The most complete answer to the question is: Any bear CAN be dangerous, and sometimes they ARE dangerous depending on a number of factors that have already been discussed in the previous articles.
(<That’s a younger “Bob”)
But more specifically, for the hunter, they ARE dangerous if wounded but still very much alive and waiting for you to show up in a follow-up, especially if they’ve gone into any cover that allows them to see you before you see them. That, I know from experience.
In thirty seasons, I superficially wounded two bears that got away into thick bush and awaited my follow-up. Those happened within the same general area of Crown Land, but several years and distinct seasons were involved. The first was a spring season when we still had them, and the latter was a fall season as described in my last blog, :Postscript 1. And that was the same bear that was checking us out by coming into the bush directly behind us and then trying to intimidate Ken and I, and the following week he tried the same thing when I was alone in the blind. But, that wasn’t the end of the drama. The end came later when I wounded him; that will be discussed in a few moments.
I now want to focus this final presentation on the two wounded bears, why that happened, and any lessons learned about dominant boar bears that have been wounded by a hunter, their reactions and if still vital they should be treated as Dangerous Game without equivocation! If wounded, we don’t know for certain how alive and alert they might be, nor exactly the physical conditions of their hideaway, nor even its precise location, which MUST be treated as any dangerous game situation, not merely potentially so!
The FIRST CASE: This was a spring season hunt in the Haliburton Highlands on Crown Land. It became my primary location for a dozen years or so, after scouting out several additional areas of the region. It was located within a hundred yards of an old logging road that was used mostly by moose and deer hunters in the fall, and snow machine users during the winter months. And it was on the side of a ridge with game trails at the bottom, just inside the tree line of a vast bog/marsh that surrounded a smallish lake. Perfect for any fur bearers, small game, varmints, predators, game birds, whitetails, moose AND bear! All of that I personally saw over the described period. I also hunted moose and deer in that area. So, it was familiar territory. That spring (before the spring bear season was terminated in 1999), I was hunting solo most of the time. I did the baiting, including its location as well as locating and building the blind up-high on the ridge about 100 yards from the bait setup downhill from me, and inside the treeline from the marsh approximately 75 yards.
“Perfect!”, was my view of matters. Actually, apart from the “close quarters” for both bait and stand, due to thick woods and brush, it proved to be an ideal situation. My elevation was 40 to 50 feet higher than the bait location, which meant the thermals would not likely be a factor. Plus, I was facing SW, so most days suitable for hunting in the spring would mean any wind would be in my face or from the SE, in which case it would be at 90* across line of fire from the left. So due to the elevation and wind direction, a bear would not likely catch my scent.
Yet, there was a natural shooting lane from blind to bait, which I enhanced by trimming some branches and cutting some brush. It remains to this day. But, due to new regulations, it can’t ever be used again for baiting purposes because the old logging trail is now used by ATV’ers from spring through fall months! The new law mandates that bear baits must be at least 200 meters (220 yards) from any maintained and officially identified travel route for vehicular traffic, including ATVs and dirt bikes.
Getting back to over two decades ago: This was my gem of a location and setup; known only to intimate hunting buddies. I also maintained another site approximately 1 mile by logging road from my highly prized setup. It was on the far side of the bog/marsh, hidden away in a small meadow. A friend wanted to hunt it. I agreed, so we travelled together to where our vehicle would be parked, just a few yards from the old logging trail; he went left, and I right, uphill to the marked game trail I used to descend to my blind. That only took 7 or 8 minutes. My friend had to walk about 3/4’s of a mile around the end of the marsh, then turn right to his blind on the edge of the meadow with the bait on the far side. We settled in for a wait that could last for 5 hours up to closing time, 1/2 hr after the sun had set.
