Over the years, I have had the good fortune to have taken several black bears and one grizzly. The grizzly came as a bonus on a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska, and the black bear hunts took place in Pennsylvania and Idaho. Now, I was hoping to hunt for black bear where the chance of success was a bit skewed in my direction. Like many hunters, I always enjoy the challenge of a “spot and stalk” hunt, but I had to up my odds of getting in close so that I didn’t have to take a shot at over 100 yards or so since I had decided to use an old Winchester lever action rifle. Specifically, it is a rifle that was handed down to me by my Grandfather — a takedown version of a model 1886 chambered in .33WCF. He had taken both deer and black bear in Pennsylvania, and now I was hoping to follow his lead by taking a bear with that very same rifle!
I met Joel Guimond (the outfitter of a bear camp in Maine) at the Great Outdoor Show in Harrisburg. He was intrigued with the idea of my using my Granddad’s old lever action and felt his setup would be ideal for my chances at taking a bear. Arriving the night before the hunting began, hunters and guides gathered for dinner and a welcome safety briefing by Joel. Each hunter drew a number that related to the location he would be hunting over the next several days, and then we met the particular guide that we were assigned to. Upon meeting my guide, Brian Cain, I explained the twist to my hunt that I was hoping to take a bear with the old Model ’86. He was excited for me since I would be in a spot where my shot would be about 60 yards, and he felt the caliber and bullet were plenty for a bear. The rifle had open buckhorn sights, and the cartridge I would use was a hand load with a 200-grain bullet.
Each day, we would head to our stand after lunch and remain there until after dark — unless we were lucky earlier! It would be a game of patience, patience, and more patience since the forecast temperatures were in the 80s all week, and that meant the bear would not be very active until after dark when things cooled down a bit. But remaining alert and not moving around was key because you could never be sure when something would suddenly appear. Further, the mosquitoes could be nasty this time of year, but I was hoping my ThermaCell insect device would solve that problem, which it did.
The first afternoon’s hunt revealed a unique setting. I was in a ground blind in the middle of absolutely nowhere! This country was referred to as the “Big Woods,” and for good reason. I sat in complete silence in the middle of over 100,000 acres of hardwood forests comprised of maple, aspen, beech, hazelnut, birch, and poplar trees mixed with white pines and spruce trees. The only sound was the occasional cry of a Canada jay, and the only sighting all afternoon was a chipmunk! Several of the hunters saw bear that evening, but in each case, the bears were spotted as nightfall was closing in, and there was not enough light for a safe shot.
The second afternoon, as I settled into my stand at 4:00 p.m., I had a good feeling. I’m sure that has happened to you when, for some reason, things just “feel right.” I sat up a little straighter and remained more alert than the day before. There was an air of greater expectation than the day before. There were several Canada jays flying around and feeding in the area, and their calling seemed to have a soothing effect that I hoped would let any bear in the nearby woods relax enough to show himself before darkness fell. The forearm of my rifle was cradled in the shooting sticks, and the butt rested in my lap. My eyes slowly scanned the woods around me, and I was ready!
It was 5:55 p.m. when a black figure suddenly appeared on the right side of the shooting lane. I cautiously raised the rifle to my shoulder, drew back the hammer, and as it stepped clearly into the opening, I centered the sights just behind his left shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. As the bullet slammed into his shoulder, he leaped forward and instantly disappeared into the thick timber. Moments later, I heard the soft moan as he let out his last breath.
He was a two-year-old boar and weighed in at 152 pounds. It was a picture-perfect afternoon ending in the taking of a nice black bear with my Grandfather’s model 1886 Winchester! I know he was watching and enjoyed the hunt as much as I did!