Spot & Stalk
Sep 10 2020
By Shawn Wagner
As I walked back to the truck filled with a sense of pride, my hands were vibrating and my cheeks were hurting from the smile stretched across my face. I couldn’t make out what each of them was saying specifically as all three of them had erupted with excitement, hollering and congratulating me for shooting the bear. The one thing that was loud and clear--I had made the right choice.
The story of this hunt really starts back with my 2015 spring bear season. With confidence and maybe ego on a high, I headed out trying to harvest a bear solo with a stick and string. I was still riding the thrill of arrowing my first bear from the spring prior. That had been a dream hunt, with only my second stalk I’d arrowed a solid Northern BC Pope and Young black bear. But the confidence I had gained was quickly put in check as I learnt my ability to field judge a black bear wasn't as good as I had thought. I’d stalked and arrowed a bear at 40 yards. Thinking I made a marginal shot, I left it overnight after not finding a blood trail. After a sleepless night and searching for hours the next day I found my shot was fine, but not only did I arrow a smaller bear, another predator had beat me to finding it.
As the 2016 season rolled around and memories of 2015 were lurking behind me, a black cloud seemed to hang over me. Each time I went out there was a sense of urgency as well as nervousness and insecurity. The confidence I’d gained so quickly had been lost just as quickly. With each bear I saw I squandered the chance of harvest as I took time trying to gauge whether or not it was a “big” bear. It was as if the size of this year’s bear would bring some sort of redemption. This pressure was starting to take away from the joy of the hunt. The only thing that kept me pushing was my three kids, who simply loved to hunt with their dad.
See, for me, one of the most enjoyable parts of hunting is sharing it with my kids, being able to take them out and show them things most kids don't get to see. Too often kids are raised by TVs and video games and have no clue about the adventure that lies beyond the tree line. As for my family, we’ve spent countless hours exploring, hunting together and getting away from the noise and distractions of the city.
If I don't get to take my kids along, they mob me as I walk in the door, waiting to hear about how the hunt went. They sit on the floor, eyes wide open, clinging to every word that rolls from my tongue as if they were there experiencing every moment with me. They are never discouraged with an unsuccessful hunt, but rather are filled with awe and wonder as I unravel the details of the adventure that was had. I live for those moments and often think I enjoy coming home and sharing stories with them more than the adventure itself. I yearn for the days when they are the hunters with tags in their pockets itching to be filled.
On June 25, 2016, I set out with a good friend, Nick Trehearne, for what would most likely be my last bear hunt for the spring season. He’d already tagged out and was on board to help me try and harvest a bear with all three of my kids joining us. Hoping to put the odds a little more in our favor, I left the bow at home and grabbed my Tikka 300wsm rifle for the hunt.
We headed to spot at a higher elevation where we could glass multiple cut blocks and hopefully see a bear out feeding. As the road turned from pavement to gravel Nick asked me a question, “Are you going to worry about how big the bear is today?” Immediately I had to battle with my pride, but that ended quick as he followed with, “You know your kids don't care how big the bear is; it’ll be a life-long memory.” The question was a quick reminder of what and who was most important.
The black cloud that hung over me seemed to linger, mile after mile, and cut block after cut block; still, no bear.
Addie, Hayden, and Noah were still filled with excitement and copious amounts of energy, their eyes scanning every inch of bush. With every corner there was the anticipation that around it there would be a giant bear just waiting for us. They talked constantly about what they hoped to see and dreamed to hunt one day, as well as peppering Nick with questions about his favorite animals and past hunts.
All the loud chatter turned to a whisper as we turned what would be the final corner because there, in the cut block, was a bear feeding. It stood oblivious to us a couple hundred yards away. Nick and I moved as quickly and quietly as we could, but from where we were there was no shot opportunity. As we got closer we kicked off our shoes and quietly made our way up the mountain road, step-by-step drawing closer to hopefully fulfilling the goal of harvesting a bear with the three kids in tow.
The bear continued to feed away from us, allowing the chance to stalk up within 100 yards. As I looked for a place to set up for the shot, the wind swirled blowing our cover. The bear started moving toward the tree line, walking over a small hill and out of sight. We raced up to higher ground and when he finally came back into view he was just a few yards away from the tree line. Nick gave a quick mouse squeak trying to get the bear to turn and present a shot and it worked. In that moment everything slowed. I shouldered my gun, the bear turned and stood up on its hind legs looking right at us. I settled the crosshairs on its chest and slowly squeezed the trigger. The bullet found its mark and the bear took off out of sight. Within moments it let out a death moan, letting us know that it was finished. For a split second I wondered how my kids would be doing having just watched their first big game animal being shot, but that question was quickly answered as shouts of excitement filled the small valley.
After the hugs and high fives I told Nick I was going to head down and make sure the bear was dead. His quick reply was “Not a chance! I'm going to check! I’d rather deal with an angry bear than watch three kids!” As soon as Nick gave the thumbs up letting us know the bear was done, the kids raced out to see who could get to it first. It was funny watching the kids try to navigate through grass up to their armpits, dodging stumps and thistles as they made their way deeper into the cut block, each of them calling out for help when they found themselves in over their heads.
When they finally arrived at the bear all I could do was smile as I watched them try and take it all in. It was interesting and refreshing seeing how they examined the animal by running their hands down the beautiful long black fur on the bear’s back, checking the claws and opening the mouth to see the teeth. Their enthusiasm didn’t dull as the work started and we began to skin the bear and quarter the meat to later be consumed. With each step of the process they were filled with questions. Thankfully Nick was patient and happy to help answer each one that was thrown at us.
As we headed back to the truck, carrying the last load of meat, I soaked in the moment one last time, taking a second to just be thankful for all that occurred during the day. From lessons learnt personally about not caring about the size of the animal we harvested, to being able to share a passion for hunting and being outside with my kids, ensuring that our life long bonds are formed.
The next day as I dropped my kids off at school with the hunt still fresh on my mind, I found myself totally engulfed in the story my son Hayden was telling his buddies about how everything unfolded the day prior. He was now the storyteller, acting out and explaining in detail how everything had come together. The excitement in his eyes as he shared his version of the adventure reminded me again about what was most important and how we all need to play our part in passing on the joy of the hunt.