I was finally on my way to Maine for a hunt I had been looking forward to for a long time; my very first bear hunt. Growing up in Alaska, I used to only think of black bear as a nuisance and not nearly as frightening as grizzlies. My opinion changed the day I came face-to-face with a 300 pound black bear on the back porch. I heard what sounded like the dogs fighting and opened the door–there it was, within 3 feet of me. I slammed the door startling the bear. He jumped off the porch and scaled a 6 foot chain link fence effortlessly. The thing which haunts me the most was when he turned back, sat on his haunches and stared straight at me. By the time I could get the gun from upstairs he had disappeared. Claw marks in the Trex Deck from him launching off the deck.
Fast forward a few years and I have developed an unhealthy misunderstanding of the creatures. I knew that this hunt would help change that. I started watching bear hunts on tv to get a small glimpse of what it might be like.
The Labor Day weekend drive from New York to Maine was as meandering as it was beautiful. Bikes were everywhere and boats where tooling around the lakes in every direction. Leaves of trees along the roadside were still green but dying to change colors at any moment.
The lodge was located on the gorgeous Pleasant River. Maine reminds me so much of Alaska. I had forgotten how much I loved birch trees. Nestled on the top of a small hill was the the two story lodge that would be my home for the week long stay–everything I could with attention to detail that simply amazed me. The rooms were cozy and there were animals mounts just about everywhere – my kinda place!
Dinner our first night was phenomenal and just a preview of the homemade master pieces we would all enjoy that week. There is nothing better than coming in from an afternoon in the stand, not only to the wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen, but to a warm meal….with dessert.
I had many questions, but one of the most important was if the guide was serious about me walking out of my stand alone at night. He assured me that the bears in Maine won’t bother you if they know you are there and will just walk the other way, but he would come get me if I felt uncomfortable.
My first hunt, I was dropped off first. I had a very good but slightly weird feeling about the night ahead. I sat in my stand and watched the squirrels jump in and out of the bait barrel and chase each other, fighting over their morsels of sugar highs.
About 5:30, I noticed dragonflies landing on me and flying all over me. This had become more entertaining than the squirrels. I looked up because I suddenly felt I should and saw a face looking back at me. A large black bear face.
I thought I might have a heart attack while for 15 minutes straight (according to the trail camera we checked later) he wandered back and forth between almost going to the bait and going back into the woods. He came out and sat down, facing me, staring at me trying to figure out what was in the tree. I lowered my head slowly so all I could see was his feet under my hat brim. I wasn’t about to get busted and ruin my chances.
He looked away and I raised my gun as silently as I could but he resumed staring at me. I had no plans on ruining the skull by shooting him in the face but the second he moved he was gonna be in trouble. He finally decided the area was safe and walked toward the bait. That is when I aimed, clicked my safety off and fired.
It knocked him over and he did a break dance in the dirt, I thought he was down and I lifted my head but suddenly he reared up on his hind legs ready to fight whatever just attacked him. I will never forget how he looked with his hackles up, hunched over, and lip rolled up exposing teeth. He turned and jogged into the trees. I was sure he was just yards away.
I waited for what seemed like eternity so the other hunters could finish their hunts. We picked up the group and headed back ready to track the big bear. We searched and “the blood hound” Heather Linginer found the blood trail in the dark. With every yard we tracked, doubt began to grow in my mind. I know the power of my rifle, a direct hit is devastating to the animal. He should be down. We decided to go back to the lodge and resume our efforts of tracking him in the morning light.
I didn’t sleep well that night. We returned to the area the next morning to look. The trail dwindled to nothing and disappeared. We searched every where for more blood but there was nothing. We walked back to the bait site and I explained where he was, where I shot as the guide looked around and found a perfect round dent in a pine tree. No bullet, but after looking at the angle from the stand to the tree it was obvious I had shot high, just nicking him, cutting some hair from his back.
The guide assured me that bears are resilient getting wounded all of the time from life and from fights with other bears; this bear would be just fine. There was no blood on the branches or grass we searched though like you would find on a normal side wound on an animal.
Its hard to loose an animal you thought you had. We left to go get some breakfast and I was greatly disappointed but grateful that the bear would live life just fine. We nicknamed him “Scarback” and I hope to have another shot at him.
The bad news, I had no bear but the good news was able to hunt the rest of the week. It felt so good be out in the woods again. I didn’t see anything bigger than a raccoon the rest of the trip but I cannot wait to return and try again next year. Another hunt, another lesson learned, more friends and memories made–even without harvesting it was one of the best hunts I have ever had.
You never know what you are capable of until you try it and I conquered my bear misunderstanding. They are to be respected but not feared.
I hope you will join me on a Maine bear hunt at Pleasant River Guide Service next year for a hunt you will never forget, food that you dream about and friends you will cherish for a lifetime.