Feb 14 2022

Glassing Arizona

Josh Kirchner:


Three years ago, I got an email from a curious new hunter named Eric Voris. And not just any new hunter, but an adult onset hunter. Something I feel that is becoming more and more prevalent these days. Eric explained to me his fascination with bear hunting in Arizona and about his quest to learn more about these desert bears. He’d been out quite a bit on his own, but had no success. In fact, at that point, he never even laid eyes on a bear. All the while, he was stricken with an amount of roadblocks that would resemble a sea of deadfall. Broken down vehicles, forgetting essential gear at home, too many hunters, bad weather, and of course, no bears. Eric called it his “bear curse.” We met up for coffee shortly after that first email and quickly realized we were cut from the same cloth. Eric and I have been good friends ever since. Fast forward three years, to the spring of 2021, and we were headed to a favorite spot of mine for bears. One that I had high hopes would break the curse that plagued Eric.


Spring Bear in Arizona


Spring bear hunting in Arizona is an OTC (over the counter) hunt for the most part. There are a few draw tags out there, but they are just that. Because of this, it really gives a hunter the ability to better learn areas year after year. And one of the most deadly tools in a hunter’s toolkit is knowledge. The only caveat with these Arizona bear hunts is the need to pay attention to the sow quota limits. Each hunt unit has a certain sow limit and once that limit is reached, the unit will shut down to bear hunting the following Wednesday at sundown. Hunters can pay mind to these numbers either online or via our bear hotline. Know what’s open before heading out. Lucky for Eric and I, the unit we were headed to was still open in late May. This was something that hadn’t happened in years. My eagerness to be reunited with this special place was potent, to say the least.


My First Few Days


I arrived in camp a few days before Eric in hopes of getting the lay of the land and possibly a look at some bears. I too had a tag in my pocket, of course. The weather looked good, grass was green, and this country was screaming spring bears to me. Everything felt right. After getting camp set, I made the hour long trek out to my glassing spot for the evening. Three bears walked through my glass, but it was a sow and two cubs. A bittersweet find, but it felt good to lay eyes on bears right off the rip.

On the second day, after sweltering heat and no bears all day, I spotted a giant red boar at last light. It was one of those bears you dream about. Big blocky head, huge crease down the center of it, with a swagger that would send other bears running for the hills. I couldn’t wait to tell Eric about this bear. Watching him tear up that meadow bit by bit was a sight to see. With not enough light, I planned to get into the area dark and early the next day in hopes of putting the bear to bed for a stalk. When I awoke the next morning, I realized that was wishful thinking on my part. The weather changed for the worse with little to no visibility. Can’t glass if ya can’t see. Coincidentally, this was the day Eric was heading up to camp. When he arrived, he told me he brought his bear curse with him. I assured him that wasn’t the case and brushed it off.

For the next two days, the weather did not cooperate in the least. Knowing that there were bears out there, but being held up by weather, felt like having the keys to a Ferrari, but not being able to drive it. From a never ending rain to gale force winds snapping trees like toothpicks, it was quite frustrating and had the bears laying low. My old friend, the country we were hunting, seemed as if it was angry with me or something. As merciless this country is, its temperament grew more calm with each passing day. On day six, after inclement weather, and no bear sightings for days, finally we caught a break. I’ll let Eric take it from here.

Eric Voris:


I left camp that morning less than hopeful, if I’m honest. As far as I was concerned, I had shown up, brought along my curse, and ruined my friend’s hunt. Since I only had that morning left because I had to get back for work, I figured I’d hike out with Josh, glass for a couple hours, then bid him farewell and hike back out on my own. I was confident that moments after leaving, Josh would call to let me know he shot a bear, because that was just my luck with these Arizona bruins.




As we settled into our glassing point, I was already thinking about the burger I’d get on the road and texting my wife that I’d probably be home by dinner.  Hardly a winning mindset, I know.   That’s when Josh said the one word neither of us had uttered from behind the glass the entire hunt: “BEAR!” I almost didn’t believe him; after two and a half days of grinding with no bears to show for it, it took me a second to process what was actually happening.

Josh pointed out where he was, and I barely got a glimpse of this lone bear who was bouncing from food source to food source two ridges over before Josh said, “dude, we gotta go!” We quickly threw all of our gear in the packs and started to race over in order to get in range of this bear. Even though it was “Josh’s bear,” because he spotted it, I was beyond excited just to finally be on a stalk. After years of not turning up a huntable bruin, I couldn’t wait to see the process play out firsthand.

We trekked down, up, down, and up again through nasty deadfall and some of the thickest, thorniest brush Arizona has to offer until we came to an imposing bluff just around the corner from the ridge that we needed to be on. Josh threw his pack down and started to ready his rifle, and I came huffing and puffing behind him.

