Spot & Stalk
Oct 01 2020
By Aron Snyder
A very smart man once told me, “You can’t kill anything if you’re not out there,” and through the years I’ve found that to be as true of a statement as you can get.
It was late April when my best friend Ryan dropped me off at the gated logging road in Idaho, I wasn’t sure what I was hiking into. We had been camped out for some time bear hunting. He told me that he’s seen multiple bears on this road over the years, and that I had as good of chance here as any. From where I was standing at the time, it looked like a jungle with a maximum shot distance of about five feet. Hiking up a logging road wasn’t the original plan we’d had, as Ryan set up a couple bait sites before I’d arrived. The problem with that was nothing was actually hitting the bait, so walking logging roads was the only other good option with a bow. As I threw on my pack and grabbed my bow, he instructed me to “hike to the end of the road and you’ll probably see something”…so that’s what I was going to do.
The first mile or so was thick with re-prod, and a bear would’ve had to be on top of me for me to get a shot. I knew Ryan to be as much of a prankster as me, so the thought had crossed my mind that he was sending me on a wild goose chase to keep me occupied. Either way, I figured I would get some exercise at the least, and I couldn’t kill anything but time sitting at camp. After hiking in a couple miles, things started to look a bit more promising and I could actually see 20-30 yards in a few different directions.
I was starting to regret my decision on heading out early (Ryan dropped me off at 1:30), since it was about 85 degrees at this point, and I was sweating profusely. Luckily for me the logging road paralleled a creek the entire way in, and I figured it was about time to take a quick break and dunk my head into the creek to cool down. There was a large amount of skunk cabbage and grass in this area, (I was 3.5 miles in I would later find out) and I could see where bears had been mowing down the vegetation. This actually perked up my spirits a bit and got me re-focused on the task at hand. I also had the luck of a perfect wind on this day and not one time had it shifted in any direction but straight at me. So I filled up my water bottle, threw in a big ole’ dip for good luck and started creeping up the road.
Within two hundred yards of where I had just stopped, I noticed a set of black ears poking out of the skunk cabbage, and my heartbeat jumped up a few notches. The bear was a couple hundred yards in front of me at this point, and I was really starting to regret my decision on letting Ryan take my binoculars when he dropped me off at the gate. I could see it was a bear no doubt, but after that, I had no idea about size or if it was male or female.
I’ve been lucky enough to kill several bears over the years, and being a photography geek, I figured this was a good chance to snap a few photos. Besides, it probably was the average 150-175lb Idaho bear. So with the camera in one hand and my bow in the other, I started to creep in for a closer look. At about 90 yards away, I started to see that this bear was probably worth my full attention, so I snapped my last photo, dropped my pack and camera and put on my game face.
I couldn’t have designed better stalking conditions; the wind was at my face, the bear was 15 yards from the creek, and he was feeding away from me as well. Knowing this, I quickly closed the distance to 75 yards and got my best look at the bear thus far. He was clear of all the skunk cabbage now and for the first time I knew he was an animal of a lifetime. He was big.
Closing the distance from 75 yards to 40 yards would’ve normally been difficult, but with these stalking conditions and the general poor eyesight of bears, I wasn’t overly concerned...as long as the wind stayed in my face. It took a couple minutes to get to what I thought was forty yards, but when I did, I pulled out the range finder for a quick confirmation and took a couple deep breaths.
All I could think of when I got to full draw was “wow, I can’t believe the size of this freaking bear!” He was just massive, and I actually pulled my face away from the peep sight to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. When my hand rested against my face and my anchor point felt solid, I started to execute my shot. It was everything I could do to keep from ripping through my back tension, but I kept my crap together and managed to execute a perfect shot! My arrows struck the big boar’s heart perfectly, and I could see blood pumping out of him immediately. To my surprise, the bear only ran 15 yards and piled up a few feet beside the creek.
As I walked up to the bear I had a pretty big smile on my face, but it got a lot bigger when I was actually standing beside him. I could clearly see this bear was well over 7’ tall, very old and also had just come out of the den (huge calluses on his pads). With an even closer look, I noticed this bear had the old school ear tags in both ears and that gave me a decent idea on his age. This was a big bear by anyone’s standards, but for this area it was unheard of to see one of this size.
After I ran back and grabbed my pack, I turned on my GPS and got an 8-digit grid of my location. Dang, I’m in too far to go back and get help for the pack-out! Well, no worries, I’ll get this thing broken down, loaded up and start heading back to the main road. It took me longer than I anticipated before my pack was finally loaded with meat and hide, but I had some daylight left, a bear in my pack and Ryan would be waiting for me at the main road…life was good.
As it turns out, Ryan wasn’t at the gate waiting for me, so I ended up hiking along side the highway to get back to base camp. He didn’t forget me by any means, but he wasn’t in a huge hurry either (he would have been if he knew I’d shot a bear). So when I walked into camp with everyone unloading their gear, they were surprised when I said “help me get this freaking pack off my back!” Ryan looked at me and smiled and asked if I got one, I replied with a “you won’t believe this!” I turned on my headlamp and started to pull the hide out of my pack like a snake. As the hide lay on the ground, I started to tell the story of what transpired over the last few hours.
When I finally sat down for the night, Ryan walked over to me, patted me on the shoulder and said, “it’s a good thing you went out today; you can’t kill anything if you’re not out there!”