First Ever Bear (Contains Some Graphic Content)

KinleyWater

Handloader
Jun 15, 2019
345
285
Well, in spite of my humorous pic, I did, in fact, just return from Idaho 12. This is my hunt report for my first ever bear hunt, and first ever bear.

Arrival day at the outfitter base camp was sunny and 74 degrees. We spent that evening getting to know each other (there were four in my group, including myself) and some of the staff. At 3AM the following morning, it started to rain and it didn't let up for more than a few hours for the next six days. I was surprised to learn that movement from the base camp to the hunt camp would be via a 3+ hour horse ride. Now, mind you, I haven been on a horse in probably 35 years, so it was an... interesting ride? The three hour ride turned into a bit over four in constant drizzle with occasional heavier rain. Low clouds prevent us from seeing more than a few yards in any direction and the trail had turned into a mud-slide in several places.

We finally arrived at camp and the guides - there were two for our foursome - told us to take a little time to get changed and settle in, then we were going to start sitting bait. Everywhere we went that week, the terrain was rugged and brush was so think that in most places, you couldn't see more than 15-20 meters. There were a few exceptions, such as at my hunt location, but even then you could only see father, not make a shot. Then there were the blow-downs; thousands of them, making off-trail movement little more than an upright crawl. I think we got situated about 2 PM that first day and I spent the next seven hours sitting on a folding camp stool on the side of a sodden hill overlooking a bait set. Every few minutes, one of the legs would sink into the soft earth and I'd need to pull the chair free and reposition it, just to have another leg sink in. I saw nothing, and by the time my guide came to pull me out, all of my rain gear had compromised (don't cut corners on good kit, friends), my socks had wicked water into my boots, and I was pre-hypothermic. In short, it sucked.

Back at camp we shared stories and my brother said that at his bait site, he saw a bull elk and then a bear about an hour later. He tried to get lined up for a shot, using a log in his blind as a rest, but the log collapsed and the bear bolted. One other hunter saw a bull elk as well, though we don't know if it was the same one.

Day two was much like day one, with harder rain early in the morning, tapering off to a mist in the afternoon. The guides assured us that the bears would be up and eating unless the rain was much harder, so off we rode, getting to the bait sites by about 1 PM. Thankfully, I had a second pair of boots to wear, as my first set were resting by the tent's stove in a vain attempt to dry (it took another three days), and mercifully, one of the other hunters lent me a pair of very nice gaiters). About 7 PM I saw movement about a hundred meters from my seat and watched in disbelief as a nice-sized black bear made its way through the trees and behind some greenery about 70 meters away past the bait. I was surprised how much it acted like a dog; nose to the ground and making a lazy "S" path as it moved. I was also surprised by how quiet it was. I got ready, anticipating it coming into my kill zone, but half an hour later, realized it wasn't coming back. About an hour after I first sighted it, I spotted it again back where I'd first seen it, and headed back the way it'd come.

About 8:30 (the guides actually told me some of this and I worked out the timeline later in my head - I had no watch and we'd lost all cell service maybe 50 miles from the base camp two days earlier) I saw another bear coming in from the same place as the first. This one was smaller, also black, and moved much more deliberately. It took the same path as the first and about 30 minutes after it passed by, I figured it too was gone. Losing light and fighting cold and wet induced fatigue, I struggled with the retention snap for my revolver. Unable to just close it, I looked down, snapped it secure, and when I looked up, there was a bear not 40 meters away. This was the second bear I'd seen - I could tell from the set of the shoulders and the look of the fur, and it was looking straight in the direction of my blind.

I was sure it'd busted me, but I figured if it didn't run, I may as well give getting my rifle ready a go. Trying to keep my movements low and behind the blind, I brought my rifle into the correct orientation, then when the bear momentarily looked away, I got it up to my shoulder. Again it looked what seemed to be right at me and my crosshairs were centered on its forehead. A little voice inside me reminded me that the guides had said to aim to break the shoulder so I panned back, settled, and pulled the trigger.

