Do you believe in a sixth sense – in humans? In some it seems well developed while in others it’s non-existent or dormant. In P2 I suggested that if one hunted long enough, they’ve somewhere had the experience of awareness of some creature’s presence nearby without any physical evidence. I shared the incident involving the mature bull moose watching me from twenty yards behind my back when I heard nothing, saw nothing or smelled nothing while watching a bear bait sixty-five yards out front while seated behind a deadfall. The eerie feeling compelled me to turn and looking over my left shoulder, there was the bull.
Believe it or not, I had a similar incident involving a very sneaky mature boar bear! If you are committed to hunting bears, sooner or later you’ll have experiences that don’t fit status quo expectations — i.e., a mature bear coming to your bait, standing broadside long enough for careful aiming before taking the shot — as in my first bear.
The Sneaky Bear Incidents – Situations No.2 and 3: I’d been hunting this bear from a tree stand over bait for most of the fall season. All of the sign said he was smart and big! My ladder stand was chained to a good size maple tree because this was Crown Land (public land) and in my favorite location where most often I used ground blinds near the top of a ridge with the bait setup at the bottom 100 yards away.
(Right click on pics for “Open in new tab”. Then left click on “new tab” for larger images.)
< Pic taken from blind at 100 yards to bait barrel.
This location had been scouted and hunted for a few years already, and was always undisturbed by other creatures (except by one ) including human activity. It easily conformed to all criteria as excellent bear habitat, based on eight previous seasons with Norm Easto as my outfitter, and I’d already taken a few bears here along with a younger friend taking a very good bear over my bait. Also, it was a few years prior to my ownership of the CZ550 in .458 Win Mag. But, seeking new and different experiences with rifles for bears, and by times getting bored with the same equipment, I left my Marlin in .45-70 G behind for a Remington M673 in .350 Rem Mag on this hunt. I’d owned one of Remington’s Classic series in .350 Rem Mag previously. Apart from disappointment with ballistic results at the time, it was one of the best overall bolt action repeaters I’d ever owned, and would still qualify as such even today a quarter century later knowing what I now know about the .350 Rem Mag. The Model 673 had a heavy 22″ barrel and a heavy laminated wood stock making recoil more than pleasant. Plus the fact, it was unbelievably accurate with 250-grainers at .338 Win Mag speeds from a 22″ barrel!
Aside from being a bit too heavy (That was an important criteria for Remington, as the first iterations of the M600s and M660s were obnoxious in recoil according to some due to being too light and handy — which wasn’t so in the Classic.) the 673 was worse than the Classic in ballistic results. Even factory ammo showed signs of over-pressure while not attaining proclaimed factory velocity. Something was amiss. So off I went to Mr. Von Atzigen for analysis. I showed him some factory ammo cases that clearly revealed machining rings around the cases, which I saw for myself in extracting them from the chamber. The action was the short action of the M7. “Eddy” tried to chamber a test gauge and it was a “no go”. The chamber had been “roughed out” only and not finished! So Eddy finished the chamber and polished it so it gleamed like a mirror. And what a difference that made! That rifle became the most accurate bolt action I’d ever owned, or have since owned including two .223s! I’ve published this previously: The last group fired from that rifle was a 3/8″ (.375″) three shot perfect triangle (one-hole group barely over .358-caliber) into a target at 100 yards — And at an MV (corrected to) of 2736 fps! No! That wasn’t a 225gr but the 250gr GS! The Nosler Partitions were not far behind at just shy of 2700 fps and less than MOA!
So that’s the rifle and load of the 250gr Speer GS that went bear hunting from a tree stand in my favorite spot.
By then I knew the Sneaky Bear’s route to the bait and moved my tree stand much closer to the bait setup — at only 35 yards away, the closest I’d ever been to watching a bear bait (a result of analysis of that bear’s strategy). He was coming from the same area where most of the bruins came from: a tree-filled bog on the far east side of the ridge, over the top and into the downside of the ridge on the west where mostly I used blinds, but this time I ventured with my tree stand. But when my stand was closer to the top he simply put a growth of fir and spruce between us — he on the north side and I on the south. So I never saw him come to the bait as he waited me out. But I clearly saw his trail in scouting. I knew, therefore, that I had to move my tree stand closer to the bait and below the coniferous trees that blocked my view. I did that, of course, earlier on a day when I knew he’d not be close by.
