I’ve been pondering a question. What is it about bear hunting that makes it different for me personally as a hunter, compared to that of deer or elk hunting? As hunters, I think, collectively we can all agree that there is an indescribable excitement, respect and remorse cocktail that wells up within our souls when we take an animal’s life. This cocktail overflows for me when it comes to bear. I have a great and wonderous admiration for bear and their life force.      

They are masters of survival living in wild and rugged places, vicious, tender, smart, savvy, stealthy, playful, sentient beings. I feel connected to them in a way. Not in a Timothy Treadwell type of way, I do not associate them as people, I do not think of them as my friends. But, rather in a mystical, ancient, almost spiritual sense. Judging from ancient mans history, I know I am not alone in this. They have been revered for a millennium.

So, the question remains, why is that? Why do I feel this primal connection like so many throughout human history? What is it about bears that makes us feel this way? I am not sure I can answer that completely in this article, but I can explore it. For myself, watching bear is a pastime of great enjoyment, as voyeuristic as it may sound. From the way they peel trees in the spring for the cambium layer, to how they gorge themselves in the fall on berries, to anxiously tearing into a long ago, rotted tree that once stood mightily above the bear offering shade but is now reduced to offering feed in the way of ants and termites, the view is always a joy.

But there is one thing, and one thing particularly that I have noticed with bear, which strikes my being in a way no other animal has done. That is, the bears final moan, also known as a “death moan” or “death bawl”. It does not happen every time a bear dies, but on occasion, as a last act of a bear’s existence it will let out a roar or a bawl just before death, that, if you have heard, you know just what I am talking about.

If you have not heard it however, let me explain it slightly. If a bear is wounded mortally but doesn’t instantly pass, perhaps a few seconds linger before death takes hold, the bear will bellow out this sound that strikes the hunter to their core being. The first time I heard this was when I shot my first bear, an amazing color phase cinnamon bear. When I heard this I felt as if an ancient warrior had let out his final act of defiance to the world before heading into the next realm. I do not hear this from deer who die quietly. Nor have I heard it from the normally very vocal elk or any other creature I have happened to hunt. Only the bear, and that is yet another unique quality of this fantastic animal. In general, it signifies that the bear has passed away once the roaring stop.

I know, this seems like dark subject matter, and in truth it is a little bit. But, hunting itself contains tough subject matter. It is no easy thing to take another animals life for the sake of continuing yours, nor should it be. It’s a violent act, but not an act of malevolence or hatred. Just as much as it is violent, it is ancient and engrained in our history, our bones, our DNA. We are hunters, bear are hunters, we share this common trait. A bear hunts a fawn, not out of hatred, not out of guilt or innocence of the fawn, but out of the need to eat. We hunt for the same purpose and with the same intent.

You may be asking, “What is the point of this article”? For that I am not sure I have an answer. But, if I had to say, it would be to showcase the deep, profound respect I have of bear, their role in nature, and for the things they have provided me in life. Most of my shots on bear are close, well under 100 yards, usually under 50. It is up close and personal. With that, there is not much that is hidden from me when I fire the shot. I can usually see the bear fall, watching the final moments of an animal that deserves respect. It is unfiltered and raw.

So, when I say I am a bear hunter, and people question how could I do that, I wonder in the back of my head, how can they appreciate, and love bears as much as I do? Can they fathom what it is like to touch a bear after it is down, feeling the coarseness of its fur, painstakingly taking care of the meat, skinning and preserving the hide, enjoying the sustenance it provides? Do they know that the bear is used as food and the hide is kept at a place of honor in my house? Do they or can they understand how I feel when I take a bear? Unless they have done the same act, I can promise you they cannot.

The death of a bear that I have taken is not an event that you will find me jumping around going crazy with excitement (although I have a reserved personality anyway). It is a solemn occasion when I pull the trigger or release an arrow. I take a moment and contemplate things, about the death and life of the bear, about its story, where it came from, where it lived and how it ended. Its private, its respectful, its ancient, its personal. It changes me in a way. Being a bear hunter has made me a better person, physically and mentally. It has helped reinforce a mental toughness that one has to draw upon to face tracking a wounded (or already dead) bear in chest high brush.

In truth, a biologist will likely tell you that the death roar is more of a reflexive response to the shutting down of organs or shock to the system of the bear. But, there are greater things at work in this world than biological sciences. The death of a bear, not the “harvest”, not the “taking”, but the finality of the releasing of the spirit of that bear is something that will always affect and be a part of, my soul. For that experience, I am forever grateful.