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Spring Bear Hunt Recap and Reflection

 

As I sit here back in the comfort of my home I begin to reflect back on what was a truly amazing hunt.  For me a successful hunt isn’t measured by the number of tags notched or the animals taken.  I think to find longevity in this passion we have to be doing it for the right reasons.  For me it is about spending time with friends and family and returning home a better and more focused man than when I left.  When I'm out in the woods I find a sense of calm that I just can't get in my day to day life.  Although no tags were punched on this trip it will still forever be ingrained in my memory as one of the most successful trips I have ever taken.


The Prep


I didn't plan for this trip as much as I normally would, considering my dad and I were heading out of state for 6 days to camp in the backcountry.  I would usually spend weeks scouring over google earth just trying to find that perfect glassing spot.  Since I was returning to familiar country I put more emphasis on making sure all of the gear and food was dialed as this would be my dad’s first backcountry adventure.  I wanted to make sure he would be comfortable on this first trip and since I'm a gear nerd I had plenty of spare gear to make sure he was set up right!


The day before the trip we got the truck ready and made sure our packs were filled with all the gear we needed to head out for a few days.  We left at 3am in the morning so we wouldn’t waste an entire day on the road but were still able to get some sleep.   I had been anticipating and dreaming about this trip for so long it was hard to believe it was finally here.  When the alarm clock went off I jumped right out of bed. We each made some coffee and grabbed a few snacks and off we went!


The Hunt


As we parked the truck we were both excited to get our packs on and start hiking.  During day one we got to experience all the seasons as we had periods of heavy rain, high winds and sunshine.  Once we hiked in a few miles to our glassing and camping spot we threw down the packs and began setting up camp.  It didn't take long before the drainage came alive.  On the first day we saw a couple groups of mule deer and a herd of elk that had at least 25 elk in it.  It’s always nice to see animals, I live in the very northwest corner of Washington state where I will say that the animal density leaves a lot to be desired.  I always enjoy just watching animals through my optics, even if it isn't the species I am targeting.  

 

 

The first 2 days were pretty uneventful.  In previous years I have seen bears in this particular drainage every time I had visited but this time we didn't see any.  Over the course of the first couple days we saw plenty of wildlife, which kept it interesting but not a single bear.  I have learned over the years that staying mobile and being willing to put in the work to move your camp day after day usually pays off.  For me, I will give a spot two days max then I'm heading on to my next spot.  When you plan a hunt it's important to have multiple plans and spots ahead of time.  We packed up camp at the end of day two and went back to the truck.


Once at the truck the next spot I wanted to check out was a brand new spot I had never been.  My plan was to take 3 days to hike a 10 mile loop that would cover three different drainages.  Of course this timeline was flexible, especially if we started seeing bears.  Unfortunately, due to snow the road was blocked more than 10 miles before the trailhead I was hoping to park at. Scratch that plan off the list.  Luckily I had a few more spots up my sleeve so I flipped the truck around and headed back the other way.  


We arrived at the next spot well after dark and just set up the tents by the truck.  Since this was a new spot I didn't want to commit to packing in all my backpacking gear so we decided just to day hunt it.  Right at first light we were ready to go and began our hike.  We didn't make it more than 30 yards from the truck when I looked over the edge and started glassing below and spotted a bear out feeding on an open ridgeline.  From what I could see it appeared to be all by itself and only about 600 yards below us.  The auburn color phase bear was working a small green patch of grass but with how active it was I didn't know how long it was going to stick around.  

 

 

We decided to drop down the adjacent ridgeline, making sure to keep the wind in our favor to get a closer look and get within shooting range.  We were able to cover ground quite quickly.  The one thing I have learned over the years with bears is that as long as they have their head down eating you can move in quite quickly.  Once we dropped down the ridge to about the same elevation the bear was no longer out in the open feeding.  I was able to see the log it was previously feeding by so we decided to sit back and watch for a few minutes before moving any further.  After watching very closely for a few minutes we finally caught some movement, but unfortunately it was a pair of cubs, one chocolate brown and one jet black.  We also noticed an auburn bear bedded under a nearby tree.  Although we were never able to confirm 100% I am very confident this was the bear we were previously watching as it wouldn't make sense there would've been a boar within just a few yards of this sow and cubs.

 

We decided to keep going for the day and ended up hiking about 11 miles and 2000 feet of elevation.  Overall this spot looked promising but I just didn't get the feeling that there were any big boars hanging out in this drainage.  There was plenty of lush green grass and other feed but since the drainage had recently burned there just wasn't a lot of cover.  Once back at the truck that night I decided to move on to a nearby drainage at a higher elevation (around 5500’) with some cover.  


