Eastmans Members- here is a article I wrote from my 2012 Bear Hunt with hounds. It was a great trip and I hope you enjoy reading. I wish I had better pictures but the wet conditions were more than my camera could handle!
Normally on a mid October day I find myself up early, squeezing in a deer hunt before work or pre baiting trap sets ahead of season. However this weekend was different. I had been invited to come on another bear hunt in North Carolina with my good friends James and Dale.
My wife and I loaded the car and started the six hour drive from Cincinnati as soon as I got off work that Friday afternoon. We hoped to arrive around midnight and squeeze in a little sleep before the North Carolina Black Bear opener. Traffic, rain, and poor drivers turned 6 hours into 13. Arriving at James’ house around 5:15am, I barely had time to unload my bags before the truck pulled up to get me.
“Hey Ohio, you wann’a biscuit?” Said a familiar voice coming from the F150. It was another friend I met only last year while on my first Bear hunt….Chicken was his name. I grabbed my Marlin 1836 lever action and hopped in the truck. We headed to Dale’s house just down the road and the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains only a few miles from Mt. Mitchell- the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
Now Dale, a tough man who has been bitten, broken, and bloodied, (all in the name of bear hunting) owns the finest bear dogs a man could ever have. His protégé, Chicken, has dogs that aren’t far behind. The lead dog Chaos has a nose few dogs can keep up with and as I’d learn, you trust Chaos no matter what your mind says.
We loaded the trucks and dogs and headed up the mountain. Stopping at a popular trail Dale, Chicken, myself and James’ son, Jeremiah, walked the dogs to the trail in hope of catching fresh scent of a big bear. It had been raining hard all morning. The dogs were not impressed with any sign so it was back to the trucks. We loaded the dogs except for chaos who had the distinction of the “box dog”. A man’s best dog rides on top of the dog box and gets to show itself to the world- and keep an open nose.
A few miles down the road Chaos let out a howl that even a novice bear hunter knows means its time to hunt. Dale, without hesitation stopped the truck and unleashed Chaos who flew down the mountain, hot on the trail….game on!
Chaos followed by Josie, Baby, spots, and other dogs whose names I do not recall, bolted through the woods baying the whole way. Since they were going down, we followed the road to meet them at the bottom…well, hopefully.
At the bottom, Dale and Jeremiah followed one set of dogs tracked by GPS, Chicken and I followed a few that had straggled off. Dale came across the marine band radio- “Get Ohio up here!” Dale was well up the other side of the mountain from us. “How far up are ye?” Chicken asked. “Oh, ‘bout a hundred yards…” I had feeling 100 yards was a little low but none the less, took off at a sprint following the baying hound’s barking.
About 500 yards up the mountain…and I mean UP, I was close enough to see dogs but didn’t see the bear. BOOOOM! Dale had fired a shot from his 7×30 Thompson contender. “Did ya get him??” I asked “Eh, think I hit him. He was bayed and took off up the hill I had to fire.” Now what Dale called a hill, most normal men would climb with ropes and cramp-ons. Fearing being left behind, I followed as closely as I could to Dale, who maneuvered the mountain like I walk to my mailbox.
Another half mile or so later the dogs split. Half went up and half went down. “Which way did chaos go?” Chicken asked dale. Without hesitation dale said, “Up.” Dale checked the GPS and confirmed. “Yep, up….way up.” Last year I killed my bear at around 5200ft Elevation, the GPS said we were around 2000ft. The mere thought of the climb coupled with 30 sleepless hours at this point, made my legs ache. “Welp, we better get at it.” Dale knew his dogs were not the only ones on this bear now. Younger dogs will often follow a bark like a child imitating an adult. Dale knew the other hunters would be headed to their dogs as well. This is common and the way of bear hunters in ‘The Ol’ North State’.
The four of us trekked up the mountain, using every limb and tree we could for support. At this point the dogs were still chasing the bear and almost out of earshot. Little did I know the fun had only started. “Bayed…they bayed em” Chicken said looking at the GPS tracker. “We’re only 1200 yards from em”. I looked up and dale was already a hundred yards in front of us and moving fast.
