OK, so we’ve looked at a few bear bullets in P1 and P2 under particular circumstances, but what if you (or a partner) have wounded a bruin and it’s leaving at 25 to 30 mph? What would you like to have in your hands at that moment — for it will only be a moment before it disappears into the unknown where you might have to go in and find it? Obviously it will be the same rifle and load you brought to the war zone! War zone, you say? Yes! It might become that serious before the day is done!
It is believed by those with lots of DG hunting experience in Africa, in particular by PH’s, that a wounded leopard is the most likely to “get you” of all the big five or six. It might not kill you but may leave you wishing it had! Though infections from bites and scratches may prolong that ordeal. A big leopard might weigh 130 lbs, so it is the quickest in counter-attack! To compound matters, it usually attacks from unseen in tall grass without a sound. PH’s often use 12-ga shotguns with buckshot in such near encounters.
This bear was a regular at my 2015 bait setup. He often came at night. On September 30, 4:07 pm he attended, but other bears had preceded him. Unfortunately, I was not in my tree stand 85 yards to the right. He was at least 400 lbs.
A black bear may be three or four times the weight of a mature leopard, so not as quick but still lightening fast! I’ve witnessed it! They are not slow and ponderous in a life or death situation, as many imagine. A mature one is stronger than any leopard, and five times as strong as a mature man of their own weight!! Can they climb trees and mountains? Faster than you could run on a flat track! They are the number one killer of humans by predators in North America.
All that to put matters into perspective in following up a wounded black bear in rough terrain or boreal forest.
Again, take the rifle and load you would use in a follow up on a wounded, desperate bear that has gone for safety, and possible revenge, into the thickest mess he can find — watching his back trail, the same as an African dugga boy! It might be into a tree filled swamp, bog or rocky cliff with a cave! And keep in mind that he knows his terrain as well as we know our kitchens!
For such a possible encounter I’ve toted a Marlin in .45-70 with 400-gr to 405-grainers at over 2000 fps. That was when I had it available as a backup. Let me explain…
I mentioned in P2 that on two occasions I had wounded a bear that needed followup, but darkness forbade an immediate chase into the unknown. On a third instance, which was my first followup, I missed a shot on a good bear but had to insure it was a clean miss and not a wound. Only on one of those incidence did I have a partner by my side. In order of those encounters my rifles were a .300 Weatherby Magnum, .35 Whelen, and a .350 Rem Mag.
Those happenings have been presented in years past with particular details but not with emphases on my frame of mind.
Thought process determines attitude or frame of mind. Always. Often, in emergencies it goes unrecognized, and is mostly credited to a spontaneous action where emotion takes charge. That could be like an animal’s “instinct” of fight or flight. But there are preconditions to an animal’s “instinct” as well as to our own reactions under stress or immediate danger, real or imagined.
There are several aspects to an animal’s “instinct”, as well as to our own reactions whether inbred or learned. Or both.
From the birth moment til a black bear is driven away by its mother, usually in its second year, the cub becomes a yearling and then an adolescent. It will be both protected and trained by its mother how to protect itself during that formative period. Then it is driven away and becomes most vulnerable to being killed by a car or truck on a highway, or by a larger bear, and lastly getting shot as a nuisance bear — usually NOT by a hunter as they’re likely after a larger, more mature bear.
And bears rarely die of disease. In the case of an old bear — thirty years or more — they didn’t get to be that age by being dumb! Rarely are they ever seen by humans — even hunters. But when their teeth are worn out and they can’t catch or kill smaller game any more, starvation or accident will get them. Or, on the other hand they might show up at a bait in hunger desperation, or being chased by hounds where that sequence is predetermined — they just can’t outrun trained dogs anymore.
So “instinct” for survival becomes the main motive of an aged bear — and keeping that in our psyches should be the main drive in choosing our firearm. If such a bear in its prime has a few notches in its moose belt, on the verge of starvation do you think it would be afraid of a relatively small two-legged creature — unless it has had a previous painful encounter? Most long-lived bears live in wilderness areas and have had no previous encounters with humans.