At the time I didn't know it but this next drainage would be where we would spend the remainder of our hunt.  It had all the right ingredients I was looking for.  It was a large drainage (roughly 2000 yards across) with areas of green grass, thick timber and most important of all it had good vantage points to glass from.  For this hunt glassing was the name of the game.  I made sure we both had solid glassing setups which makes it possible to pick apart this terrain with a pair of quality 10 power binos.  On day one in this drainage we saw a total of seven bears.  Six of the bears were made up by a couple sets of sows that each had two cubs each.  The last bear was one we jumped on the walk back to the truck.  This one appeared to be by itself but it took off so quickly we never had a chance to confirm and even had it been a boar it was long gone before I could have taken a shot.

 

 

We were once again back at the truck for the night and made camp at a nearby pullout.  One thing that was cool about this trip is all of the dinners my dad and I ate were our own dehydrated meals.  This has been something I have been doing for the last year or so and honestly I still can't believe how easy it is.  In my opinion everyone should give it a try as it’s a great way to save money on backpacking meals and is a way healthier and tastier option then say a Mountain House.  On the menu for the night was some homemade tater tot casserole with mushrooms, which definitely hit the spot!


The Opportunity


The next morning it was easy to get up early as both my dad and I had high hopes of seeing a legal bear given the number of bears we saw the day prior.  As we reached our glassing spot we quickly got set up and began dissecting the opposite hillside.  After a while I took my jetboil out of my Exo pack and made a cup of coffee.  This has to be one of my favorite parts about mountain hunting.  In my experience there is nothing quite like sitting there as the sun comes up drinking a cup of coffee while the silence of the mountain rushes over you.

 

 

Just as I finished my coffee I saw a nice bear across the drainage and it had just popped up onto an old overgrown road that was covered in green grass.  I immediately spring into action.  I had my dad keep watching the bear while I start stripping down my pack to leave behind anything I won’t need on the stalk.  After ten minutes or so we both felt comfortable that this was a boar and he was completely by himself.  Still able to see the bear feeding I dive over the edge and start my marathon across the drainage.  As I dropped down the mountain I was nearly running because even though the bear seemed content on the overgrown road he was still working away from us the whole time, just moving from one green patch to the next.  As I rounded the back of the drainage I was able to find the old road we had seen the bear on, knowing he was still 600-700 yards in front of me down the road.  I continued to cover ground as quickly as I could and checked the wind every so often.  Even though I wasn't concerned with him winding me as I was at the same elevation as the bear.  As I approached the spot where I first saw the bear I began to slow way down, which was easy to do physically but my heart continued to race on.  I was now prepared that at any moment I could round a corner and have the opportunity for a shot at the bear.  As I stalked down the road I began listening and looking more intently.  Scanning the upcoming road for any sign that the bear had traveled this far.  

 

 

I never did catch up to that bear and after checking with my dad I learned that the bear had disappeared in a thick patch of timber.  I spent the majority of the day hunting nearby thinking maybe I would catch him out feeding, but never did.  Mid afternoon I made my way back up to the glassing knob to join my dad for the remainder of the day.  As it turns out this would be the last bear we would see on our hunt.  We continued to hunt hard for another couple days before making the trip back home.


Time to Reflect


At the end of the day being able to make a stalk on a legal bear is about all I can ask for.  For me it is about the experience and the people I get to spend time with and to make sure I am constantly learning.  Even though we didn't notch a tag on this hunt I was still able to learn and develop my skills as a hunter.  Below are some of the key takeaways I had from the trip.


  • Spend the money on good optics and a stable glassing setup.  On this hunt we lived and died by our glass.  We were glassing big country for the majority of the day.  Having a pair of binoculars that are comfortable to look through all day is a must!
  • Food prep is a must!  Having all of our meals pre planned out and packaged just made for one less thing we needed to waste time on during the hunt.  I usually put each day’s food in a gallon zip loc bag and at the beginning of each day I put the food for the day in the brain of my pack, and use the zip loc bag for garbage.
  • Be mobile and willing to move.  It can suck to move camp after packing in several miles and getting everything setup, but if the animals aren't there it’s time to move!  This has paid off for me more than once.
  • Attitude is everything!  Keeping a positive attitude can go further than you think.  It can be frustrating when you aren’t seeing animals after spending days glassing.  Just remember you could always be at work! 


Sorry for the long winded post and thank you for taking the time to read!  If you have any questions at all don’t hesitate to reach out.  


-Jessie