Spot & Stalk
Jun 30 2023
A Remarkable Concurrence Of Events Or Circumstances Without Apparent Causal Connection
By Dawson Smith
How much of hunting is luck? How much of a successful hunt is hard work, pre-planning, studying maps or harvest data? Is the end result simply a mathematical equation of carbs burnt, miles traveled vs. outcome? Is achievement a consequence of ones state of mind, or perhaps it’s the declaration of a divine will? Can you predict success, can one rely on good karma or is it all just one big coincidence?
As Forest Gump would say, “I don’t know much about that”, but, I do know that my partner Bill Cash and I were sitting on a ridge glassing across a logged basin at a huge red phase black bear. It was early June, late in the day, the waning sun was warm on our faces, northern BC’s pesky mosquitoes had not come out in droves yet, in short it was a perfect day to be glassing for black bears.
Through my spotting scope I could see that the red boar was big, blocky and square, on one side of his head I couldn’t make out an ear, his other ear looked to be half gone.
“Hmm” I thought, “what’s that all about?” Something wiggled around in the back of my mind but I couldn’t get it to land.
“That’s a great bear” Bill said. “Let’s watch it for a bit and see where it’s heading, we may have time left for a stalk if it works out.”
The bear was feeding along a little creek that ambled down though the basin from the snow above. The basin itself was a big south facing bowl, as if scooped out of the earth by a huge ice cream scooper; the rear walls rose from the bottom to steep heavy timber at the top.
Bill picked up some dander from the ground and tested the wind.
“It’s pretty swirly up here today Dawson” he said looking over at me.
“Ya, that sucks for a stalk” I whispered.
We watched the bear as it moved along the stream munching away at the emerging sedges. There was only an hour or so of light left and the wind was iffy so we chose to stay put. Bears have an incredible sense of smell, contrary to popular belief they pick up movement really well and lastly they seem to have an intuition about the potential of danger, almost a “spidy” sense. I didn’t want to attempt a stalk unless everything was just right.
The sun had settled over the ridge-line and the nights chill was settling in as we snuck off and circled down-wind back to our truck. Just before leaving our vantage spot I zoomed my spotter in on the bear again. “Hmmmm, what is that about the ears?”
Driving back to our cabin that night I looked over at Bill and said “oh man that’s a dandy bear, I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.”
Bill knows me and my obsession with red phase bears. “Haha, you and coloured bears” he said. That’s when the penny dropped.
“You know what” I said to Bill, “that’s the bear on the calendar.” he looked over at me with a wrinkle in his forehead, “your right” he said, “I forgot about that.”
A couple days earlier we had arrived at our little cabin south west of Prince George for a week of black bear hunting. As we fussed around getting a fire going that night Bill flipped the calendar on the wall from May (we had been out in mid-May) to June. The June picture on the calendar was of a huge red bear standing in a river. It was big, blocky, square and its ears were all chewed up. It was a grizzly bear but still “that’s a pretty neat picture” Bill had said at the time.
Back at the cabin that night I compared the picture I took through my spotting scope to the picture on the calendar. “Man they could be twins” I said excitedly.
“What’s the odds of that?” Bill replied.
It’s not hard to guess what we talked about that night, the little woodstove crackled and spread its warmth as we chatted the chilly night away playing crib by headlamp. Later, as I lay in my sleeping bag reading my Kobo, I replayed the day’s events, the adventures Bill and I had and laughs we shared. I love the ancillary side of hunting as much as the actual hunting; traveling to a hunt location, being out in the field, spotting and watching wildlife, sitting around a wood stove or fire, talking in anticipation of the next day’s potential events. They are all just pieces of the greater puzzle.
We were up and on the go early the next morning, over coffee and porridge we decided to park a few miles away and hike into the vantage spot. Typically bears are not early risers in the spring but we wanted to get into position early and hopefully the red bruin would be up early as well. The excitement and anticipation was palpable as we got into position. Morning light slowly took over the high basin, a moose wandered through a willow stand nibbling away, flocks of returning dicky birds bustled about, the creek babbled its way down from above. It was a beautiful morning to be out in the wilderness. Daylight had arrived but the sun had yet to break the ridge above, we glassed and glassed as the day came alive but for not, the red bear, nor any bear, showed up and by noon we decided to move further up the valley. Over the next few days we got up early, traveled to our favourite lookout spot, switched to other spots in the afternoon then finished up back at the basin where we had spotted the red boar for last light. We saw lots of bears and a couple bears that offered promise but for one reason or another fell short of what Bill was looking for or the setting was wrong. In reality, none of that was a bad thing, we had perfect bear hunting weather, cool to cold at night increasing as the sun spread its warmth, then falling as the sun retreated for the night. It was good time to be afield.