The barks were close now. Dale instructed me to load the rifle and get ready. We slowly peaked over the hill and saw the dogs, 9 of them. “Where’s the bear?” I asked Dale. “I dunno.” Was his reply. We scanned the trees hoping he had climbed a tree and present me an easy head shot. “Oh boy…” dale sighed. “…we gotta get down there now…he’s under a rock.” I had no idea what Dale meant by ‘under a rock’ but I knew by his voice it wasn’t good. The dogs were about 6 feet straight down. I had never seen a man scale down a rock mountain side but, Dale ran like a mountain goat to the dogs. “Get down here!” Dale yelled at me…Chicken and Jeremiah were a few hundred yards back. As quickly as I could, I climbed down to him. It was total chaos….and speaking of Chaos; the dog was nose first into a cave barking. The bear growled and snapped its teeth, I could not yet see it but I could hear it anger. “Get the dogs off!” Dale yelled while standing on a ledge the size of a small car hood that fell to a 30 foot cliff straight down to rocks. It was the only place to stand. I Grabbed a dog and leashed it to a tree. Dale had already tied 3. I aimed in the hole but I was in a bad position. The cave curved and only presented a shot from the other side. Now, I won’t lie, I was a bit…let’s say nervous… about being on a ledge with and angry bear. Fortunately, I had to go back up the cliff to climb over the cave entrance so I could switch places with Dale, in order to get a shot. This few seconds gave me time to get my composure and man up for the shot.
“He’s gonna come out you’d better shoot!” Dale yelled, barely audible over all the barking and growling. “Out? Like charge?” I asked. By this time Chicken and Jeremiah had all but 2 dogs corralled. “Yeah” is all Dale said. “Shoot em, shoot em now!” I couldn’t even see the bear, just a black hole in the cave. “Just shoot anything black in there!” Dale instructed me. I caught movement…the bear filled up the entire cave. I made out the hips and hoped to break them with my 150gr Hornady lever-revolution ammo and pin the bear in place. Boom!!! I fired and levered the action. POP! POP! The bear’s teeth snapped together loud enough it rivaled my gunshot! Instantly, the bear turned and bolted out of the cave. Teeth, claws, and angry eyes were all I could see. I fired two more shots into the bear a fast as I could. I slipped backwards off the ledge. BOOM! Dale fired his pistol as I fell. I caught a laurel branch to save myself from the 30 foot drop. The bear was still coming. I fired 3 more rounds into the Bruin, John Wayne style working the action one handed while holding the laurel. The bear growled and rolled back into the cave.
“Everybody ok?” Dale asked. Everyone looked around and check themselves for holes and cuts. I had a small cut on my leg, through my jeans from a rock. A few dogs were bloodied. But everyone checked out ok. I had saved one round in my rifle in case there was a second bear in the cave…but there was only one. We tied the rest of the dogs and sat…for about two minutes, before other hunters made their way around the mountain. I didn’t know these guys, but Dale did. One hunter climbing down the cliff said “I got it on video!!! Sounded like a machine gun man!” The quality was poor but it was only after watching the video I realized the whole encounter took only 8 seconds.
A loud growl! “Pull me out!” Dale screamed! I turned around to see Dale’s feet sticking out of the cave, he did not watch the video, he had crawled in to the hole to get the bear. “Never mind, its ok…” Dale was calm now. He had leaned on the bear’s belly, pushing air through the slain bruin’s vocal chords, forcing the roar. The bear was a good one! My best for sure. We were met at the bottom of the mountain by a wildlife biologist who congratulated us on the kill and also asked what kind of machine gun we were using. “Must have been exciting!” Said the biologist. “Yeah, it was alright.” Said Dale with a grin.
I took my bear on day one of my hunt for the second year in a row thanks to Dale, Chicken, and of course Chaos. I am convinced that the thrill of this type of hunting cannot be matched anywhere in North America. I have been a part of hunts for the mighty lion, rhino, and the elephant. I have had close calls with coyotes. Heck, in my day job as a cop, I’ve been a part of car chases, foot pursuits and manhunts….nothing compares to standing on a ledge face to face with an angry Black Bear!!!!
We spent the rest of our trip with James. My wife and I got to drive and climb the peak of Mt. Mitchell. The leaves were perfect. Every shade of every color you can imagine was present. Pictures simply don’t do it justice. The air is clean and pure. It’s a beautiful part of the world. I cannot wait to see it again; North Carolina has lots to offer to the outdoors person. Hunting, great trout fishing, and some of the best sites there are to see.
I highly recommend anyone to jump at the chance to take a trip like this. Its a lot of work, you have to be in shape, and your gun better be ready. If you can bear it….its a bear of a hunt!