Cubs will not survive into their second year without the mother’s protection, care and teaching. Then it goes into the den with the mother in October – November for its second winter. When it emerges again with its mother, usually in late April, early May, depending on outside climate conditions and availability of “food”, it’s a yearling — not a cub. It will appear with it’s parent at bear baits if the mother is so inclined. Sometimes, of course, there may be as many as three or four yearlings! While they are legal “game” in the fall, in the spring with their mother they are NOT! But I’ve seen many with their female parent in fall hunts but never pulled the trigger on one. Some, closing in on two years old by the fall, can weigh nearly 100 lbs!
By their third season the males can procreate and think themselves quite capable — much like our mid to late teen young men! Female (sow) bears can usually get pregnant their third year but a lot depends on the wild berry and nut supply that coincides with mating in late May into early July. Conception may happen but if the natural food supply is limited the fetus will not be implanted into the uterus but will be absorbed back into the blood stream. The sow may have mated with several boars in the process.
Male bears emerge from their dens in mid to late April, before females with cubs, depending on region and outside conditions. If snow is still quite deep with temps below freezing he may return to his den for a short period until exterior conditions improve. On the other hand he may wander a relatively short distance with hopes of something edible. He has new pads on his feet so they are quite tender and he’s looking for sprouts of green grass to assist the digestive track in removing the plug at the exit of his bowel.
The point I’m making is that food is the dominant motivating factor in any bear’s life, not play or socializing. Food for the male in May is carrion and moose calves. Or, any denned animals’ newly born, including bear cubs or even their mother! Bears, when active, apart from a brief mating period of about a month and a-half, have one thing in mind — that’s food! They are predators in nature and have no prejudice against eating their own kind!
As stated, food in the spring when they emerge from their dens consists of carrion, moose calves (and even the cow moose if she tries to intervene) or any other live or dead meat! That also includes beaver kits, beaver in the fall on land while gathering branches for winter food storage, rabbits, birds, wolf pups — anything they can catch and kill that in some cases involve mature bull moose! In other words, a bear will chase, harass, injure, trap and kill any living creature (including two-legged ones) that it considers no threat to itself. The only predator of black bears is larger black bears or grizzly in the North West. They evaluate by size and habit. If the prey runs the bear will chase — so its wise to keep that in mind in a black bear encounter. Make yourself look as big as possible and stand your ground even if charged. But, of course, you will have a firearm so use it when the bear crosses a particular line you’ve fixed in mind — that may be a rock, branch, tree, bush or other landmark.
During the summer months — actually about six weeks — bears in the wild will feed on berries and nuts from trees. During the fall til denning again, it will be meat: fish, fowl, various deer species and anything else it can catch. A relatively slim younger bear in their prime is very fast — up to 35 mph/56 kph. An older, heavy bear will be slower. They will kill moose or elk while they’re lying down, resting or sleeping. Bears pick up the scent of “food” (carrion and sweets) from miles away. Their two strongest senses are smell (5x stronger than a dogs) and hearing. Eyesight is as good as humans and in colour. Perhaps better because they can forage and find their way on trails and in the bush at night without artificial light that humans depend on.
In as few words as possible, that’s the creature we hunt with firearms and bows. However, this topic excludes bows and their projectiles; it concerns firearm projectiles.
In a personal followup of three bears, two of which had been wounded but only discovered so the following day, and one that evaded any bullet contact. I knew these incidents to be very serious and no joke!
As previously indicated, I’ve narrated these historical events in past blogs so will spare some of the details and only present the salient points.
The second (the first will be last in these presentations) occurred nearly one-quarter century ago, on May 9, 1996 when we still had a spring bear hunt. A big male black bear was attending my primary bait setup on Crown Land in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario. Range from the blind near the top of the ridge to bait barrel near the bottom was 100 yards. The barrel was located at the confluence of three game trails, plus the line of sight from blind to barrel that had been trimmed of branches and small bushes that could have deflected a bullet in its flight. A bear could only be seen when at or near the barrel. Also, bait morsels, such as pastries, corn, apples, etc., were scattered on the ground around the bait setup. The barrel was located about 75 yards in the bush from a large bog that surrounded a lake. Lots of wildlife traffic in the area including small, medium and large game.
