Spring Bear Hunt

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June 15, 2012 at 6:01 am #542

patwray
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A Fraternity Bear Hunt…Forty Years On
©2012 by Pat Wray

Some outdoor tales require a bit more background than others. The story of my 2012 bear hunting trip begins in 1967 when, as a sophomore at Virginia Tech, I pledged an off-campus fraternity called Sigma Lambda. It is not fair to say, as my wife and many other women would claim, that Sigma Lambda brothers were out of control. This much is true: the movie Animal House was but a pale shadow of our own college years. The stories I could tell…but I better not.
A few years after I left, the university decided to recognize national fraternities. The brothers of Sigma Lambda, unwilling to sacrifice their independence, chose not to accept an offer of absorption from a well-known national, and instead drifted into non-existence. Without the house and a solid organization, many of us lost touch. Then in 2011, a reunion brought us all together again. It was at the reunion that I invited a man I hadn’t seen for 40 years to come bear hunting with me.
He accepted. Then he mentioned our plans to another guy, who mentioned it to…I’m sure you can see where this is going. The next thing I knew, four of my fraternity brothers were coming along. None were hunting. They just wanted to hang out and talk about old times. Excited as I was to see them, I knew my chances of actually bagging a bear were spiraling down toward zero. Then again, I’d hunted spring bear for six years and hadn’t yet killed one; I couldn’t do much worse.
We didn’t finish setting up camp until mid-morning of our second day. After lunch I hunted along a nearby ridge with my friend Jim while the others took hikes or poked around camp. Jim and I saw deer, elk and snowshoe hares, but no bears. We returned to camp around seven. I took a shower, changed into my sweats and slippers and started dinner. The other guys lit a fire, made drinks and were standing in a circle laughing loudly. I looked up from the camp stove to see a large bear sauntering down the trail toward us. I quieted the guys and urged them to hold still. Contrary to the stories those liars will tell, I did not break any bones in my effort to get their attention. It was necessary to tap them vigorously, however.
I hurried over to my vehicle, grabbed my rifle and scuttled up the trail toward the bear, who by this time had realized something was amiss and was walking away. I was fairly flying, or as close to it as I could come with sore knees and wearing slippers. The bear decided at the last moment I might be a threat and began to run, just disappearing over a rise about 60 yards away when I got my crosshairs on him and pulled the trigger. The sight picture was good, but it was a snap shot on a running animal, and certainly not a sure thing.
It became even less sure when I could not find the animal or any blood in the remaining 10 minutes or so of daylight. I returned to camp, where the conversations had become even more animated.
The next morning we found him, 50 yards from the last place I’d seen him and only 200 yards from camp. A big, old bruiser; closer to 400 pounds than 300 with worn and broken teeth indicating an animal in its late teens. He had two inches of fat over his back and hindquarters, an anomaly for bears in the early spring. Probably a short, mild winter allowed him out of his den early, and he may have found a winter-killed elk to feast on right away.
But how to explain a cagy old bear, who’d been avoiding hunters for nearly two decades, wandering into a camp full of people standing around a campfire? Well, he was walking downwind, so his sense of smell was negated. He was walking along a noisy stream, so his sense of hearing was negated. And bears can’t see worth a dern anyway. That’s one explanation.
Another is that the gods of hunting looked down on the aging boys of Sigma Lambda and decided they needed another great story. That’s the explanation I like.
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  • This reply was modified 5 years, 6 months ago by  patwray.
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