By Ella McFadden
I am a lifelong hunter, but new to bear hunting. My dad and I actually began hunting for bears by accident out of curiosity. Three years ago in the summer of 2020, my dad was able to hunt on a new piece of land, and it wasn’t until we checked the trail cameras that we knew that we had bears on the property. There were no deer or anything else except bears, so my dad started to get as much bait as he could.
That summer was when my dad, brother, and I got hundreds of pounds of Santa Claus and snowman marshmallows. The bears loved those marshmallows. Every day, the bears were coming in to eat our bait and we grew more and more excited. Fall bear season came around in mid-September, but it wasn’t until October 1st that I was able to kill my first bear. It wasn’t just me who got lucky that day because 30 seconds after I shot, my dad grabbed his bow and killed one too! That night was the night that lit the spark inside of me. I love the thrill of bear hunting because it’s different from deer or turkey hunting. Bears are a whole different challenge as they are predators, unlike deer or turkeys.
I love to document hunts, whether they are of myself or my family members. In 2021, there was a huge bear on our cameras for a while and since my grandpa had never killed a bear before, our only focus was to get him to kill one. We even named this bear Big Earl, and he turned out to be a 470-pound boar. That year was something that I will never forget because I had the opportunity to not only hunt with my grandpa when he killed his first bear, but I was also able to film the whole experience.
2022 was the year that we went crazy. When I say this, I mean it. My dad found a place where we were able to get a whole carload of bread for only $40. We also emptied our whole pantry and used everything just for bait. The season also started 10 days earlier than the previous year, so we knew that we would have some action. There were two big boars on our cameras that would come every single day; we named them Tag and Blaze. Tag was a newcomer who had ear tags on both his ears and Blaze was a bear we were familiar with due to his huge size and the white streak on his chest. Opening day was September 17 and we were a little discouraged at first because the acorns seemed to be falling, and that led to our bears not showing up as much. However, the night before we got photos of a huge chocolate-colored, sleek-haired bear. Once we saw where this new bear had come in, we decided to give that spot a try.
The whole hunt was just me and my dad sweating and swapping at the gnats and mosquitoes. It was hot and humid, but once the sun started to go down with just minutes left to shoot, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. My dad and I were just about to pack up and leave when I looked to my left and I saw the boar standing there looking around his perimeter. I told my dad to get ready because I was going to shoot. The bear walked fast to our barrels and immediately plopped down on his stomach and started to eat a white powdered donut. This was funny to me because I had never seen a bear do this before, but I also knew that this bear was the huge chocolate one from the night before. I raised up my crossbow and got my crosshairs right at the donut the bear was smacking on, then I slowly moved the scope down past his neck, past his shoulder, and then found his midsection. I shot and the bear got up as fast as he could and ran off right where he came from. I was so pumped and excited; I couldn’t believe what was going on.
Since the bear had run off and we knew that it would be very unwise to immediately look for the bear, we packed up and headed to meet my grandparents. We drove up to where my grandparents had been waiting to hear what happened, and while telling the story to them my aunt, uncle, and cousin showed up so all of us could go look for the bear. I was so excited, but I was also nervous as heck because, not just with bears, but with any animal I am always nervous that I made a bad shot or that the animal is wounded or still alive and we will spook it. I believe a lot of hunters feel this way, so when my family and I saw shiny chocolate fur with our flashlights, I was ecstatic! I was so happy and proud that I was able to kill such a bear and that I was able to share this moment with my family.
It took a long time to load this beast up. Thankfully, earlier that day my grandpa had come up with a sweet bear hauler out of a big plastic container, or we would not have been able to get the bear out of the woods. It was hot that day and it wasn’t going to get any better that night, so we called our taxidermist and asked when we should take it to the butcher. Then we decided to haul the bear that night to the butcher even though it was late. It’s a good thing the butcher didn’t mind waiting for us. Once we got there, all they could do was stare. It turns out that they’d had a slow day at work and once we came in, it was a sight to see! We all wanted to know how much my bear weighed because none of us had seen a bear this big around the area. The butcher got his chain and wrapped it around the bear's wrists, then slowly lifted the bear up. My dad and I couldn’t see the scale because we were behind it. The butcher had us all guess the weight, so we all said around 400 pounds since my bear seemed to be around the same size as my grandpas from the year before. However, when that butcher swung his scale around, we were all in shock; the scale read that my bear was a little over 510 pounds! We couldn’t believe it.
That night was something I will never forget because I not only killed my biggest bear, but I got to share the whole moment with my family. I feel like I can now officially be called a bear hunter. My family has been making this a tradition for the past three years and we will be hunting bears for many more. I love all types of hunting, fishing, and being in the wilderness for any reason. Hunting is also a privilege, so I make sure not to take these awesome adventures for granted. I am so thankful to my family for giving me these opportunities and I look forward to many more.