On the edge of darkness in mid-May, the big bruin appeared out of “nowhere”, coming from the right of the barrel just as I was bent over to pick up binoculars and remnants of a snack. I was seated on a sturdy plastic combination seat-backpack. I partially stood to lift the cover (I was seated on) to place those items inside because I was preparing to leave due to hunting light being nearly finished according to Provincial rules. And because of the location in dense forest and brush, it got too dark to hunt even before the legal limit. When I was unable to detect the cross hairs of my scope against black fur, I wouldn’t shoot. So, I was actually preparing to leave about ten minutes prior to “closing time”.
When I’d finished that brief chore, I sat again on the seat and looked in the direction of the barrel one more time… And, there he was seated in front of the bait barrel with his back to me. I quietly reached to my right for the 7400 Remington (semi) standing against a small fir tree, placed in on the prearranged natural 2″ diameter hardwood pole found in the surrounding timber, aimed, took off the safety and the bear got up and moved behind the big boulder (seen to the left of the barrel in the pic — left click on pic for a better view). Then he turned around and moved back to the front, where I expected him to stop. Instead, he continued on his way up the trail to the left (that I used for bringing in bait). Then I had to wait for him to clear a cluster of white birch, and fired a 200-gr Barnes-X (prior to the TSX’s) at 2850 fps from the 22″ barrel of the .35 Whelen. There was a bright muzzle flash in the near darkness, then a crash, crash, crash, followed by dead silence!
<Not the same season but the exact same location
And I had to follow up that shot while it was getting darker by the second!
I had a partner who was attending another bait a mile away. So I thought. Actually, he was on his way out of the woods when he heard my shot, and showed up within ten minutes, calling my name. I was already at the bottom of the ridge checking any black thing, including boulders and dead stumps. But I KNEW where the bear came from and where he’d be heading for. We did a brief check along the trail to the right of the barrel, from which he’d emerged, and I called a moratorium until daylight the next day.
At 7 a.m., the following day, three of us were at the sight of bullet impact, if there was any. There was. Friend Dave was the first to spy a morsel of black fur attached to a small strip of bear hide. But no blood to follow. Nonetheless, I was certain that I knew where the wounded bear would go. So, with my partner of the previous evening, Mike, in the middle as primary spotter of spoor, Dave on the left towards the bog/marsh just in case the bruin went that-a-way, and myself on the right of Mike as spotter of any movement in front or off to the side, we very slowly proceeded along the dim trail towards the north. Still no blood, for the first 75 yards or so.
Mike had his trusty BLR in .308 WIN, with handloads he’d built for the hunt. I’m honestly uncertain of Dave’s weapon, but in my hands was my bear thumper, an 1895 Marlin Classic in .45-70, handloaded with a 400gr Hawk at 2100 fps/3916 ft-lbs. — three shot into 1″ at 100 yards. Ironically, the propellant load was the same as for the .35 Whelen: 60-grns AA2015, both ignited by WLRM primers. But I felt, with good reason, that my “thumper” was a better stopper and finisher than the Whelen even though it was a semi. The Marlin lever gun was no slouch in repeat performances if push came to shove! The Whelen was making a tad over 3600 ft-lbs at the muzzle, while the Marlin was making over 3900 ft-lbs, and 47% more momentum, plus 63% larger cross-section-area of the bullet. That ALL counts, no matter how we measure matters — if the bullets are up to the job at hand. Then, the SDs of the bullets favor the .458″ over the .358″, .272 SD vs .223 SD. That’s why I toted my Marlin in .45-70 as backup and often as primary weapon.
(The 200-X was a much harder bullet — better for high velocity. I killed a 3-year old boar the following week with the .35 Whelen and the same load. The location was the same and the hit was behind the right shoulder and took out the opposite shoulder leaving a massive wound and bone fragments in the wound channel. That bear went 10 yards, bawled once and died before I reached him.)
The 400 Hawk was a softer bullet with a .035 pure copper jacket and pure lead core, and minimum lead tip exposure. I think it would have done that big bear no good!
After about 75 yards or so, Mike abruptly stopped in his tracks and softly spoke “BLOOD!” That got our attention, and Dave and I stopped in our tracks too! With gestures and softly spoken directions I told the men to stay where they were as I moved into the thick “bush” (alders, brush and small conifers) just ahead of us at the base of the ridge.