By Martin See
It was three days before the season ended, and we’d had pretty good success with a couple of harvests as and some we treed-and-freed. With few tracks available now nearing the end of the season, our group decided to search outside of our normal hunting grounds to a place way less forgiving. We had been to Fayette two other times in this late season and had found ample sign that some bears were still up and about.
Last time we were down, we had run the bruin with only a footprint to show for. He had evaded the pack on what I believe were some waterfalls and ledges. We decided to try our luck again in a last-ditch effort to recompense our previous failures with him. Our hunting group consisted of my family of five, Denny, Brad, his son Brayden, Mitch, my sister Ann, Steve and Dexter. Dexter and Steve took the left side of the area we’d be hunting while myself, Brayden, and Mitch took to the right. Trying to cover as much ground as possible on foot, Mitch and I decided to separate and Brayden, who is 15, stayed with me. It was a long ridge and knew only boot leather would produce a track. Occasionally we’d find a pile of bear scat and some fresh Chestnut Oak, but didn’t seem like enough to keep a bear that big up this time of year.
It was a nice December morning, not too cold, but cool enough to know it was winter. I chose to take along my best dogs and Brayden did too. We had walked close to two and a half miles, weaving through a laurel patch or two, but it was not super thick, which we all know usually doesn’t hold many bears. Finally, we neared the end of our ridge, when I noticed my veteran gyp, Ally, leaving me pretty fast. With the other hounds right behind her, I yelled to her “Ally you’d better be good,” but she wouldn’t even acknowledge that I had warned her. About that time, she opened to tell me she had found the track, and soon the others joined in on the chase. Off the steep and rock-ledge-infested mountain they went into full cry. Brayden and I sat there and listened as the dogs did what they do best. Feeling like we had gotten a good hook up on this bear, we waited anxiously hoping for our dogs to bark treed before too long.
Well to our surprise he took the hounds on an all-out run. Around one mountain and into the next draw, back up across the same mountain into the same creek that they had previously crossed, but they were hot on this bear’s track. It started to become apparent that this old boy knew what he was doing and that he wasn’t going to climb anytime soon. He used the side of the mountain with its known rock ledges to try and lose the hounds, but this time the dogs were on their A-game. He chose to go up the same drain where the waterfalls had hung them previously and the chase slowed for a while because of the thick laurel. I assumed them to be bayed up, so I opted to leave my vantage point up on the ridge to try and get into the action. So, we dove into the thick laurel with the music of the hounds fueling our adrenaline. We fought through the brush and made it to the run only to find the dogs and bear leaving out. Now we were out of the race and stuck trying to climb to the next ridge to hopefully get back into the mix. We radioed to our hunting partners telling them we couldn’t get into the dogs and that we’d be awhile getting out of our mess. Much to our surprise, we were able to get out of that run and up the other side pretty fast, and now we could use the low vegetation along the rim to make up for lost time.
The chase of course slowed once again and we ran with all we had trying to intercept the bear and hounds as they made their way up a small drain that came up in front of us about 200 yards away. We made it just in time to see the bear jump out in the logging road 50 yards from us with no way of taking a shot. I thought to myself that he was a nice sized bear, but didn’t dream that he would be a giant. Next, he crossed the road in front of Denny and my wife, and they too said he’d be around 200 pounds. With Brayden’s, Denny’s, Mitch’s and my dogs all on him, he was still moving through the country pretty good, but I was hopeful we would get him stopped soon. With the dogs a good way away now, Brad came and picked us up and we headed in their direction using our GPS system to track the hounds, which is amazing at finding dogs.
A few minutes later what I had hoped for happened! “Treed” was popping up on my GPS screen telling me that the dogs had done their job and that now it was time to do mine. Now according to these Alpha-dog tracking machines, the hounds had finally treed him, but that's not always the case. The bear could be sitting on the ground fighting the dogs, or like in a place like this, the bear goes up a rock ledge where the dogs can’t get up it. Whatever the case was, my wife, Brayden, Mitch and Denny and myself geared up for the 500-yard trek to the supposed tree through what looked to be some rugged laurel. The walk started out fine, climbing up a small incline but the farther we went, the thicker the laurel got. On top of that, we now had to scale up some rock ledges to get on top. I then decided to go along the rim once again, which opened thankfully to some open woods while Denny and Brayden chose a different route below the rocks. I had gotten around 150 yards in front of the others and decided it best to circle around the back side of the hounds, so as to push the bear toward the others in case it chose to leave upon my arrival.
As I eased into the dogs, I noticed that the bear was indeed there, but was not treed. In fact what I saw was the bear and dogs face to face in what looked like a western showdown. I’m not sure if I caused the bear to leave his position or not, but the bruin spun straight around and headed right toward my fellow houndsmen. I radioed to tell them he was headed their way and to be ready. Now what happened next was told to me by my wife as she was there and I was once again out of it for the time being. Anyways, the bear stayed right on the edge of the giant rock ledges going straight toward the other hunters. They all waited in position, anxiously looking for a chance to end this epic battle. Then in a matter of seconds the bear was there six feet below Mitch, as he stayed crouched as to not be seen by the bruin. The hounds were all right behind him, with nowhere to go around him to fight. Boom! The sound of Mitch’s gun went off as he made a lethal shot. The bear then toppled over the edge of the 15-foot rock ledge and in a flash the dogs jumped off too. Thankfully no hounds were hurt and they were rewarded with a tug or two on the bears hide.
Once the bear was down, we then realized the shear mass of the beast and we slapped hands in celebration of the harvest. It took the whole group around two hours to extract this beautiful animal out of the woods and rocks. We were once again surprised when the weight of this bruin turned out to be 436 pounds, but we are not trophy hunters and this is not the reason for this story. It's about the hounds and how much we love this animal we call the bear. Finally, the most important thing of all, I thank our Creator for the wonderful opportunity to do what we love and for the bountiful meat this bear will provide.