What A Bare Season
On The Back Page With Daryl Gay
Bear seasons come and bear seasons go. They never seem to arrive soon enough, but they depart far too early. That’s the way it is when one can partake of one’s favorite pastime but 12 days out of 365.
A total of 30 has come and gone now since my first one, and each was unique, featuring its own special set of memories—2017 happened to be the worst, despite the fact that I took a good bear right out of the gate. And 2018 provided one of the best days of my hunting life—after we got the flat tire changed before daylight.
That’s the way it is with bear hunting: the good mostly out-balances the bad. That being said, nothing will ever make up for losing William Jackson Carter on July 13, 2017. Without Jackie, I’d very probably have never set foot in the Okefenokee Swamp. Beside him, we created about four lifetimes worth of recollections.
Which cycles us around to lately lamented 2019.
Bear hunting, believe it or not, is about people. And dogs. Take my advice: if the point of your exercise is to kill a bear every trip, take up ping pong. You’ll lose less blood.
One does not hie off alone to the Swamp, sit down and shoot a bear. This is a club deal, and club members also come and go. So do club members’ dogs. There are high quality members. And dogs. And otherwise. Members. And dogs.
I’ll name just one club member: Don Butts. I hunted with Don back in the 1990s, the early days with Jackie, and hunt with him still. I guess that qualifies me to state an unbiased truth: he’s tempered to about as high a quality as folks come. And he talks straight. Blunt, sometimes, which I happen to admire greatly, but always straight. Along with that, he listens.
Plainly put, everything I know about bear hunting I learned at the feet of Jackie Carter in the following manner: keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. You ain’t learning nothing when you’re talking!
And I’m still learning from Don—and having a ball watching new club members who show up with alleged encyclopedic knowledge of the Swamp and its inhabitants…
First hunt this year: a track has been found, another old-timer is checking it out, and up rides two newbies.
One gets out, hunches intently, roams back and forth with mental gears churning, then confidently proclaims: “He came out of the swamp here, circled in the road, then went back in the same way.”
The old-timer looked at me, winked and replied, “You are right, sir!”
Which would certainly have been the case—had the bear’s toes been on backwards!
See? This is how you learn. So the next time you hear that guy on the CB saying a bear has done this or that…
Another track, another highlight: trucks gather at the spot, hunters exit. Including one… wearing shorts and flip-flops.
I don’t even need to hear his assessment. One look tells me to just get his CB handle so we can turn the volume down when he speaks.
Guess it goes back to all those years coaching my boys on about a million baseball, football and soccer teams: I don’t recall ever losing to an opposing coach who was wearing flip-flops.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the 2019 season is with the events of the final day. We’ve been hard put to even find a good track through the first 11, and now this is it. Sometimes, you just have to go with your instincts and pull out all the stops.
There’s this bridge, see, and not much of one at that, deep in the Swamp. It’s about 30 feet across, concrete and timber over a little creek. You may recall in this space the story of an idiot on a 4-wheeler that cost me a shot at a bear a couple years back.
Bears have run this creek up and down for ages, and you just never know, so why don’t we loose a couple dogs and give them a sniff?
Thirty seconds later, I’m reminded that the first frenzied, screaming bawl of a Plott hound is worth every minute of the three-hour drive down here in the dark!
Eleven and a half days of riding, looking, heat, gnats, mosquitoes, boredom—and hope—have come down to this. They’ve jumped him, and the race is on.
Not a huge bear, but he’ll top 200. Probably too small to stand and fight, but he can run all day.
Unless we head him off.
One hunter stays near the bridge, while others streak to surround the block. What appears pandemonium is actually fine-tuned choreography, because nobody knows which way the bear’s headed. Including, most likely, the bear.
My thoughts scramble, recalling the time an old friend and his 10-year-old grandson were under this very bridge and standing at the edge of the creek. His dogs were running and yowling a hundred yards downstream and he happened to turn a backward glance.
The bear was standing ON the bridge looking at them.
In that case, things came together an hour or so later, and the youngster got his first one.
We were hoping for similar results as the hound orchestra swung back our way. It was the hunter on the bridge who got the first glimpse, the bear streaking right at him. It caught a glimpse as the rifle swept into place, freezing for a perfect broadside shot.
Trigger pull: CLICK. Again: nothing. Broken firing pin, Gone bear.
And that’s bear hunting. But next year, we START at newly named Hard Luck Bridge…
Order your copy of Daryl Gay’s books, “Rabbit Stompin’ And Other Homegrown Safari Tactics,” $19.95 plus $3 S&H and “Life On the Back Page,” $14.95 plus $3 S&H from www.darylgay.com or 16 Press, 219 Brookwood Drive, Dublin, GA, 31021.