So the very next day I was seated in my tree stand by around 3:30 pm which was an hour or so earlier than usual (during September we could hunt bear until about 9 pm). I knew that could mean a rather long stint for sitting (and standing) quietly in a “cramped” tree stand for up to five and one-half hours! But that bear was mature and SNEAKY! He would try to out- maneuver me by changing his strategy! Which he did!
I had an excellent view of the bait area even though there were some large maples in the area as well as shorter firs and spruce and brushy material scattered about over which I could see perfectly. As said, my stand was attached to a large maple about 18-inches thick at the point of my stand’s attachment (where I was seated). Then there was a brace from the ladder stand to the maple at about four feet from the bottom. It was 12 feet to the seat and then another 18-inches to my shoulder from which the rifle would be fired. I shoot from my left shoulder so couldn’t turn very far in that direction, though that was also taken into consideration as I figured he would pass somewhere on my right. All well and good… but bears rarely cooperate!
<Same tree stand higher on the ridge, earlier in the season. The rifle was not the .350 Rem but a single shot NEF in .45-70.
It was a very nice afternoon with no wind and the sun shinning nearly overhead, leaning slightly to the west. Some birds were singing…. Then I heard the telltale chatter of a red squirrel, up and behind me somewhere… was it giving me away? Or revealing the bear’s presence? For good reason the red squirrel has a reputation as a revealer of something big on the move in the forest! I knew it was THE bear! Then silence for how many minutes? Ten maybe, maybe less. Then squirrel chatter up a few notches and longer this time! A dead giveaway! I knew THAT bear was on it’s way! Then dead silence again for fifteen minutes… By then it was somewhere between 6:30 and 7 pm.
Without a sound, or even a smell (I often pick up a bear’s smell before seeing them), I “sensed” I should look as far behind me as possible! I leaned to my left and could peak past that side of the maple just enough for my head to be exposed to the bear, and sure enough the big bruin was making a sneak on me trying to figure out why the tree’s shape had changed — being wider at twelve feet than what he knew it should be! When I looked up the hill he was definitely sneaking among the big trees with eyes fixed on my tree and headed in that direction at about 35 yards distant. When he saw my head, he froze with a glare into my eyes as we met! Then he made a swift dash to his right into thick bush, and even if I’d turned to my right he was hidden by the tree I was attached to. But I knew the game of cat ‘n mouse wasn’t over! He never ran off to hide, and I was aware of his presence still in the thick bush not more than twenty-five yards away.
My very obvious handicap, compared to the bruin, was immobility and limited vision. A ground blind is much better in regard to both of those restrictions. The obvious advantage is having a better panoramic view for slightly more than 180 degrees. But this time I waited the sneaky bear out. He was big (about 350 – 400 lbs), a challenge and determined to drive me away — and he wasn’t the first to do that! I sat quietly with the rifle across my lap looking over to the right as I was certain that sooner or later that’s where he’d make his stand. And I had the mobility in that direction to hold the rifle steady, aim and fire.
After another ten minutes or so, he appeared on my right coming up from the southwest on a game trail that I was familiar with. But there was brush between us. He stopped, as though calculating his next move. I could easily have fired having him dead in my sights from about 25 yards, but hesitated due to the brush. It was a standoff for about 30 seconds, then he made a quick dash for 7 – 8 yards behind twin maples with a gap between that revealed his right side, but a bit too far back for my liking. He stayed there with head and right shoulder hidden for what seemed forever. My arms grew weary from holding the 9 lb rifle in the ready to fire position, and I had to give them a rest because by then the crosshairs were making little circles on the side of the animal. I could have fired if he’d moved forward 1/2 his length… but no, when he left it was a calculated leaving in another dash into the same tangle of bush he went into about 1/2 hour earlier. Another cat – n – mouse wait! I knew he was there not more than twenty to twenty-five yards away – and he knew where I was! The game now was “chicken”! I waited until I had to leave with the knowledge he’d see me “out the door” and then lock it… he won, and in his experience just another victory!