As apex animals, black bears have few predators; grizzlies, wolves, each other and of course mankind. Black bear hunting in British Columbia is becoming a controversial topic but for now the hunting takes place over two seasons, spring and fall. The spring hunt begins in April and ends in June, the prime time to be out is during the mating season which typically starts mid to late May and goes through June. During this time bears are abundant and many hunters enjoy this time to be afield. The opportunities to see lots of animals and success is high. The fall hunt starts in September and ends in November.
Only 18,000 years ago, British Columbia was completely covered with ice and black bears were relegated to at least two refuges in North America: one in what is now the United States and one near the Queen Charlotte Islands. Following glacial melting, bears gradually spread back north and also re-colonised coastal BC south from the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ten thousand-year-old skeletons in caves on Vancouver Island indicate that black bears arrived soon after glaciation and were larger than modern-day black bears. Scientists believe that bears on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlottes have retained more of their ice-age characteristics than mainland bears because of a long period of isolation from continental populations. One of the most widely distributed mammals in British Columbia, the black bear is found in forestland right across the province. Its natural range includes Vancouver Island and most coastal islands to the north, including the Queen Charlottes (Haida Gwaii). Although generally absent from alpine, grassland, and heavily settled landscapes, black bears often occur close to the fringes of communities and sometimes wander into them. The current estimate of the black bear population in British Columbia is 120,000–160,000, they come in a variety of colours and shades; from cinnamon, brown to blonde, pure white and there is a blue phase (glacier) in the extreme northwest corner of the province.
Over the next few days Bill and I followed the same routine, up early and off to the first vantage spot then we would move along as the sun chased shadows away then back to the basin for last light. We saw lots of bears everyday but nothing either of us wanted to take. “I wonder where that red bear went” Bill said.
“Maybe he smelled us that first night” I said “bears like that are real cagey once they get winded, he could have fed right down, smelled us and took off.”
One day we were in the truck glassing when I spotted movement high on a cut block, “what’s that?” I said reaching for the spotting scope.
“I can’t see what you are looking at” Bill said.
Through my spotter I zoomed in a on a white grizzly feeding on a patch of grass. “That is very cool” I said directing Bill to where the bear fed. We watched the unique bear for an hour or so, taking pictures through the spotting scope. Eventually it moved off into the timber and we carried on. It was our last afternoon/evening before we had to head back to town. “Let’s go check that trail back down the bottom” Bill said. We had just started up the trail when a movement on the edge of the trees up ahead caught my attention, “there’s something moving up there” I whispered to Bill.
All we could see was part of an animal through the trees’, “I thinks it’s a grizzly” Bill said, “it’s pretty chunky and I think I see a hump.”
We watched for a few more minutes then eased further up the trail.
As we moved so did the bear but we both where convinced it was a grizzly. I stopped on a little rise about 150 yards out and sat down to glass. The bear moved along just inside the tree line, birds chirped and chortled, a mosquito landed on my hand, I slapped it off.
We had just got up to move closer when an errant gust of wind went across the back of my neck, “Crap” I said sitting down quickly. The bear must have caught our scent as it spun on a dime and started back to where its came from.
“That’s the red bear” I whispered to Bill as we watched it waddle straight away.
I grabbed my day pack and started after it but the wind was right behind me, “this isn’t going to work” I said, “let’s go back to the truck and go up that next road, I think we can see into the clearing from the top.” We hurried back to the truck and took off. It was hard not to go roaring up the road a hundred miles an hour; even going slowly the trucks engine sounded like a jet screaming, the tires on the gravel sounded like a warning bell, our excitement level was at a peak. At the top of the slope we got out and sat down to glass, “there it is” Bill said pointing below and off to the right.
“Got it” I said.
The bear was moving along a tree line heading up hill. I grabbed my daypack and rifle. “I’ll stay here and watch” Bill said as I slipped into the trees.
I felt the wind in my face, mossy ground helped me walk quietly at a good pace. I hadn’t gone a couple hundred yards down slope when I spotted movement ahead through the trees. The bear was in a gap moving towards a little swale, I sat down and waited. The end was, well, anti-climactic. I was sitting down, the bear came through a gap in the trees forty yards from me. I found it with my crosshairs and sent a 165 grain .308 Nosler Ballistic Tip through its engine room, the bear didn’t go six feet.
Bill came down and looked at the beat up boar, we marveled in the fantastic adventure, the magnificent bear and the luck we had. “It’s going to be hard to beat that one Dawson” Bill said.
“Oh I think there is some good juju vibe left over in the pot for you Bill. It may take some hard work, destiny, fate or just plain old luck but we will find a tank for you” I replied.
Bill just looked over and smiled..