A big bear was hitting my bait after hours, or when I wasn’t around. The evidence for a big bear is that the bait (lots of it) disappears within a day or so of it being placed in a particular location with no other creatures, including large ones, showing near or at that location. In fact, there may be no sightings, or evidence, of any other creature in the immediate area within 1/4 mile (400 yards) when normally there would be other bears and deer at the very minimum. Also, when large claw marks appear on trees above a man’s reach, as ownership markings by a dominant bruin, no doubt is left in the mind of an experienced black bear hunter as to what is happening at that bait site… you’d have to be dumb or blind to miss it! Then, there are other unmistakable evidences, well known to the keen observer: The disappearance of five-gallon bait buckets (with bait in them) that only show up months, or even years, later at up to 1/2 mile from the original site.
Yes, I had a BIG bruin that had moved into the area and claimed that food source as his own!
The mid afternoon that my friend, Mike, and I had settled into our respective locations, there was little to no wind, a bit cloudy, and mild temps. We each had snacks and a drink to help pass the potential hours that could easily involve normal evening meal time. Darkness would start to sneak in at around 7 pm in late April – early May. Especially was that so in my location. The bait was at the bottom of the ridge surrounded by tall trees and brush. That meant that the sun would be casting dark shadows over the bait site by 5 pm. If there was to be any action at the site by the big bear before closing time, it would be expected to happen around 8 pm.
As that hour slowly approached, I was on high alert! My rifle was a Remington 7400 (semi) in .35 Whelen, loaded with 200gr X-Bullets (the originals) at a chronographed 2800 fps/3481 ft-lbs at the muzzle. If Barnes’ BC of .346 was real, then at 98 yards they would hit at about 2555 fps/2898 ft-lbs; plenty for ANY size or disposition bear, with the exception of a 3/4 ton brown bear!
The, yet, unseen bear I expected, should go somewhere between 350 to 500 lbs, was my thinking.
As the last few minutes of hunting light were quickly escaping, I checked the site with my scope for any sign of a black object against a black background that wasn’t there the last time I checked 10 to 15 seconds earlier — it was that dark even with 5 minutes of legal light remaining! I stashed my rifle against a small fir tree to my right, bent over to pick up belongings, including binoculars, lifted the cover of my backpack – hunting seat, looking over the blind one last time…. And, THERE HE WAS sitting with his broad back to me facing the bait from just a couple of yards! Quietly, I put the binoculars back on the ground, sat on the seat, reached for my rifle, placed it on the pole that served as support for the blind, aimed, took of the safety, and…
He got up from his rump and silently moved to the right behind branches, and then behind the huge boulder that served as the backstop for the bait. He then turned and came back to the front, but continued on his way up the trail (that I used for bringing in bait — and a game trail) to my left. I waited until he cleared some trees and another boulder, aimed and fired! All of that took less than a minute from the time I first saw him until the trigger on my Rem 7400 was squeezed!
There was a brilliant muzzle flash that blinded me through the 3 – 9 x 40mm Bushnell, set on 6x. A crash, crash, crash was heard — then dead silence!
I had to go look for him! Just enough light remaining to make out some deadfalls and large boulders, but I had to check anything that looked black and out of place! By then, I heard the voice of my partner calling me… he was walking out and heard my shot. Then it got REAL DARK! I told him, in as few whispers as possible, what happened and where I believed the bear was heading, if still alive!
I lead the way over a well known game trail, just inside the marsh, for about 50 yards, and then called a halt to a followup in pitch darkness. We would return in the morning light.
The next day dawned bright and sunny… and we were three: Mike, Dave and myself. It was 7 am. We first checked the spot of bullet impact, and Dave found a piece of black fur attached to hide about 1 and 1/2 inches long. But there was no blood on the ground or trail that we followed for about 100 yards to the bottom of the ridge going west. I knew where the bear was coming from and where he would go if wounded and still alive. Mike was a very good tracker if there was any sign, but so far there was none. I was on his right with my Marlin .45-70 loaded for bear at close range. Dave was on his left toward the marsh.
Then… Mike stopped in his tracks and whispered “blood!”, as he looked intently down at the almost indistinguishable game trail in front of him!
