Bear Essentials With Tom Nelson

It always baffles me how ones mind rambles and wanders while maintaining a marathon vigil perched high in a treestand. Tonight seemed no exception. I was doing a tremendous job of solving all the worlds problems. I was working on solving the national debt when a slight, almost muffled snap of a small branch jolted me back to reality. Slowly, ever so slowly, I turned my head to the right for a "look see". There perhaps 20 yards away, stood a small black bear. Cautiously he approached the bait site. Instantly two others appeared from the dense stand of cedars and rushed past the first bear to the waiting smorgasbord that lay ahead.

For several moments the trio of yearling bears gorged themselves on the scraps of rotting fish and meat I had piled up at the back of the crib. I had built this crib in a V pattern, by stacking heavy logs on top of each other. This forced the bears to eat at a quartering away angle, the preferred shot angle for this bow toting bear hunter. Then, almost ghostlike, a larger black form materialized and began to circle the bait.

I surmised this was the sow following her two-year-olds in for a evening snack. She was a really beauty, her ebony coat almost glistened in the light of the few sparse rays of fading sun that managed to penetrate the swamps thick canopy. Like most adult black bears she continually monitored the wind. She was a big bear, as large a sow as I had ever seen in twenty five years of bear hunting. Only once did she commit herself and enter the crib, quickly snatching a piece of unidentifiable meat and disappearing into the safety of the woods.

For more than an hour I watched the triplets dine. They seemed not to have a care in the world. Then, as suddenly as she appeared earlier, there the sow was again, but this time she made a low aaarrr.... and the trio ran over to her side. The dinner party was over.

Glancing at my watch, I now had a half hour of legal shooting time left. Sitting down in my treestand, I felt my legs begin to relax. I had been standing since I climbed into this stand over three hours ago. But I figured the show for tonight was over so I might as well be comfortable. I had found the large pad print of a big bear at this bait site, but now I surmised that it had been made by the large sow. Boy, was I about to be proven wrong! A large bear will leave a track of 4 ½ inches-plus wide. I like to hunt a bait station that is being visited by a bear with a 5 inch track or better. I have gone as far as to bring in sand to scatter around my bait to observe tracks. Another sure way to identify a big bear (and when I say big I mean a bear with at least an 18" skull or better)is to get a mouth imprint. Bears with upper canine spacing of 2 1/8 inches will normally make the Pope and Young record book. 

You can often get this imprint on an object near your bait site. If not, make an implant tool by soaking a piece of Styrofoam in some grease or honey. The bruin will bite the foam but will not care for the results. I had been daydreaming for about 15 minutes when I spotted some movement in the cedars behind the bait. There it was again and this time it materialized into an extra large black bear. Carefully he made his way to the back of the crib. I was caught flat footed! Talk about feeling like a rookie. I knew better than to be caught sitting down at prime time. My bow was hung up on a peg above me. I had to stand to get my bow and shoot. As the bear made his way to the back of the crib he reached over to try and grab some scraps of meat but was unable to reach them. After another futile attempt he sat down to contemplate things. Slowly I stood and grabbed my bow. The feeling of the bow in my hand was a welcome relief. At 60lbs, this bow shoot an Easton ACC. Carbon arrow, 254 feet per second. Now I was ready, if only the bear would cooperate.

In a moment the bruin was up and moving again. This time he walked around to the opening of the crib. Now he just needed to enter the crib and give me that quartering away shot. For what seemed eternity the bear stood there trying to make up his mind. Then his stomach made up his mind for him. Entering the crib he made his way to his last supper. He was now at 15 yards, but more importanly he was at the all important angle. Drawing back the bow seemed an effortless task. I placed my site pin toward the rear of his chest cavity, drawing an imaginary line to his opposite shoulder in my mind. At the release of my arrow the bear spun around biting at his side. He then took three or four bounds back into heavy cover just out of my site. Then I heard a tremendous crash. I knew it was all over.

I waited until dark to climb down and take a look. It had been long enough since the shot to take up the trail. I had taken but a few steps, when I spotted the bear piled up just ahead in the blow-downs. He was a good one, all right. I ran my hands through his thick hide as I admired the size of the bear. I shined my flashlight around and realized I was going to need some help to get this guy out. But I was not in a hurry, there was plenty of time. Right now I just wanted to sit and enjoy the moment.

by Tom Nelson, well know bowhunter, author, and host of Bowhunter Magazine's American Archer, seen on The Outdoor Channel