Apr 06 2022

Challenge Accepted

It was the fall of 2017 when my dad and I were driving back from an unsuccessful hunt in the national forest in Arkansas. We had hunted all day and were frustrated at how little our expedition had produced. My dad explained to me that we hunt here because while we may not have very much success, the day that we do, it will mean so much more. He told me that if we wanted to go kill a deer or bear, we could go to the bait pile and could have a much better chance at killing one, but we hunt on national forest because there will be so much more behind the animal that we harvested. I understood. Not long after that in the same long drive home after talking more on the subject I made a commitment that I was going to try to kill my first bear in national forest. This was a massive commitment.


 Over the course of the next year two of my siblings killed bears over bait and I had very few chances to hunt in the national forest where I was planning on killing one. The hunts that I did go on were unsuccessful and not enjoyable for an 11-year-old boy. The year after that I watched my sister have opportunities at massive bears and my brother who was 10 at the time had already killed a bear and was looking to kill another one while I was spending days in the woods with my dad and seeing nothing.


 The next year at bear camp there was an open bait site and I had nothing to hunt other than squirrels. My dad and my sister were out hunting a 400+ lb. bear so my dad was not aware of the situation. I was 13 at the time and was not thinking about my commitment and saw my opportunity and took it. So, I went up to the bait with Mr. James Lawrence and we sat there for an hour when a bear came into the bait. He gave me a good shot and I let an arrow fly. My bow was sighted into 20 yards and the bear was at 25 so my arrow dropped and clipped its leg doing minimal damage. Looking back at it now, I am so glad that I missed that bear. But after missing that bear, I was more driven to kill a bear on national forest and it gave me a clearer sight of my goal.


 Every bear season my dad would always talk about how one day he was going to turn me loose in the mountains by myself and I was going to camp there until I killed a bear. From the ages of 10-14 I would always fantasize about the idea of going in the mountains by myself and killing a bear. In the summer of 2021, I knew that the upcoming bear season was going to be the year that I killed one. I told my dad that I wouldn't care if I didn't even get a chance to deer hunt if I could just get a bear. It was the priority. I shot my bow every day and practiced from every position the bear could possibly be in and from every distance that I could get a shot. I was not going to miss. In mid-august the weather was extremely dry, and it was not looking like it was going to rain anytime soon. So, my dad and I went into the woods on mules to a spot where there was a small water hole that kept water year-round. There was no other water at the time within half a mile of this pond, so we set up a camera to monitor the water source. Over the course of the next month bears started coming in there consistently. This got me excited. Every day after school I would check my phone hoping that my dad had texted me a picture of a bear.


The entire week prior to opening weekend no bears had come in. There was a sudden drop of temperatures two days before the season and the bears were nowhere to be seen. This got me extremely nervous. I checked the weather for that weekend, and it looked like it was going to be hot. This was a good sign, but I was still discouraged. I got out of school early on Thursday afternoon and headed down to bear camp. I stayed at the cabin that night. I woke up the next morning and went to go re-bait the spot that my dad would be hunting at. This took until 2:00 pm in the afternoon. Immediately after that we headed to the spot that I would be dropped off at. Once we got there, I packed away the last of my stuff and got ready to go. I said goodbye then headed into the desolate Arkansas wilderness.


 It took me two and a half hours to get to where I was planning on camping. It took me 45 minutes to set up camp, this left me another 45 minutes of daylight. I decided to cook one of the 4 freeze dried meals that I brought. By the time I finished it was dark and I had nothing else to do. I sat in the solitude of the pre-autumn forest and thought about my plan for the morning. I woke up at 6:30, ate a clif bar and took off the opposite way of the pond to do a morning spot and stalk hunt. I was walking slow and quiet when I saw a deer at 30 yards eating white oak acorns. When the deer’s head went behind a tree I quickly moved in closer, stepping quietly on rocks. I got within 20 yards of the deer when all I could see was its body. I could have shot the deer, but I knew that if I did it was going to take all day to get it out and I would not have been able to bear hunt that day. By this point it was 9:00 in the morning and I needed to be at the water hole by 10:00. So, I started walking back to my camp.


 When I got back to camp, I grabbed the tree saddle, tree steps, a few snacks, and a climbing stick to use as a platform. I started out towards the water hole which was 0.6 miles from my camp. I made it there in 35 minutes. I quickly set up my tree saddle and started hunting. I sat for the rest of the day but saw nothing. The next morning, I did the exact same thing. Once I was done with the spot and stalk hunt, I went to the water hole. About 1 hour into the hunt, I heard footsteps coming from the north. I looked through the trees and saw a bear cub, then I saw another one, then I saw the sow. The sow was a color phase bear. They came in and drank but the sow knew that something was off so they left as quickly as they could. This was very exciting. Rarely have two bears come in on the same day so I had very little confidence in one coming in. The next day I didn't have any luck with spot and stalk, so I went back to the water hole.


 This was my last day in the woods. My dad was picking me up at dark right where he dropped me off. I sat for 4 hours before I heard what I knew was a bear. Its footsteps were confident unlike a deer or squirrel. I looked to my right and saw a black bear coming my way. It was right next to my wind line. I watched it dig up a yellow jacket nest and get swarmed, so it started coming to the water hole quickly. It walked behind me and then stopped 5 yards from my tree. I slowly turned around and put the 20 pin on the bear. I knew that at 5 yards the arrow was going to shoot 1 inch high if I used my 20 pin. I squeezed the release, and I watched the arrow hit the bear right where I was aiming. It gave off a loud growl and took off running down the side of the mountain. I was so excited, more excited than I had ever been in my life. I immediately texted my cousin who was in school who I was talking to right before the bear came in.  She said that there was a small celebration mid class with the people who she was sitting with. Then I texted my dad's Garmin Inreach because he did not have service where he was at. Then I called my grandpa. I started looking for blood, but I could not find any, only small specks here and there. I started to panic. I looked for 45 min before I found a spot going down the mountain where it rubbed on a tree. From there it started bleeding a lot and I was following slide marks because it was so steep. I had a close encounter with a big copperhead on the way down and almost got bit. I kept tracking the bear. I saw a spot where a small tree was knocked down, so I went to it and looked around. I looked up and saw the bear dead. I finally completed my goal; it took 5 years.


 I skinned the bear and waited for help to arrive. My dad and two other friends came and helped me haul out the bear. We came back to the truck to a full party of people waiting for us to come out of the woods. Things that I learned on this hunt was that pre-season scouting is very important. Knowing where the acorns are is important, and that you need to get out there as early in the season as possible. The main thing that I learned is that no matter how you hunt or where you hunt, if you spend enough time in the woods eventually it will happen.