I went to check on my buddy, Ken, to pick him up 3 1/2 kms away. It was pitch dark when I drove to the “parking lot”. There he was, and did he ever have a tale to tell! One of the best in memory, and I could even share it because he made a video! Would you like a glimpse? Sure you would! He said “I’ll drive and you can watch the video as I describe the events of the evening!”
Ken had already had more than his share of excitement at that site the year previous, of which I’ll not go into details here, but among other things his rifle had misfired on a huge 500 + lb bear at 35 yards. However, this time around he had to deal with a momma bear with two cubs that put on a show for an hour that also nearly put “momma” into his lap! Being a CO he wouldn’t shoot the sow mother bear unless he had no other alternative!
< Ken’s blind, but this is a few years later when I was using it with my CZ550, .458 Win Mag.
Her two cubs were misbehavin’ so she swatted one, cartwheelin’ it into the bushes, and sent both up tall white birches behind the bait while she ran off with the bucket of bait. Later she returned and called them down from swinging in the treetops like monkeys as she did increasingly larger search and destroy circles that nearly landed her in Ken’s lap. But the sturdy ground blind separated the two of them. Eventually they left down over the ridge where Ken was hearing noises from what he really wanted to see — a large boar bear. But darkness intervened. Then I arrived with my yet untold adventure of the afternoon-evening. All in all, it had been a truly exciting bear hunt for each of us!
As to the weapons: I’ve already described mine, but what if I’d fired through the brush when that bear was only twenty-five yards away? Would the 250gr Speer GS have veered from it’s intended shoulder shot? Or, if I’d fired when I thought the exposed body part was a bit too far back — what if the bear had run off, seriously wounded or perhaps from a fatal shot that might take many hours for final effect? A followup on that bear alone with the 350 Rem Mag in thick brush? Not the best strategy in my view.
It so turned out that the following year at the same location I was using the same rifle and load on a very sneaky bear — very likely the same one! But Ken was with me in a blind this time near the top of the ridge with the bait at 65 yards down hill and closer than the normal 100 yards. It is also later in the season with the leaves quickly departing from the hardwoods, potentially exposing our position. But the bear knew our whereabouts and would not approach the bait when we were there. In fact, he sneaked in behind us on a few occasions, within ten feet, in that thick timber and brush mentioned previously when the “Sneaky Bear” used it to hide from me in approaching the bait until I moved my tree stand below it and closer to the bait. This sneaky bear — I assume to be the same one — was so close behind us I could smell him! But Ken heard him and silently using his head, he turned slightly in that direction and using his eyes he indicated the bear was just behind us at not much more than spitting distance! I turned, looking quickly over my left shoulder and that triggered a mad and reckless dash through the trees and brush that sounded similar to that bull moose I mentioned in P2! Of course, that was part of the “Sneaky Bear’s” strategy! It was to intimidate! A week later he performed the same act when I was there alone!
<This is the same blind but an earlier date. Note the hole near bottom right. More on that in a moment. Not sure what rifle that is… It’s not a .45-70 nor the Rem 350, so likely my 35 Whelen. Sometime before this I was bringing in two five-gallon buckets of bait – one in each hand – at 8 am, thinking no bears would be around at that time (I’ve since learned, in the use of trail cams, that they can and do show up whenever they decide to do so — including any night hours or early morning and mid-day!). I had a .45-70 along but it was left behind in my van. When I entered from the narrow game trail through some trees to a more open hardwood area, there above me at 40 – 50 yards was a big bruin standing on the torn-down carpet remnant! Not only that, but he stood there looking down on me with a defiant look and mood! I put the buckets down on the spot, backed out quietly (didn’t run) to my van and retrieved the Marlin in .45-70 – loaded. When I returned the bear was gone — but how far? Anyway, I put the buckets in place, one at a time with the Marlin in the other hand. I went back to the van and waited for about another half-hour, returning the second time for repairs to the blind. A number of years ago I removed it and put a smaller one in from brush, branches and poles from the area. The remnants from that were still in place when I last visited. Most of my bear hunting since those times have been on closer private property.
