The game and fish wardens were unloading and setting a bear trap behind my house and told me a story: a tourist in Montana sold little silver bells and cans of pepper spray to ward off bears while hiking in the woods. One of the wardens was asked by a tourist, “Can you tell the difference between black bear scat and that of a Grizzly?” “Oh, that’s easy,” he replied, “Black bear scat has ruminates of nuts, berries, and some roots. Grizzly bear scat has the same but with little silver bells and empty cans of pepper spray.”
The bear marauding my chicken houses was not a Grizzly, but a big black bear—a cinnamon phase boar that was +/- 300 pounds. At the time, Game and Fish were doing a survey on mountain lions in my area. They ran dogs and were trying to capture and collar cougars with transmitters to follow lion travel and behavior. I had 75 laying hens with a couple of roosters and 25 X-rock meat chickens for butcher. I also had 50 pheasants.
The bear came out of dormancy the first week of April and immediately began to hit my chicken houses. He did not just break in, he tore the whole wall down before going in to have his fill of my birds. Eight days in a row he tore down the wall, and eight days in a row I built it back. The game and fish guys were letting their dogs loose every morning and ran them down to the canyon and the river behind my place (both some 2000 feet lower than my home on top of the ridge). They told me I had not just one bear out here, but several. Lovely. They gave me five 12 ga shotgun shells that were loaded with rubber buckshot and told me to charge the bear screaming and yelling and unload all the shells into the bear. I wasn’t really comfortable with that but they seemed sure that it would work, so I loaded my 12 ga auto with the shells and set it by the back door.
I had rigged the back door with halogen paint lights near a plug to put some light on the chicken houses. My three dogs began barking at about 9:00 p.m. and I plugged in the lights, saw the bear, and picked up my 12 ga. I charged him from about 40 feet away. I was screaming and hollering at him and shot him in the face at about 20 feet away. Let me warn you—the powder load of those “caps” they give you are not enough to cycle a semi-automatic. I pulled the trigger a second time and knew right away that my butt was going to be his dinner. Remember, do not trust a warden that makes a living sitting behind a desk and thinking up crazy resolutions to a life/death situation. What was I thinking? I turned and ran to the back door, thankful that the bear was probably doing the same and not mad enough at me to start ripping my hide into tenderloin for his dinner.
I adamantly expressed my frustration with Game and Fish the next morning and probably used some words I learned in military school. They told me, “Kill him.”
That night it snowed about 12 inches. I looked out at the tell-tell sign of the glowing red heat lamp I had on the young meat birds shining on the new snow. I suited up for a hunt, intent on tracking him down in the snow. April snow is heavy and wet, but I was able to follow his tracks anyway. After about a mile of tracking in the heavy snow, the tracks became too filled with snow to follow. When I couldn’t see any fresh tracks I began making circles around the last track. After a few circles, I ran upon a fresh print—so fresh that it hackled the hair on my neck and sent a fresh surge of adrenaline through me. “Who is hunting whom?” I thought. I spotted a big track in the thick of a gambrel oak. After that, it was not hard to follow him in the fresh snow. The tracks were very recent and harrowing. I came out of the gambrel and could see the trail still. I followed it up to the top of the ridge but turned around as the trail led down into thick oak brush and dropped down into the canyon some 2000 feet below.
That night he ate 15 pheasants. There was no blood, nor had there been. Game and Fish told me they stuffed them down their gullet so that the broken chicken bones wouldn’t perforate their stomach. I hated that bear, and he was getting fat on my hard labor of raising the birds.
I rebuilt the wall once again, and asked my friend, Adam, to come over that night to hold vigil on the back. We stayed up past 2:00 a.m. watching the back, but fell asleep after that. We didn’t see or hear him that night, but the same occurrence happened. I rebuilt the side of the coop the next day and I was down to ten meat chickens.
