Spot & Stalk
Oct 29 2020
By Aron Snyder
The text message was short, simple and to the point “I’m going full traditional this hunting season”. This text went out to my closest friends (some trad guys and some compound), and I wasn’t sure what response I’d get back from them. The trad guys, of course, were supportive and encouraging, while the compound guys were…baffled I guess? They weren’t negative about the switch, but definitely curious why anyone would go from shooting a compound to a trad bow for no actual reason that made much sense. I could understand their point and figured I’d have said the same if the roles had been reversed.
My initial reason for putting the compound down and picking up a recurve were as simple as could be: I did a podcast talking about ethical shooting distance and got a lot of blowback from the traditional archery community. The majority of comments, mostly through email, were the same, “learn how to hunt” or “getting close is what it’s all about” and my personal favorite, “if you picked up a recurve you wouldn’t kill anything!” So I figured I’ll give it a try and see if it’s as difficult as they say or if they are just using a trad bow as an excuse to come home empty handed.
Fast-forward 5 months from when that text was sent out and I find myself in British Columbia with Primitive Outfitters on a spot and stalk black bear hunt. This hunt was a last minute type of thing, and we only had a couple days to get it done before flying home. That type of schedule doesn’t normally worry me, but I now was packing a weapon that I wasn’t very familiar with, and even if I had been, it wasn’t exactly the most proficient thing when compared to what I’d been using.
I was fortunate to have my good friend Brian Call with me on this hunt (owner of the Gritty Bowmen podcast) and the idea was to get this trad bow bear kill on film. Again, that normally wouldn’t have been a problem (getting everything on film), but I wasn’t exactly confident with this recurve and knew I’d need to get within 20-25 yards to make something happen. I guess it’s worth mentioning that my changing to a trad bow had been heavily publicized through the podcast and social media, and in my eyes, everyone was watching. Well, maybe not everyone, but there was certainly a pile of supporters and haters tuning in for sure.
In hunting, nothing ever happens like you anticipate, so when the big black bear ran in front of the truck in a dead sprint, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t “yep, that bear is mine!” Never the less, we pulled the truck to the side of the road and glassed a few hundred yards above us in hopes to spot it feeding somewhere. As luck would have it, just a few minutes later he popped out feeding on grass! I looked and Brian and Garry (Garry was our guide and also a good friend) and told them I was going to make an approach and see what I could do!
The first part of the stalk went pretty quickly, but as I closed the distance to 60 yards, all I could think about was something Jeff Lander (owner of Primitive Outfitters) had mentioned the night before! It was something along the lines of “your hunt with a recurve will start where it ends with your compound.” He was obviously talking about the distance you need to be from an animal with a recurve for an ethical kill shot. That saying didn’t kick in at the time, but when I was within 60 yards of the bear, it was kicking in like a mule. To be completely honest, I would have just killed it at 60 yards with my compound, but I didn’t have my compound and needed to try and get 40 yards closer!
At one point in my first attempt/stalk, I was 18 yards away from the bear and could only see part of its head and ears! I could actually hear it eating grass, but due to the thick underbrush I couldn’t get a decent shot. A couple minutes went by as I was hunkered down and hoping for a shot to present itself. This seemed like an eternity at the time, but eventually the bear fed off and I lost his location. At this point I figured it would be best to head back down to the road and talk with Brian and Garry and come up with a new plan.
When I got back down to Brian and Garry, I was surprised to hear that the bear had only fed a hundred yards above my last position and Brian hadn’t lost sight of him at all. This was great news, as I knew I would have another crack at this thing. Brian and I scanned the area quickly and figured out a good avenue of approach. There was actually a small drainage to the left of the bear’s position and that gave me a huge advantage. Not only would I be able to hide in the drainage, the water flowing down it would cover up any noise I might make!