At that point, we assumed the roles of hunter and cameraman. With Josh on the trigger, I was actually excited to have some of the pressure off and be able to focus solely on getting the best footage possible. Slowly, we stalked through the thick timber and found a less than perfect spot to glass from, because the wind ruled out the one spot on that hill that offered the best visibility. Then we dropped packs, sat down, and decided to wait.


"Did I Just Cost My Friend this Bear?"


As we peered through every gap we could find in the trees, that bear just would not show face. I was already starting to feel the guilt: “Did we miss him because I had to stop a couple times on that final climb? Did I just cost my friend a shot at this bear?” And right as I was about to start apologizing, Josh caught some movement in the bottom of the drainage. He raised his rifle and took a look. Sure enough this boar was working his way over to our side of the draw. Unfortunately, he was also moving down the drainage to our right, which was exactly where the wind was headed. Lacking a clear shot, Josh hopped up and began creeping over to head him off while keeping the wind; I followed close behind trying to run two cameras and capture the intensity of the moment. As we closed the distance, the bear disappeared behind a thick patch of aspens.  We stopped and waited.

Frozen in place, Josh whispered to me, “I might have you shoot this bear.” This wasn’t the time to argue, but I was floored by the words I just heard. He glassed the bear, he planned the stalk, and he was holding the rifle (mine was still on my pack 50 yards behind us). Why on earth would he do such a thing? But, before I could even object, the bear was on the move again. He had now changed course and was working his way up the drainage moving to our left, so we quickly backtracked and found a good spot to set up for a shot.

Josh settled into a seated position that offered some decent shooting lanes, while I stayed five yards back setting up cameras to capture what was about to unfold. I had already forgotten what he said moments earlier, and was completely engrossed in how amazing this footage was shaping up to be. We heard a few does 100 yards to the left of us start blowing, and assumed we had disturbed them. When we looked over though, they were actually looking straight down the drainage towards where we had last seen that bear, and then suddenly took off running. We knew the boar was on his way in, and even without a rifle in my hand my heart was pounding in anticipation.


A Turn of Events


I saw a flash of chocolate in the bottom, and watched Josh raise his rifle again. Double checking the cameras, I thought, “this is it - I’m about to get incredible footage of him shooting this bear!” All of a sudden, Josh took the rifle down and waved me over. Somehow, I still didn’t realize what he was doing, so I made sure the cameras were still set and crept up to see what he needed. Josh handed me his rifle, pointed to where he had last seen the bear, and sat behind me. It slowly dawned on me that I was about to shoot my first bear.

With no time to contemplate the gravity of the moment, I quickly tried to get myself comfortable behind this unfamiliar rifle, found the bear in the scope as he moved in and out of the thick timber, and managed to roll up the magnification a few notches for a more precise shot. The boar stepped out from behind a tree, placed both his paws on a fallen log, and stood there with his chest puffed out as if posing for a picture. Time stood still. Instinctively, I put the crosshairs on the inside of his shoulder, started squeezing the trigger, and the rifle went off. After the shot rang, I could see the bear spinning like a top down the hill, followed by disappearing into the shadowy bottom.


The Death Moan


We waited there in total silence, ears ringing, hearts pounding, and then I heard a sound I had always heard rumors of but had never been witness to: the death moan. It is equal parts haunting and exhilarating, and I knew in that moment I had finally accomplished this feat that had evaded me for four grueling years.

Every harvest is an emotional experience, but this one hit me harder than any other. The combination of years and painstaking effort, paired with my friend’s unimaginable generosity, left me standing on that mountain with tears in my eyes and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Josh Kirchner: A Curse Lifted


For the next three hours we wound our way back towards the truck, walking in the same footsteps that led us to that bear. This time our packs were much heavier. With each step I kept reflecting on those chats over coffee I had with that eager new bear hunter who sent me an email years ago. The fact that he was now right behind me with his first bear hide ever in his backpack really brought things full circle. Giving up an opportunity at an animal might be seen as a hard decision, but in all honesty, it wasn’t. Handing Eric my rifle is something I’d do time and time again if we turned back the clock. His respect for the animal and enthusiasm for the hunt was reward enough for me. Not only was Eric now hooked on bear hunting for life, but his so called “bear curse” had finally been lifted. Through all of the obstacles a new bear hunter goes through, his persistence never waned. The decisions to embark on new adventures and take on new challenges like Eric did, are ones that I’m afraid are growing less and less prevalent these days. By doing these things though we grow as people. Barriers are toppled, limits are crushed, and our confidence skyrockets. The path of least resistance oftentimes provides the least reward.