Beyond putting up the painting halogens, I had put out many strings of baling twine with cowbells attached to them to make a racket if he came in. I had my model 94 Winchester loaded with 150 grain Silvertips because I wasn’t sure if I could find him in my larger scoped rifles in the dark. I hollowed out the Silvertips with a knife to add to the destruction of this marauder. My hounds were inside dogs and I wanted to protect them from the bear, but on the final night I left them outside to be our guard dogs with the temperatures getting down to only 32 degrees. They huddled on the back deck shouting only BARK…BARK…BARK. They barked all night. Between 2:00-4:00 a.m. in particular, it was steady and constant.
I was sleeping in the bedroom just inside the back door and without a wink of sleep, got up to check out the hysteria that the dogs were up to. I was in my underwear, as I usually sleep, and grabbed the 30-30 next to the door. I hadn’t plugged the lights in yet or opened the door, but did so a moment later. The dogs rushed in causing a brief moment of hysteria and I saw the bear running from the pheasant pen (a circular enclosure like a circus tent) to the back of the chicken house where the small enclosure had the meat chickens housed.
I was so excited that I didn’t think I would ever be writing this, much less living through the next hour of my life. I ran out there without any clothes on and barefoot in the snow. I imagined that I might get a shot at him as he bolted to the tree line about 100 yards away. What I saw next was not what I expected at all.
He had cornered up in the back where the chicken house and the heat house for the meat birds came together. There was about a 4x4 foot corner that he had his nose stuck into and he had his back to me about 15 feet away. I jolted but gave no ground. I raised the 30-30 to my shoulder and waited. The painting lights were doing their job and I could see him with only a few shadows around him.
Slowly, oh so slowly, he began to turn around. Still, holding my ground, I did not feel the snow and ice that I was standing on and focused only on the huge furball in front of me. When he saw me, he began to stand up to his full seven foot height. Still, I was not backing down. I was fully committed to protect my livestock and my home. Yes, he stood up to do battle.
I could see the silver sights at the end of my 30-30 and held true to his head. He was moving slowly and did not seem to regard me as a threat at all. I could smell him and he smelled like rotten fish and the fresh fat from my chicken. I fired the 30-30 at a point between his eyes and the rest was mostly anticlimactic as he just slumped to the ground. I had already cocked another cartridge into the chamber and my adrenaline was at its highest as I waited for him to make any move that alerted me that he was alive.
The dogs rushed out of the house and one put a good bite on his butt. I was happy he was dead and walked back to the house to get some clothes on and dressed for the cold outside with my thermal boots and a good sharp knife. Still dark, I started my tractor to let it warm up then dragged him out of the cubby hole where he had died.
Game and fish showed up about 8:00 a.m. and were glad to have checked me on one of their morning stops. I had never skinned a bear, so the lead guy cut a cross-shaped gouge on its chest and I began skinning him. The warden I had been coordinating all this with was out of town at the time and I didn’t see him for another three days. I had skinned the bear to the best of my abilities and cut off the head. I left the carcass in front of the chicken house and got special pleasure watching the chickens eat the meat off the monster.
I put the hide into the freezer hoping that the warden would let me have it because I had unsuccessfully filled my bear tag for the last 20 years. He did not. I had thrown the bloody skull of the bear behind the chicken house to let them pick the meat off the skull, but he took that too. I had chopped off the claws with a bolt cutter, so he relinquished those and let me keep them. The warden advised me that they had to send the hide to auction to get a fair price for it and would let me know when that would be. I waited 11 months for the auction to begin.
One snowy weekend in February, I left the house here in southwest Colorado to trek over to the east side of Colorado for the auction. They were auctioning coyote hides for the most part and I sat all day watching as they auctioned thousands of hides. Finally, my turn came to bid on my bear hide just before dark at the auction. I bid $30 and another bid came up to $40. I bid $50 and it came to a close. I probably spent more money on gas than that.
I got back the skull that I boiled and bleached and have it in my treasure case here at home—with a bullet hole right between the eyes. I tried to tan the hide myself and I scraped that hide for weeks. My advice is to let a taxidermist do it. It came out okay, but stiff.
Word is I got another bruin beast in the neighborhood along with a big mountain lion. Next time, I’m going to leave them where I kill them and let Game and Fish haul them off.