By Mark Alexander
-- Why is an old man climbing up that holler through all that thick brush? With all that coughing, huffing and wheezing, he's gonna have a heart attack, and I'll have to cut my hunt short and take him to the hospital. Public land, geez!
I though this to myself as I hear brush cracking along with the coughing, huffing and wheezing. I expect to see a lost, old man appear at any moment.
A few more minutes pass, and I see the faint outline of something big and dark. That's no dog or old man. A feral pig? What am I going do with a pig? At that point, a large black bear clears the brush, looks around and starts down what was once a road but is now nothing more than a wide game trail, huffing and wheezing the whole time.
It was late afternoon in the middle of October on the opening day of the deer and bear blackpowder season. I was half a mile from camp, sitting on a fallen tree about 40 yards off an old road on the side of a hill. The bear has just come out of the thick stuff where I had seen an old buck use the area to bed down.
The bear continued down the old road at a slow pace, still huffing and wheezing. I kept an eye on the bear and its trail, watching for a sign of cubs. No sign of cubs, and the bear was still on the road and directly in front of my blind. The bear paused for just a second then continued huffing and wheezing.
I slowly raised the muzzleloader and got ready to fire. The bear stopped, pointed its nose straight up in the air and took a big whiff of its surroundings. I put the crosshairs on its right shoulder and pulled the trigger.
Through the smoke, I saw the bear drop its hindquarters flat to the ground and go from zero to 20 mph in an instant, with leaves, sticks and dirt flying. Wounded animals generally retreat downhill, and that's just what that bear did. It ran away from my blind, and directly toward my camp. The bear dropped out of sight down the hill as I heard three loud moans that sent shivers up my spine.
I sat there bug-eyed over what had just happened. Eventually, I came to my senses and reloaded. I pulled out the ramrod, put a cotton patch over the end of the barrel and shoved the patch down the barrel. I worked the ramrod up and down a bit and pulled it out. What happened to the cotton patch? I looked at the ramrod and noticed it was upside down and the cotton patch was seated securely in the barrel. So I had a big stick that used to be a muzzleloader, and a wounded bear between me and my camp.
I took off at a right angle from where I last saw the bear, planning to make a wide loop back to my tent to fix my muzzleloader. No reason to keep quiet now. I cut a quick pace through the oak woods, down to the creek and busted up the area for any game or hunters within a square mile or more. I stumbled right down the middle of the dry, rocky creek bed feeling a bit safer with my big stick now that I could see clear in front and behind me.
My hunting partner yelled, "Hey! Where you going?" In my hurry down the creek bed, I had passed right by our camp. I reversed course back to camp, told my partner I shot a bear, and proceeded to disassemble the gun, remove the cotton patch and re-assemble it.
With about 40 minutes of daylight left, my partner suggested we wait until morning to track the bear. However, I hunt and trap coyotes and don't trust the thieving rascals for a second, let alone 11 hours. We hopped in the old Jeep and drove as close as possible to where I last saw the bear. I reloaded the muzzleloader, then we quietly headed up a dry creek bed.
The forest floor was covered with dry oak leaves, and we heard no sounds of life from the time we parked the Jeep. Darkness was setting in before we decided to call off our search and look for the bear the following morning. Then, I took a few more steps and saw the bear balled up in a big lump like it was asleep.
After getting the bear to within 40 yards of the truck, we were too worn out to go any farther. We headed back to camp for knives, ropes, tarps, water, lanterns, lawn chairs and a radio to catch the college football game. It just so happened to be my birthday when all of this happened.
The black bear and a winning football team certainly made for a great birthday present.