September/October 2012 EBJ (Issue 73) - Our spring bear hunt in British Columbia wasn’t going as planned. We arrived in early June, but spring was four weeks late. Deep snow hadn’t melted from the tops of mountains. Many logging roads and passes weren’t passable, taking a toll on our hunt.
Earlier, my excitement about this 16-day grizzly and black bear adventure had been beyond words. First, I would be hunting with my 32-year-old son and best friend, Dale. We had been planning this trip for almost two years, working with bowhunting consultant, Mark Buehrer, of Safari Consultants. That led us to Spike Lewis, an avid bowhunter, of Bolen and Lewis Outfitting. At last, we were hunting 16 hours a day with our guide, Chad Miller, who over-delivered in every way. I knew lifelong friendships were developing.
Each day we awoke around 7 a.m., left camp at 8:30 a.m. and we hunted until 10:30 p.m. Then came a long hike back to the truck and at least a two-hour ride back to the cabin. At 1 or 2 a.m., we’d eat supper and grab a few hours of sleep, so we would be ready for another long day of hunting.
I wanted my son to have the opportunity to spot and stalk the first big mature black bear we saw. On the fourth day Dale harvested a nice boar at 40 yards. We agreed to set aside other black bears until I had the opportunity to harvest my lifetime dream: taking a huge grizzly with a bow.
But after six days of tough hunting, endlessly hiking mountains and trails, using spotting scopes to glass huge timber slashes and rarely putting our optics down, there were no signs of a grizzly.
We covered a lot of ground on foot on the seventh day. It rained heavily and we were soaked. The thick brush was saturated and the temperature had dropped. Though chilled, we were determined to hunt until dark. A hunt for a big grizzly would be tough and the late spring made it even tougher. I started talking with Spike about staying an additional seven days after the scheduled 16 days.
Spike knew the extreme 18-hour days we were putting in and he was concerned we hadn’t seen any grizzlies. His hunting area covers 6,000 square miles, and he said that he would fly three hours in his Super Cub that day, scouting many other remote areas.
We returned to the cabin that night to find a note from Spike: He had spotted 11 grizzly bears, but only one huge boar and not where we had been hunting. Spike’s last sentence read: "Hey Chad, the huge boar was ‘Ole One Ear.’” The monster grizzly was back!
Chad’s excitement leapt, as he told us about this locally legendary grizzly. He had spotted Ole One Ear three weeks earlier while hunting black bear on the inlet side of the mountains. This bear wasn’t scared by them, their jon boat or being downwind of their scent. This was one oversized and aggressive bear. Two weeks later they saw him again; incredibly, he had swum over five miles across some major stretches of water.
That night, I felt like a kid going on his first bow hunt. My heart was set on this huge grizzly, but Spike tried to temper my hopes. Ole One Ear traveled a lot and with the sows now coming in heat, there was no telling where the grizzly would be, especially since two nights would pass before we could get out there and anchored.
On previous hunts, I had harvested three huge, once-in-a-lifetime bears; a polar bear, brown bear and black bear. I wasn’t going to settle for less for my last bear species left on my Super Slam and lifelong dream of taking a huge grizzly.
Primed with excitement, I slept little and was up at 3:30 a.m. That morning, we were underway on Spike’s 44-foot boat with two 14-foot jon boats in tow, heading toward the grass flat where Ole One Ear was last seen. With my love for wildlife and conservation, I savored the five-hour voyage that took us past beautiful mountains, inlets, mountain goats, black bears, seals and bald eagles.
We arrived earlier than expected, anchoring at 1:30 p.m. Big grizzlies are mostly nocturnal, and Spike said One Ear wouldn’t come out until late if he was still around.
We took the two jon boats and traveled five or six miles up some inlets and bays. Spike warned us that the water would rise or fall some 12 feet between low and high tides. We also had to keep in mind the wind at all times, as it would often change with the tides, which we would require us to change our glassing or stalking position. We pulled up to a beautiful grass flat. Spike pointed across the inlet 650 yards away; this was where he had spotted Ole One Ear two nights earlier, though not until 8:30 p.m. We decided to sit here until dark, hoping One Ear would re-emerge within spotting range so we could plan the difficult stalk. Hopefully with enough daylight left.
I studied the tall grass I would have to shoot through. As a bow hunter, I wasn’t happy, as I knew the shot would have to be extremely close. After shooting at a Rinehart cube target at different distances, mostly on my knees, I felt confident so long as I was within 30 yards.
We glassed for more than two hours. By 6 p.m., we figured we had another two to three hours to wait, if One Ear showed at all. Dale and Chad were growing restless; I suggested they walk down the grass beach on our side for a little over 100 yards to glass around the corner, where they could see for several miles.
As they went around the corner, Chad halted. "Oh my gosh,” he said. "Look at all this grizzly scat!”
Dale whispered, "Oh crap!” and pointed frantically. It was Ole One Ear… just 12 yards away.
The grizzly reared, roared and lunged with savage force, stopping within six yards of Dale and Chad. They thought they were dead. Dale flashed back to what I had told him all his life: never get close to, startle or spook a grizzly. Meanwhile, Chad, for the first time in 10 years of guiding, he had left behind his rifle. He expected One Ear to be 650 yards across the inlet and not show himself until nightfall.
Chad and Dale took a couple of steps backwards, looking down and knowing not to make eye contact; then they retreated faster, hoping not to feel a bear on their backs. They arrived breathless. At first, I thought they were pulling my leg and then I saw the fear in their eyes. Ole One Ear was just 150 yards away.
I asked Chad if he was scared. "You’re damned right I am!” he answered. One Ear was an aggressive grizzly that was already riled by being confronted; if he detected another intrusion on his territory, he would charge. Chad warned that a single shot from his .375 H&H wouldn’t take down a charging grizzly this big. I looked at my guide intensely. "Chad, this is what I came for; to hunt a monster grizzly. I’m going in,” I said. And so we did.
I knew I might not have much time before the big boar moved on. Within 20 minutes, I crawled to within 14 yards. As the bear moved through the grass, I saw a small one-inch opening behind his front leg. On my knees, I drew my 80-pound Hoyt Element slowly to avoid detection. Once the arrow struck, the bear went ballistic — roaring, swatting, biting for three minutes, and then died within one yard of where I had shot him. Upon dissection, I saw the arrow had pierced both lungs and severed the top of its aorta. This was the luckiest shot of my 35-year bowhunting career and capped the best bowhunting year of my life.
The grizzly bear’s measurements were a 24-1/8 inch skull, squared 8-foot- 10 and had 8-inch paws. In the aftermath, Chad asked: "Are all of the other guys from Kentucky like you?” "No, I wouldn’t put that on them,” I answered.
Two days before leaving, I also harvested a black bear that squared at 7-foot-4 and weighed approximately 450 pounds; it was the biggest black bear that had been harvested there in two years.
I know I have been one of the luckiest bowhunters in the world, to go on four spot-and-stalk bear hunts and with my bow, completing the bear portion of my Super Slam. I have my wife, Marjorie, to thank for tolerating my crazy ways, and I know the good Lord was with me during all my hunts. All of the bears were within twenty yards and the wild, bizarre dangers that happened on all four hunts were beyond belief.
Most people want to say that my IQ is lacking. I prefer to believe that I am brave, crazy and determined.