Sunday, April 20, 2014
By Bob Humphrey
Crickets. Their monotonous drone filled the air with a trill of white background noise so steady and constant I didn't notice it until it stopped. Suddenly the air was deathly still, which could only mean one thing. Something was stirring, unseen and unheard in the dense forest undergrowth.
The bear didn't appear so much as it materialized, right before my very eyes. Where once there was empty space now stood a four-legged black ghost of the forest. Even in the cricket-less silence it made no sound as it deftly set each padded foot down, every step bringing it inches closer. Then it paused, still well out of bow range, slowly turning its round, black head and tan muzzle first one way, then the other. It turned to look back and in flash was gone.
Success is measured in many ways and by some, that hunt could be considered successful. Drawing a wild black bear into the open is no easy task. Shooting one was the ultimate objective, but merely catching a glimpse is a rare and hard-earned event.
That hunt actually began several years earlier, first with inquiries. I knew several veteran bear hunters, including a couple who offered to help me find some likely areas to set baits.
The first few trips were to investigate prospective areas for the right combination of features. They would have to be well away from human activity yet still be accessible, have the dense security cover bears prefer and at least some sign they were in the area.
With that accomplished I set out to gain permission and secure a sufficient supply of bait. The former proved much easier than the latter. In the big woods folks were familiar and comfortable with bear hunters. Back on the flat the mere mention drew odd looks and some reservations. Eventually I secured enough of both to begin the next phase.
In Maine, hunters are allowed to set baits a month before the hunting season. That means late July when the biting insects, heat and humidity are at their peak. Lugging buckets of sweets back into the woods is a chore, but also a means to an end.
Initially I made the long drive every two or three days, diligently checking each and every bait, hoping I'd attracted the interest of a wandering bruin. Each time I returned home disappointed but not defeated. Then one day, after nearly two weeks of baiting, I saw the irrefutable evidence. Something had visited one of my sites, something big. The other sites remained cold but this one at least had turned on.
After a month of baiting, the season finally arrived. I hit the woods each afternoon with all the anticipation of a kid on Christmas morning, expecting to spy my present under a nearby fir tree. But that holiday never came and the season ended with nary a sighting.
Such is the way of bear hunting. Fewer than half the hunters who sit over a bait ever see a bear, let alone shoot one, particularly novices like I was at the time.
I set out the following year with renewed vigor. This time two of my six sites were being visited, albeit on an irregular basis. When the season arrived I made the hours-long drive and hiked up into the forest. Each day I donned camo clothing, soaked myself with scent-masking spray and sat, silent and motionless for hours on end waiting, hoping.
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