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Don't Feed the Bears

Jason BazalaBy Jason Bazala

-- It was the 2001 archery season in Bolivar, Pa., and I had a buck tag and two doe tags to start the season. I had got skunked for a buck the previous two years, so I was desperate to fill my tag with an antlered creature; especially due to the fact that my dad, my brother and myself are in an ongoing competition as to who's the best hunter. They both know it's me, but they still argue. Since I'm the youngest with the least bucks, it's safe to say my stats aren't the best.

The one thing I hold onto is I have the nicest wallhanger, and I've been riding that wave for some time. My dad did take my buck's twin brother in 2006, and the jury is still out on whether or not I still have the title. Regardless, back to 2001...

The first morning of the 2001 archery season, I anxiously sat up in my self-built treestand wondering what this season would bring. After a few hours of daylight, that question was answered. A 4-point buck strolled through. I know a lot of guys would let this buck pass, but I still had those two unfilled buck tags that reminded me not to be too picky. I decided to take the shot. I made a clean hit, and the buck dropped about 60 yards away. I had that great feeling of just harvesting a buck, but I also knew my buck season was over the first day of archery.

On the bright side, I still had two doe tags to keep me interested while my dad and brother searched for their bucks.

The next Saturday came, and I went back up on top of the ridge and hunted from the ground with my bow. I was more interested in enjoying the mountain than filling my doe tags at that point, but if a good opportunity presented itself, I figured I would add some more meat to the freezer. A little after daylight, one deer walked past me and presented the perfect shot. I took the shot, made a clean hit and the doe dropped not too far away. The rush of flinging an arrow never gets old no matter what deer you're shooting. So at that point, I was down to one doe tag.

The following weekend, we headed back to the mountain for another Saturday hunt. My brother and dad were posted in the early afternoon, and I was going to mosey through the woods to see if I could stir anything up for them. As I walked down a Jeep trail so I could circle back around to them, I noticed a deer about to cross the trail only 20 yards in front of me. I had my bow but wasn't sure I wanted to use my last tag in archery. I always like to keep a tag for rifle season in hopes of hunting in some snow. Usually the snow doesn't arrive until late in the year in this part of Pennsylvania.

Well, I had to make a decision when the deer stepped out broadside and presented me with a perfect shot. This season just seemed too easy for me, but my easy streak was about to change.

I decided to take the shot because there's nothing like letting an arrow loose at the perfect broadside opportunity and seeing all your practice pay off. I pulled back, let the arrow fly and choked. I hit the deer behind the vitals and knew it wasn't a solid hit. The deer did a 180 and ran back where it came from toward my brother and dad.

As I paced through the woods for a few minutes, not finding any blood, my brother said, "I'm hearing all kind of noise."

Before I can reply, he continued, "Jay, I see your deer coming my way; its hit hard!" He then proceeds to yell, "Hold on, there's a bear chasing it, they're running right at me, I'm getting out of here!"

At that point, I knew my brother was serious because he would never raise his voice in the woods especially during a hunt. Many thoughts start flying through my mind on what was happening and what I should do. I just started running back down the Jeep trail.

Eventually I got caught up with my brother. He informed me that I did hit the deer with my arrow, and it was running full throttle through the woods. He also said that a black bear was crashing right behind that deer, and it was the craziest thing he had ever seen in the woods.

We waited a little bit and decided to find the blood trail where the deer was last seen. We ended up locating it, and my brother and I followed it while my dad circled out around in case we happened to jump the animals again. We had trailed the deer for about 80 yards when I stopped again to take a look around.

I raised my head, and my heart nearly stopped. There was the black bear 25 yards away sitting on its hind legs over the top my deer. Well, I say "my" deer, but I guarantee the bear was willing to argue.

As I sat there eye-locked with the bear, my brother was still walking to my right. So I let out a yell-whisper "MIKE ... BEAR ... MIKE ... BEAR!"

He finally heard me and looked up to see what I was fussing about. He walked over and we just stood there watching the bear watching us. We called out for my dad and he made his way over to where we were standing. We figured since there were three of us walking toward the bear, it would trot away. Every step we took toward the bear, it readjusted its stance and prepared to guard its dinner. After about 15 minutes of the face-off, we decided to back off and ease our way out of the woods. I know people say don't feed the bears, but I figured I could make an exception and allow this one to feast.

The following Monday, my brother and dad took the day off from work, went back to the mountain and hunted the same area. At work, I shared all my excitement with some of my co-workers who are hunters. They called me later in the day to say they had come across my deer. It was half-eaten, dragged a descent distance from where we last saw it with the bear and covered with leaves. Also to my dismay, it turned out to be a 1-inch spike.

I know I could never put into words the amount of adrenaline that was going through our bodies that day to do this story justice, but I had to share the experience.

Jason Bazala
Irwin, PA

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