The first shot hammered it hard, felling it from the log and clearly breaking at least one of the shoulders. A moment later I saw it again, shoving itself along the ground by thrashing its back legs; its forelegs not moving. Wanting to get a clear shot, I stood, leveled the reticle on the center of the torso and fired a second time. By the time I was able to focus again, I saw nothing. My guide came into the site right at 9 PM and we spent a few minutes looking for the downed bear. There was a significant amount of blood on the log where it had been standing, and splotches in the grass on the far side. Two other blow-downs also had large smears of blood and the guide concluded that the bear was not only very dead, but we had probably walked past it in the gloom.

The next morning, we went out early to recover the bear. It had rained hard all night and all that was left of the blood trail was now just a few diluted splotches on the log where I'd shot it. We crisscrossed the bait site a couple of times, but saw nothing. Then the guide said we would widen our search and began moving downhill away from the bait, reasoning a wounded bear would take the easy path into thicker cover. Nothing. I headed out into the middle ground and looked, and my brother, who had accompanied us, went directly away from where I'd shot, going uphill. Again, nothing. We kept looking and about fifteen nauseating minutes later, the guide called out that he'd found it. The sow was less than 10 feet from where my brother had tripped over a blow-down; he'd never seen her.
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My very first bear - I call her Eva Bruin - dragged a few feet and draped over this tree for pictures by the guide.
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Post Mortem ** Graphic Images Follow **

In spite of my after-action worries, the first shot had, in fact broken the near-side leg, exiting the far-side armpit, leaving an approximate 5 or 6-inch exit wound.
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In dressing, it was further revealed the extent of the damage, with fragments of the broken bone being driven into the vitals and creating other secondary wound tracks.
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The damage was so extensive that I ended up tossing that entire quarter.
My second shot had, in fact, connected, though only enough to slice the hide and not at an angle to actually penetrate the body (no picture of that one, unfortunately).

We went out every day after that as well, in spite of the rain changing over to sleet on a few occasions. I had a second bear tag, and a wolf tag, and had come to hunt, not sit in camp. I saw another bear our second to last day; probably the same as I had seen at very first, and what I think was an elk (though I didn't get a good look at it). We heard wolves at every bait site on almost every night, but none of us saw anything (not surprisingly). One other hunter scored on a boar the same night I got mine (a nice chocolate), and the final hunter got off a shot on a bear, but ended up bagging a tree branch instead.

The clouds broke on the morning of our return and we rode back in sunny 60 degree weather, now able to see the several hundred foot drops off the trail which had been invisible to us on the ride in. We were cold, we were wet, we were miserable. I'm ready to be back in the woods again.
 

DrMike

Ballistician
Nov 8, 2006
34,989
1,372
An excellent account of your first hunt. Bears are addictive, that's for sure. Our hunting here in the north is spot-and-stalk. I do love a good bear hunt, and the meat is excellent, provided they haven't been on garbage or feeding on fish. Congratulations on a fine game animal.
 

JD338

Range Officer
Staff member
Nov 4, 2004
21,721
986
Congratulations on your bear. Looks like a pretty good size sow. What was the weight?
What rifle and load that you used?
Beautiful fur, would make for a beautiful rug!

JD338
 

KinleyWater

Handloader
Jun 15, 2019
345
285
Thanks, all.

I don't know the weight or exact size; guide estimated it at about 160 and 5 foot. The fur was a full 3 inches in most places and maybe up to 4 around the neck and shoulders.

Rifle and load was my Rem 700 'classic' in 35 Whelen, using a 250gr Speer HotCor over XX grains Big Game (don't remember exactly at the moment) to produce about 2450fps at the muzzle. Scope was a Nikon Buckmaster 2 4-12x, set to the minimum. In one sense, it was the right rifle because it was the one I had the most experience with, the most confidence in, and the most confidence I could shoot it well. In another sense, it was the wrong rifle because the distances were so close, and cover so heavy, that a fast handling lever or pump gun would have been a superior choice. My brother brought his Marlin "Dark" in 444; with a 16.5 inch barrel, ghost ring rear, and phosphate coating, it was better suited for close, rapid shots in the kind of foul weather we experienced. Yes, the scope on mine gathered a bit of light at dusk - which helped - but all in all, a scoped turnbolt rifle was just not the right gun. I think if I do it again in that environment, it will be my Henry all-weather 45-70 or maybe an 870 marine magnum with slugs.
 

Guy Miner

Master Loader
Apr 6, 2006
16,538
1,026
OUTSTANDING! :)

Congrats on your first bear - and a fine bear it is.

Regards, Guy
 

wvbuckbuster

Handloader
Nov 5, 2015
1,287
343
Congratulations on your fine bear. Enjoyed the story. I'm glad you took the Whelen plus giving the load used. Dan.
 

Charlie-NY

Handloader
Mar 11, 2005
1,123
84
Congratulations on getting your first bear. Bear hunting can become very addictive.

Your outfitter didn't do you any favors by not telling you in advance that you would be going on a 3-4hr pony ride. And what would have happened if you weren't up to that? I had a bear outfitter putting us on stand at least 4hrs from the camp. He took us out in a rigid school bus. 8 hrs/day in a bouncy school bus is totally ridiculous. A few older guys bailed out and refused to go out again after the first day. We ate sandwiches in the total dark on the ride back. It was the worst bear hunt I was ever on.

Glad things worked out for you.
 

KinleyWater

Handloader
Jun 15, 2019
345
285
Congratulations on getting your first bear. Bear hunting can become very addictive.

Your outfitter didn't do you any favors by not telling you in advance that you would be going on a 3-4hr pony ride. And what would have happened if you weren't up to that? I had a bear outfitter putting us on stand at least 4hrs from the camp. He took us out in a rigid school bus. 8 hrs/day in a bouncy school bus is totally ridiculous. A few older guys bailed out and refused to go out again after the first day. We ate sandwiches in the total dark on the ride back. It was the worst bear hunt I was ever on.

Glad things worked out for you.
Wow.
 

salmonchaser

Handloader
Dec 13, 2013
3,379
599
That storm played the devil with bear hunts in Oregon as well. We get 20 inches a year average, in our area, we got almost five that week. You did well to persevere.
Great bear!
 

JD338

Range Officer
Staff member
Nov 4, 2004
21,721
986
The 35 Whelen is a great choice. With a well placed shot, you won't need a second one. I have the same rifle and used a 225 gr PT on a 250 lb bear back in 1995. Dropped him right in the bait pile. I put a second one in him but it wasn't necessary.

JD338
 

KinleyWater

Handloader
Jun 15, 2019
345
285
The 35 Whelen is a great choice. With a well placed shot, you won't need a second one. I have the same rifle and used a 225 gr PT on a 250 lb bear back in 1995. Dropped him right in the bait pile. I put a second one in him but it wasn't necessary.

JD338
I think the 250 HotCor actually cleaved to its energy a bit too much. Don't get me wrong, it worked masterfully, but I suspect I would have preferred a bullet that imparted more shock on contact -- perhaps the currently impossible to find 220gr HotCor FP, or even one of the 200gr RNSPs.

Congrats on that bear; 250 pounds must have looked enormous, mine looked huge and it wasn't nearly that.
 

Brinky72

Beginner
Jan 25, 2019
165
15
I run 250’s in my Whelen and have had zero issues. I think given the weather and terrain it would be hard for a “perfect“ ending. If you got off three more shots I doubt anything would be different. Don’t doubt yourself or your rig. I’d tap in some Williams fiber optic inserts into the iron sights on your rifle and give that a go. I’m getting some on my Ruger M77 right now.
 
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