The flash of chocolate brown in the timber 25 yards away could only mean an elk was headed my way down the game trail. In Colorado’s early archery season which begins in late August, it is not like the TV shows. In the first week of the season, the bulls don’t seem to respond to calls. The temperatures can get hot …..especially at midday. Simply put, the rut is not really going. A a “cow call” might get a look but the bulls are more interested in eating than romance.
|We covered 7-8 miles a day. Lunch time at 10,000 feet in Colorado.
Boots off and a little Gatorade. The Elk bedded down and we took a break too!
No Elk expert here so it is possible an expert caller could do better but I have always been able to get “close” by just getting between Elk and their destination. What’s close? Three cows walked by me at 7 yards the day before and Mule Deer were at similar distances. Keep working the strategy, yep, keep working the strategy…….. and a bull was destined to eventually get in range. Hunt the thick stuff. Sort out where the Elk were spending their time.
|Service berries. This was the key food source. The Elk and Bears were feeding on the ripe berries and sun exposure determined the best areas on the mountain. We were within 60 yards of very large bulls but the distance was too great for our traditional bows.|
A Palmer recurve bow, 65 lbs. with 630 gr. weight arrows was in my left hand. Anticipation increased as the brown shape increased in size at 22 yards and then the ALARM sounded.
This wasn’t an Elk.
It was a Bear and it was brown. In general, it is not a good thing to see “brown” bears up close. The bear’s head swung left and right as it came up the game trail. At 19 – 20 yards, the shoulders were huge and everything was happening fast.
|There can be plenty of surprises in the back country.|
At 18 yards, I was fast cycling through various thoughts in seconds.
1. This is Colorado.
2. There are no Grizzly Bears in Colorado.
3. I am 22 miles from Wyoming.
4. There are Grizzly Bears in Wyoming.
5. I have an Elk tag. I do not have a Bear tag. I cannot shoot this bear.
6. The bear is brown. The bear is brown. Yikes.
The second ALARM sounded at 16 yards. There was a “Black Bear Cub” following the Brown “Bear.” The mama was huge. The cub was large. Everything was too close. I had a female “brown phase” Black Bear headed my way. Any woodsman knows that a mama and cub are one of the most dangerous combinations in the outdoors.
I glanced down at my recurve bow and arrow and felt underwhelmed. I looked at my pack on the ground and the attached 10″ Kabar Knife. The knife now seemed miles away. The game trail would bring these bears in my direction but not directly to me. (Providing the bears maintained course and speed and stayed on the trail.) My instinct was to stay very still rather than shout and attempt to scare the bears. I was taking a chance but the wind was favorable and at 13-14 yards, I sensed that I was already in the critical zone. Surprising the bears at that distance could go be either good or go real bad. The playful cub strayed left and right while mama stayed on the trail nose down. Mama’s teeth were bright white. The belly nearly touched the ground. I was nervous. I decided not to move and trust that these bears would move past without incident. I stopped breathing and was still. Very still.
7. The bears walked past at 9 yards.
After everything settled down, I pulled out a rangefinder and it read 9 YARDS. Exactly 9 YARDS to the log across the trail that the bears stepped over.
In retrospect, I was not well prepared. I had bear spray at home but home was 1,500 miles away. Same with a handgun. In Western hunting, a day in the field can mean many miles and each ounce of weight in the pack needs to be carefully considered. I rationalized that a handgun was unnecessary. After all, I hunted this area before and had zero bear encounters.
|There was plenty of bear sign in hindsight. I incorrectly assumed that a bear encounter would not be an issue. Note how much upward distance is covered by a single “pull” when a bear climbs.|
I returned home and read as much as I could about bear attacks and encounters. Female bears begin to have offspring around age 4 ….often later. A female bear with a cub will be a mature bear. It was apparent that many bear attacks begin very much like the scenario described above. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE HOW FAST THE SITUATION CAN DEVELOP. It all happened so fast. I felt lucky. Maybe I’m overreacting to the experience and it really wasn’t such a big deal —- but if the bear veered at 9 yards, (or worse, if the cub wandered over) the situation would have been unpredictable. Would I have the presence of mind to draw and shoot if threatened? Would shouts and waving of arms send the bears deep into the timber? Was the better action to shout and warn off the bears at 18 yards as soon as I identified the brown shape as a bear? Was there a chance that a Grizzly Bear could actually live in Colorado? I don’t know.
Here is what I do know:
- I will always carry a handgun (where legal) in bear country in the future.
- I will anticipate bear and mountain lion encounters and mentally prepare.
- I will keep in mind that bear spray or a handgun anywhere else but on the hip is too far away to be useful.
- It was an exciting experience. Unexpected. Life is that way. We roll with punches.
Good luck out there!
Chuck @ Kodabow