We had arrived at the bottom of the ridge with a very thick bush confronting us. I told them to hold their positions while I went ahead to circle the bush to determine if the bear was still in it or had passed through it during the night. There was no hint of the bear’s presence in that thick tangle, so I entered and there before me was an open area, covered with grass, about 15 feet in length and 10 feet wide — and just before me was a patch of fresh blood about 8 inches in diameter! The bear had left it’s hideout just moments before we arrived. In daylight, and three of us approaching his hideaway, he departed toward the top of the ridge, not more than a couple of minutes ahead of us!
We spent the rest of the morning tracking pinpoints of blood over the ridge. I cut ahead and hit the main dirt road, as I knew he would cross it to go into the interminable tree-filled swamp on the far side. A grader had passed over that road, late the day before, so I figured if the bear had crossed it where I was certain he would, then tracks would be clear evidence of his passing. There were none. So, back into the woods I went and joined up with my buddies near the bottom of the ridge on the far side. By now both tracks in the soft watery ground, near the stream, were evident, plus those tiny droplets of blood. He’d crossed the stream and headed for the road that I had only moments before abandoned to join-up with my partners. Sure enough, there were his clear tracks across the road, along with a few droplets of blood over a bald ledge leading into the swamp beyond. We did a brief search in there, and knew it would be futile to pursue the bruin further.
The point of this is twofold: 1) That wounded bear waited in a hideout the whole night until daylight arrived, watching his back-trail for a possible counterattack in the pitch darkness! He felt outnumbered in the brightness of the morning sun and left the scene. But he was only mere yards ahead of us — no evidence of running away! Our pace was less than 1 mph, and yet he stayed out of sight not more than 50 yards ahead of us.
Would he have been dangerous had only Mike and I pursued him in the dark night of the hunt? And, if I had arrived solo the following morning, and entered his hideout would he still be ready and waiting for me? There was no evidence of a mortal wound. And he certainly was not in a panic as we very slowly followed his spoor the next morning.
2) Two days later, as I did my own followup to the cause of the wounding, I discovered a young unseen hardwood sapling a little over an inch thick had been hit by the bullet in line of sight to the bear. That was enough for the bullet to miss it’s intended mark. But enough to cause, perhaps, a serious wound, but not immediately fatal.
Some of you may recognise the above story, as it was told about two decades ago, but it was my first serious potential encounter with a big wounded bear that was awaiting its pursuers in sheer darkness!
The SECOND CASE: This one is much shorter, but the end results are similar though not identical. Having already described how this particular bear tried to control his situation through threats of violence, I said to Ken, “Let’s construct a new blind closer to the bait, and further to the left up against the evergreen bush that’s there, making it look like a part of the bush, so the bear will be less likely to notice it (and us). We did just that! I figured the bear would still check to see if we were in our usual blind (where he’d try to spook us.). If we weren’t there, he’d likely come in to the bait earlier and more boldly!
It was by then late October, and getting cold, very cold. But big bears would not normally be heading for their denning areas for another month if food was still available where they usually were feeding. In this case that big bear was still enjoying what we were donating to his cause!
So, we built the blind and were seated behind it around 2:30 – 3:00 o’clock. That was a bit earlier than usual, but darkness was, by that late date, arriving about 6 p.m. The bait was up against a huge boulder as a backstop, with thick bush all around within a few yards of the blind and bait… about 35 yards from us. I was seated to Ken’s right, just as previously in the blind we’d abandoned, then up behind us by about 60 yards. I thought the setup was perfect! We blended in with the scenery, our blind being part of the natural bush.
But by 5 p.m. I was freezing! I wanted this to happen “NOW”! Well, sure enough, on cue, the big black bruin emerged from behind the huge boulder to the right not more than about 35 yards from us! And he WAS a BIG bear! He didn’t go immediately to the bait, however, as he appeared to be suspicious…things didn’t seem just right to him! So, he hid behind the only tree big enough to hid most of him if he stood facing me directly… again, which he did! My rifle was up, aimed in his direction but the tree (about twenty-five yards directly in front of me) hid most of him. Ken, on my left, could see him better, and later told me he was wondering why I didn’t shoot! My arms were getting weary and I didn’t dare make a move because he had us in his sights! Suddenly! He decided to move quickly, and get OUT of THERE! I fired as he swung away from us to retreat back into thick bush. Then several crashes, followed by silence!
