entering the forest again (where they were not). I stepped on a stick that hadn’t seen moisture in many weeks, the snap of which sounded an alarm loud enough to warn critters big and small. Something with thick, brown fur spooked in my field of vision at about 2 o’clock. This is by no means unforeseen, and I glanced over half expecting to see a doe mule deer or cow elk hightailing it out of there. Instead, I saw a grizzly bear rearing up and looking straight at me, then beginning her charge.  I always have my bear spray handily located in my left front pocket and my 30.06 rifle on my right shoulder, but to say there was time for either is utterly laughable.  There truly was no time to think, only to react, as the top speed of a grizzly is nearly 35mph. Simultaneously I jumped behind a small tree to my left, peeked back at her bearing down on me, and bellowed something to the effect of, ‘BEAR! GET OUT OF HERE!’ Those words I am not sure of precisely, although I do know it began with ‘bear’, and perhaps ended with gibberish.  She stopped on a dime about 3 feet short of me and our eyes momentarily met, then she did a simple 180 and walked up and over the small ridge and was gone.  It was the classic bluff charge. It took about 7 seconds from the time the stick snapped until she was on me.  My heart was beating profusely and interestingly enough my hunting partner Ryan was only 150-200 yards away at our meeting spot and heard the whole thing go down.

The grizzly was feeding on a 5 point bull elk carcass with large sweeping antlers, in all probability an inaccurate hunter’s shot that could not be tracked down, and died where he rest.  The lucky bear had begun to cache the kill by putting grass, dirt, and leaves over the midsection. Winter is fast approaching and unquestionably she is aware it is time to fatten up. An hour later back on the road some fellow hunters told us a ranger had mentioned that a female grizzly of about 300lbs lived in the area, so it was probably her. I reported the encounter to local Fish and Game, and was told this type of incident is happening more frequently, especially to hunters. As I expected, she was protecting her kill and sending a strong warning sign to me. I received that transmission loud and clear. Oddly enough I don’t harbor any fear of returning to the forest to hunt, not even of going back to the same zone. Although I must admit, had it happened before sunrise instead of well after, I might be a tad bit more hesitant to venture into that same stretch of woods.

This video is NOT MINE, but will give an idea of how fast a grizzly bear can get going: