Apr 24 2024

Full Circle

October Black Bears In AZ

After experiencing a roller coaster of events during summer and fall bear hunting season last year, I sat on a rocky outcropping in early October reflecting on it all. There was no shortage of humid nights spent in the tent throughout the previous August and a healthy shortage of bear sightings. The period at the end was a wounded bear with a fruitless blood trail. I had almost quit bear hunting that year. 

In just a few short minutes on that rocky outcropping, everything changed and a great jet-black boar sauntered out beneath me for a drink. I shot that bear. Not only was he my first bear, but he led me to my first ever article getting published. It was right in this magazine, and that also changed the course of my life. 

Ten years later, I sat on that same outcropping soaking in the pool of nostalgia that surrounded me. My memories of this area were rich; it’s essentially where I became a bear hunter. With that said, spots change. Only time would tell if the bears still favored it as much as I did. Regardless, I was just glad to be sitting in that place again. 


Back in March 2023, I decided to hike my way to a spot deep inside a wilderness area I had been eyeing for years—it screamed bears to me. My hope was not to necessarily find bears, but to really try and nail down a fall food source in order to hunt them the coming October. This is paramount for scouting because you want to hunt them where they are going to be. 

After crushing a 16-mile day, things were looking great. A main food source during the month of October is acorns. The ridges that surrounded my camp were loaded with oaks and old acorn shells from previous seasons. They had to be in here. The variable in the equation would be if the oaks actually fruited or not this year. Some years, acorn crops are thick and others they are almost nonexistent. And while there was plenty of water along my hike, that would be another variable. It was a long way between March and October, and during many years these water sources dry up. 

Backcountry Bust: Opening Day 

Even though there were a few pretty hardline variables at play, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face heading into the backcountry the day before the opener. I had been thinking about this hunt literally all year long and it was finally here. My plan was to get to camp earlier in the day and I’d be met by a friend there after dark. 

It was incredibly hot outside and after five miles of hiking, I came across zero water. This was concerning and it made me wonder what the food looked like back where we were planning to hunt. Bear hunting is all about finding the right food source. If it’s not there, the bears won’t be either. Also, a fella has to drink and things weren’t looking good. 

After getting camp set up, I honestly spent most of the day sheltered under a tarp trying to escape the unforgiving rays of the sun. This spot is a burn area from many years back, so there is almost no tree canopy for natural shade. It gets brutal fast. Thoughts of bears stomping their way through the basin behind me fueled my enthusiasm, despite the sweat on my brow. 

Unfortunately, that evening did not end with any bear sightings. I couldn’t believe it and was questioning if we’d be leaving the area sooner than later. My buddy Brian worked his way into camp after dark, but I didn’t want to inform him of my concerns just yet. We’d give it until the morning, and if no bears were seen, then I’d lay it on him. 

No matter the scenario, opening day is always something to look forward to. It’s a hunter’s Christmas morning, if you will. Finally, we got to take to the field and bask in the passion we hold so dear. We enjoyed the cool air that the night brought and sipped hot coffee behind our optics. Through every nook and cranny our eyes peered, we saw nothing: no bears and no food either. It was time to break the news to Brian. Luckily, Brian is a logical thinker and didn’t complain a bit, even after busting his butt to get there through the darkness of the night. We didn’t waste any more time, loaded up, and made our way back to the trucks. 

Now We’re Talkin’! 

A few hours later and a carne asada burrito deep, we arrived at our new bear camp. Well for me, it was old. I had spent the better part of the last ten years hunting bears here. It’s a special spot that I don’t take many folks to willingly, and right before dark it was confirmed why. Acorns were everywhere and we found a big pile of bear scat not 300 yards from our camp. 

“Now, we’re talkin’,” I said. Sleep came real easy that night because I had a damn good feeling about what was going to happen the following day. 

Waking up the next morning felt like opening day, part two. We made coffee and breakfast via tailgate and reminisced about the hunt to come. It was cooler here too and felt nice to not be baking in the heat as we hiked to our glassing spot. It took about an hour from our camp and we used our headlamps to navigate our way there before the sun came up. 

I have made this hike an incalculable amount of times. No matter how much I do it, though, I can’t help but get excited. Brian had no idea what he was in for as we crept our way down to the rocky outcropping where I’ve probably shed just as many tears as I have sweat in the past. I informed him to be extremely quiet upon our arrival—the bears could literally be right below us. Slowly, we put our backpacks down and set up our rifles. Not ten minutes into our sit, my camera guy said, “Hey, hey, hey, hey.” I knew what that meant. 

First Bear Sighting 

Down below us, as if he was trying to prove me right, a bear lurked through the oaks. It was a younger jet-black boar 180 yards away. We watched as he fed on acorns and made his way down to a pool of water for a swim. I had him in my crosshairs and debated pulling the trigger. After all, it had only been 10 minutes. He then worked his way into another oak thicket and decided for me. 

Second Bear Sighting 

A few minutes after that young boar disappeared, I noticed a black dot about 800 yards out. This was no small bear. It was a giant jet-black boar making his way down into the canyon we were hunting. I hoped that he would make his way over to the water beneath us. If not, this was a bear we could try and set up on later in the day. At that moment, I had an idea. 

Third Bear Sighting 

With two boars in front of us offering no shots at the moment, I decided to pull out a diaphragm turkey call I still had in my bino harness from the springtime. A few dying screams through this couldn’t hurt and might pull one of these bears out of their hiding places and closer to us. So, I began to sing a song of suffering hoping to entice the bear’s stomach. Then, I heard a rock roll to my left. 

A few minutes later, a cinnamon bear appeared out of nowhere down below about 180 yards away. He was standing pretty much in the same footsteps as the first bear we saw, feeding off of the same oak tree. However, this bear was much larger and I immediately grabbed my rifle. 

Resting my rifle on the rock in front of me is something I have done numerous times. It felt like riding a bike. And watching my crosshairs rest on the bear’s vitals was like watching a movie of my past. My shot rang through the canyon. Again, a sound I was all too familiar with. At that, the bear ran a path into an oak thicket that owned a piece of my heart. 

Full Circle 

Making our way through the canyon bottom, I tried to fight the tears and did a good job until we arrived at the oak thicket. I could see the bear lying motionless, and he was not ten yards from where my first bear ever died ten years beforehand. I admired every aspect of the bear, from his hefty paws to the beautiful coat he wore. There was no shortage of scars on his face either. He had seen his fair share of battles and likely won many of them. A warrior had fallen, and I wore my gratitude on my sleeve. 

As we worked on the bear, I got to show Brian the whole process—something that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of ten years ago working on my first bear in that very oak thicket. That was another reward for me here. Brian is a new bear hunter, so showing him the ropes brought a smile to my face as did the pack out to follow. It was a route that I knew by heart: every turn, every tree, every game trail. 

For the next five days, we’d try to get Brian his first bear. Mother Nature had other plans, though, and decided he wasn’t ready yet. The weather shifted and we only saw one more bear the entire trip with no shot opportunity. “That’s ok,” I told him. “You can’t just waltz in here and shoot a bear. You’ve gotta suffer a little bit like I did all those years ago.” He smiled and knew it was true. It was a full circle hunt for me. From the spot to the bear to bringing Brian along the way, it was perfect. Not to mention getting to write this article in Bear Hunting Magazine where it all started for me. Just like my enthusiasm for opening day, you can’t wipe the smile off of my face as a result.