On immediate followup, Ken found a piece of fur, and I found where the 250gr GS from my 350 Rem Mag had struck a boulder and left its imprint just beyond where the bear had spun in its effort to escape. I also found the furrow made by Ken’s 150 Partition fired from his .270 Win at the fast escaping bear! It too was where the bear WAS when he fired but not where the bear was when the bullet arrived! Mine was the only hit… but where on the bruin’s anatomy?; that was the significant question! Again, though separated by several years, as in the first account, there was minimal spoor! We did a brief search, and I called a moratorium.
The next day, bright and early, we did a follow-up. As before, I went where I thought the bear would go into the first thick bush, not more than 60 yards from our blind. Sure enough, there before me was another patch of blood about the size of the previous one made ten years earlier. And, yes, there were mere pinpricks of fresh blood droplets emerging from the site, only moments before! Those eventually led through brush so thick that Ken was literally on hands and knees to find them. I was standing guard (again) with my Marlin loaded for bear. After 1 and 1/2 hrs. of that the pinpricks petered out as they led us into an impossible tangle that no human could pass through — even on hands and knees!
That would have been a very dangerous situation had we continued our follow-up the previous evening!
So, in answer to the question: “Hunting Black Bears — is that dangerous?”, I’ll take you to Africa where “The Dangerous Five” are spoken of with deep respect and some trepidation. No, bears aren’t found there, but big cats and buffalo are.
I’ve mentioned a few times that I watch videos of African hunting; especially of Cape buffalo and other “Dangerous Game”. Those are professionally made videos, of big name PH’s and clients, mostly. So some “doctoring” has taken place, and nothing simulating a real dangerous “accident” is available to the public. I understand that.
But recently I watched on Nat. Geo TV channel, a lengthy series on “Wild Africa” that did NOT edit the gore and killing that took place in a “war” between a large pride of lions and hundreds of Cape buffalo! I saw it again on YouTube. The lions were in packs, and no single one of them took on a mature male Cape buffalo.
How big is one of the African cats? A mature male lion goes about 450 to 500 lbs, so they tell us. How big is a mature male black bear? About the same weight. Which can run the fastest? Most would say a lion, of course. But hold on just a minute! According to Nat. Geo. a Cape buff can make about 35 mph tops, but it can outrun a large male lion after about 100 yards that also can make about 35 mph for a short stint!
Now, what about a bear of 350 to 450 lbs? How fast can it run? About the same as the lion or Cape buff! BUT, it has more stamina than the lion! “But the lion is quicker”, say you? Really? I doubt that as I’ve witnessed a mature male bear take off from a standing start and hit 35 mph in less than two seconds!
All that to simply put into perspective what you (or I) might be facing if we walk into a wounded bears hideout, thinking less of it than we would if walking into a wounded lion’s hideout!
The videos mentioned, where a dangerous animal such as lion or Cape buffalo have been wounded, has an entourage of about five or six men, four of whom have “heavy” rifles at the ready; and you want to walk into a wounded bear’s hideaway alone, with a single rifle?
Think that over! And DON’T refer to black bear hunting as “potentially dangerous”! In my book they ARE DANGEROUS GAME and nothing to have a careless attitude about in hunting them in rough terrain where thick brush, undergrowth, trees, ravines, caves, streams, lakes, bogs, rivers and ridges/mountains are their habitat. And what about bears in your kitchen?
And that was a long answer to a short question!
Next question: What rifles should you use in a wounded bear follow-up? “Whatever you would you use for a wounded lion follow-up.”, might be the logical answer.
‘Till the next on “HUNTING FITNESS”