I made quick work of the first few hundred yards, but slowed my pace down when I thought I was getting somewhat close. A bad luck would have it, the drainage curved slightly left from where I thought the bear was feeding and I wasn’t sure exactly how far away he would be when I poked my fat head up. I slowly peaked out of the drainage, scanning the area with my binoculars as quickly, but thoroughly as I could. It only took a couple seconds to find the big black blob in the sea of green grass and he wasn’t that far away from my position. I guessed him to be about 40 yards (a distance I practiced frequently at), but he wasn’t a foam target and I really didn’t want to take that shot if I didn’t have to. My heart was pumping pretty hard at this time, and I was scanning all over the place to find something to hide behind to get me 20 yard closer. I could have scanned for an hour and came up with the same result...I’m as close as I’m going to get.
There weren’t a lot of options at this point, and I knew I didn’t have many options. I could try and get closer (bears have poor eye sight), but that would risk blowing him out! Or I could sit still in hopes he would feed my way before it got dark. Both of those options didn’t sound to good to me, so I opted to do my best impression of a mouse squeak in hopes he would come my way to investigate. I’m not a professional mouse squeaking expert by any stretch of the meaning, but to my surprise the bear looked in my direction and started making a B-line to me!
The big boar actually came in above me and stood on a downed log trying to find where the noise was coming from. I was relatively calm at this point and figured he was 16-18 yards away. That was well within my effective shooting range, or so I thought, so I drew back and let the string loose! As the arrows traveled towards the bear my excitement level raised and it looked like I was going to pin wheel this joker! Well, my airbags were quickly deflated and my arrow stuck right between his legs into the log! I was having a small mental melt down at this point and doing my best to keep myself together. I reloaded another arrow and hoped I might get a second shot. I kept my eye on the best the entire time and to my surprise he didn’t move! All he did was look down towards his feet and try and figure out what just happened!
At this point all I was thinking was “alright Snyder, keep it together and get an arrow into this thing before you do something stupid!” So I took a deep breath, drew back and tried to execute the best shot I could! Watched the arrow fly through the air (something I wasn’t use to with a compound) was like poetry in motion and all I could think about was “the mythical flight of the arrow” and how traditional bowhunters have said there’s nothing like it! Thank God this mythical arrow actually hit the bear and my heart about pounded out of my chest when it did! The bear’s reaction wasn’t as dramatic as other bears I’ve killed with a compound and after his initial whirl; he just walked up the hill.
About 10 million thoughts were going through my head: was it a good shot, did I hit it, should I go back and get Brian and Garry, should I try and get another arrow in it or should I calm down and assess the situation? I choose to calm down, gather my things and have faith in my shot! I knew it was a little far back and it could have been a lung/stomach shot, but if that were the case, we’d need to hold off for several hours anyway and let the bear die on its own.
I walked back down the mountain to find Brian and Garry and to my surprise, even though Brian had filmed it, they thought I’d missed! I laughed when they told me that and said “well, I missed on the first shot, but I hit it on the second for sure”! Garry has guided hundreds of bear hunters and when I told him where I’d hit it, he seemed confident that it was dead. To be honest with everyone, I wasn’t as sure as Garry, as every other bear I’ve killed was a perfect shot. I knew the kill zone on a bear was far back, but my shot was a lot farther back than I intended it to be!
As we all stood on the log the bear was on, my excitement level rose quickly, and we could see a lot of lung blood all over the log and grass. I reloaded another arrow and started following the blood trail. After about 80 yards, I could see a black blob in a bunch of tag alders and just to be safe, put another arrow into him to be sure.
Wow, we actually pulled this off, but to try and explain what I was feeling in text would be difficult if not impossible. The bear was mature and would make Pope and Young for sure, but that was the last thing on my mind. The feeling of accomplishment, being with friends and actually achieving what I’d set out to do, far outweighed the size of the animal!
I can’t thank Jeff Lander with Primitive Outfitting enough for giving me this opportunity, but also being a mentor (he’s a long time trad guy) as well as a friend! I couldn’t have done this without him, Brian and Garry there to help me out and I will forever be in all of their debt!