Two Bear Thursday
A fairly new hunter takes two bears in one day, one with a longbow.
By Steve Platek
After completing the morning chores—cooking breakfast, tending to the dog and getting the wife and kids off to their respective destinations, I packed the truck with my hang-on stand, my longbow and my rifle. I was hoping to cross paths with a nice 8-point mountain buck I had on trail camera but was willing to take something smaller if it would 1) put meat in the freezer and 2) get the skunk off the season.
It was about 11 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2021 when I arrived at my hunting destination in White County. It took about 15 minutes to get all my stuff together and another 15 minutes to continue the mental battle that plagued my drive up: rifle or bow? Even though it’d been a tough season so far, with no tags yet punched, I chose the longbow, the “Spirit Bow.” The bow was awarded to me by the Traditional Bowhunters of Georgia for one year, before I would have to pass it on to another new and “spirited” bowhunter. It was crafted by the late Gene Sanders: a 62-inch Mantis Classic that pulls 53 pounds at 28 inches. This bow has been in the hands of some very accomplished hunters and has knocked down hundreds, maybe thousands, of game animals in its almost 30-year life. I was determined to kill something with it by the end of the season. A determination that might be cocky coming from an adult onset hunter using a strugglestick in his third hunting season at 47 years of age.
My plan involved hiking about three-quarters of a mile to a finger ridge. If the sign warranted it, I would sit in that location for a few hours until the thermals started to change and then would move to a small knob near the confluence of two small mountain streams where I’ve had some action on a trail cam previously. Half a mile into my hike I heard something that grabbed my attention, but I quickly chalked it up to the sound of acorns hitting the forest floor. Chestnut, red, and white oak acorns were everywhere and still dropping. Because acorns were everywhere, I was slip hunting areas with good mast trees and looking for the freshest sign.
Eventually, I turned toward a creek crossing to begin my quarter-mile hike up the finger ridge, when to my surprise, a bear hopped out of the water and started feeding. At about 35 to 40 yards, I knew I couldn’t, or wasn’t going to, take the shot with the Spirit bow. My effective range with the longbow is 15 yards and in. So, I inched forward with every noisy wind gust. I got to about 20 yards when I realized I still had my stand on my back, which I slipped off as quietly as possible and continued to move forward a few yards at a time.
Suddenly, the bear’s demeanor changed. I am not quite sure how to explain it, but something about her body language signaled she was feeling uneasy with my presence. It was now or never. I slowly kneeled and placed my homemade shooting tab on the bowstring. I focused all of my attention on one tiny spot of hair located slightly back and above the vital V area that you would shoot if she was a whitetail. I slowly drew my bowstring back to my cheekbone. Exhaled. I continued to tension my back until I released the arrow at her. Upon impact she fled, clumsily through the creek and up into a very dense mountain laurel and briar thicket. I took a breath. I had just shot my first bear; my sixth game animal ever. I listened, but heard no crash, no death moan. I was surprisingly composed and thought to myself if I go looking for this bear in that thicket, and she’s not dead, it might not be a good day. I decided to head back to the truck to grab my rifle.
When I returned, I found her dead after only 25 yards of looking. I made quick work of quartering her up and taking her in game bags back to my truck.
With my confidence in the season waning, I didn’t even have ice in my cooler. Nothing a trip to Dollar General couldn’t fix. I met a guy there who noticed my dirty, bloody pants and boots and marked up face who asked if I had “killed a deer?” He was pleased to hear a bear was in the cooler. We talked about hunting the north Georgia mountains for about 20 minutes before he ended up convincing me that there was still plenty of hunting light left. So, I decided to go back in and try to find that buck. This time I made a more direct approach to that finger ridge and got there in what seemed like record time. I was toting the Savage 30-06 this time.
When I climbed 15 feet up the small chestnut oak that seemed perfect from the ground, suddenly something didn’t feel right. Not sure if it was just my lack of confidence, the lack of acorns dropping in this particular area, or if it was the rather abrupt change from a west wind to an east wind, but whatever it was caused me to come down from the tree and start down toward the creek convergence earlier than I had planned. I moved slowly, stepping only when the wind blew and as quietly as one can on dried oak leaves. I was half slip hunting; half killing time until I made my way back to the truck. The day was already a huge success.
An hour later, I found myself at the creek, wind in my favor, temperature dropping, the sun beginning its hide behind the western treetops. Slipping along with the cover of the babbling mountain creek, out of my periphery I saw a black blob coming down out of a rhododendron thicket.
“No Way!” I thought. I caught glimpses of him as he would move through open areas of the thicket. He was either head down in acorns or sitting down raking fallen acorns toward his mouth. The amount of brush and saplings between he and I offered me no ethical shot. I took my stand off my back and made sure there was a round in my rifle. I inched 40 yards to my east and 20 yards to my south trying to get a broadside shot. Eventually, with he and I moving simultaneously, I ended up in a spot that felt right. He was leaned up against the back of a wide, old red oak with clear shooting lanes on either side. I put my crosshairs on that red oak and knew that if he stood up and walked left or right, I would have a nearly perfect broadside shot. It didn’t take long for him to stand up and go left. I followed him with the crosshairs for two steps, and on the third step when his vitals were clear of the big tree, I exhaled and squeezed the trigger. As soon as the round left the barrel, I started questioning the shot. Why hadn’t I used a rest? Why didn’t I use the side of a tree to steady my shot? My uncertainty was quelled when I watched him run 30 yards before expiring and rolling down the side of the mountain into a fallen tree stump. I listened for and heard six death moans, and I began to breathe heavily. It hit me. I had just tagged out on black bears in one Thursday afternoon. It felt impossible. I waited to compose myself, then started to walk toward the bear with a round in the chamber. I poked at the bear with the end of my barrel like I had seen them do on TV, even though I knew he was dead. This was my first rifle kill.
I gave thanks, rubbed his fur, examined his teeth, and thought, “I have to haul another one of these things off the hill, and it’s close to sunset!”
After a slow start to the season, but continuing to grind, I was reminded of Proverbs 12:27: “The lazy do not roast any game, but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt.”