Despite this sounding like fiction (to the less experienced around mature bears), before God I’m telling it like it happened without any kind of embellishment!
We changed our strategy at my suggestion, creating a blind closer to the bait at about 35 yards and making it a part of the thick bush on the opposite south side. Knowing the smart bear would check the usual carpet blind to see if we were there, which we left in place, and which he always did when we were not there before approaching the bait, he was fooled in thinking “Hey, they’re not here today, great I can now go get my supper!”.
And that worked — at 5 pm he sneaked in from the bottom, behind the large boulder in front of which was the bait barrel. But he was very cautious! There was one tree large enough to hide him, off slightly to the left (my right) between me and the bait… and he went directly behind it facing our direction! All I could see was a bit of fur on either side of the tree. Talk about a bear’s smarts! (No, don’t unless you’ve experienced it!) My Rem .350 was up and ready to fire as soon as he moved.
And he did… in the blink of an eye he switched ends to hightail it out of there! I fired and the bullet nicked his shoulder. Ken fired and hit dirt. It was 6 pm and late October with the sun setting in the west. Ken found a morsel of fur with hide attached and I found where the 250gr GS had hit bald rock leaving a clear .358″ imprint revealing that not enough flesh had intervened to give any expansion. But I knew where the bear would go, so called a halt to the endeavour til early the next day. Early morning I headed to where I thought Sneaky Bear would go. Within 75 yards from the bait barrel I found where he’d spent the night. Sure enough, there was a patch of blood and matted down wild grasses. I called Ken over (he’d gone in another direction) and…
On hands and knees Ken was crawling through the thickest tangle possible in following pinpricks of blood. I was standing off to his right, not with my Rem .350, but with another Marlin Classic in .45-70, primarily for his protection as well as my own. I knew we weren’t dealing with anything less than a very smart and dangerous bear… after all, he’d spent the night watching his back trail, perhaps hoping we’d continue the follow-up into darkness!
We never caught up with him and the small droplets petered-out in a thick and impossible tangle of thorns and brush not fit for human penetration or safety… the “Sneaky Bear’s” victory No.2 over hunter’s wisdom, strategy and experience!
< This was the day I was there alone, a week following the incident of the “Sneaky Bear” trying to intimidate Ken and I – before a new blind was constructed further down the ridge, leaving this one in place. I stood to take this photo late in the day. As I started to move back to my chair “Sneaky Bear” took off with crashing through the hair-thick softwood behind the chair less than 15 feet from me! The rifle for that day was my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT. The load was a 300gr TSX at 2650 fps/ 4678 ft-lbs. It’s very likely that Sneaky Bear made those holes in the indoor-outdoor green carpet remnant. It was also torn down a couple of times! This was his territory of which he was the dominant resident!
I suspect he’s lived a very productive and satisfying life since. I hope he has… Let’s see, that would make him over twenty years old! I wonder if he’s smiling in recollection of those adventures, as I am?
Wan’t some excitement in your life? This is not the kind where you pay to shoot a fenced animal with a pro guide at your side!
In summation: You may have noted that I make a distinction between a bear hunting rifle and a bear defence weapon. In the case of the 1895 Marlin in .45-70, they may be one and the same, or the .450 Marlin properly handloaded. You may also have observed that I’ve mentioned several rifles/cartridges I’ve used in baiting, scouting AND hunting bear, but in the cases of followup or hunting a known aggressive dominant bruin I always chose one of my .45-70s.
There are many good rifle cartridges for hunting bears, especially among the mediums, and if you hunt with a partner or guide then that may modify your choice as well, but for scouting alone in a remote area I’d always choose something with a big hole that under the most dire circumstance I know it would be more than able from the first shot – because that’s all you’re gonna get – unless you’re Phil Shoemaker!
In that last pic of my single-shot Ruger No.1 in .45-70LT – that was an issue of confidence… but I made a serious mistake in moving away from that rifle with the bear only 10 feet behind the chair — I never heard him nor smelled him, so wrongfully assumed he wasn’t there!
How many wrongfully assume no bear will harm them when alone in whatever they’re doing in bear country? How could that trapper get killed by a bear when checking his trap lines?
Til the next