Opinion > Star Staff
Bear-ly elk hunting: Several close calls on expedition to Colorado
Luke photographed this big black bear at a scant 12 yards. The drought has concentrated bear populations in northern Colorado this year and bear sightings are common.
By Luke Clayton, Special to Star Local News
The elk hunter I was guiding was well concealed in the brush, about 25 yards from one of the only water sources within a couple miles.
Elk were coming in to drink and wallow during the last hour or so of daylight each day on a regular basis. I was positioned on a steep slope across the pond from the hunter with camera, my Zeiss binoculars, cow call and bull elk bugle.
This was the first afternoon of the Colorado archery elk season and I had already ascertained that this year would be different from my previous jaunts into the mountains.
While scouting for elk before the hunt, we had sighted at least 20 bears. They were up and moving throughout the day, feeding heavily on acorns, which is the only food source abundant in the area. Drought had taken its toll on most of the plants that wildlife depend upon for survival, but Mother Nature smiled on the oak trees. The acorn crop was the best in several years.
Just before the appointed time for the elk to come to water, I noted a black blur moving through the sage brush on the side of a nearby mountain.
Through binoculars, I could easily see the form was a bear, and it looked to be a big one.
The bruin walked a scant 20 yards from my hunter and I swear I could see the brush shaking. Bears are excellent swimmers and the big bruin ran into the water like a kid on splash day at the local swimming pool, dog paddling around right in front of the hunter. I am sure at such close range it must have been the wildlife show of a lifetime.
After drinking his fill of cool water, the bear suddenly decided to leave.
He had every point of the compass as a potential destination, but guess which route he decided to depart?
That's right, he came loping directly toward me.
I was on my back on the steep mountain slope. An outdoors writer needs images every bit as much as words to accompany articles and I had my long lens screwed on the body of the Nikon camera. The bear kept running toward me and I kept shooting pictures. When he crossed downwind about 50 yards out, he got my scent and, just like a pointer on a hot quail scent, he froze and leaned toward me. I could see his nostrils flaring as he attempted to determine the origin of the scent he detected.
Before losing my nerve, I had captured several excellent images.
Twelve yards was getting way, way too close. I felt if I didn't make the first move, the bear might and I had no idea of his intentions.
I began shuffling my feet in the oak leaves and then slowly stood up and held my arms in the air to make myself look larger. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the eye-to-eye contact with that bear and his cold, intense stare and body language made it crystal clear who was at the top of this food chain. One jump and one powerful slap of that forearm equipped with claws as long as my fingers and it would have been no contest. Colorado game law does not allow a firearm of any type during archery elk season, but I was desperately wishing for my son's .454 Casull.
Once the pecking order was established, the big boar slowly turned his head and walked away, much to my relief.
Mine was not the only close bear encountered during this two-week hunt.
One of the guys had a 300-pound sow actually stand on her hind legs and lumber within 15 yards. The bear's intent was obvious. The hunter owns a hunting ranch in Texas and is very familiar with wild animals. He was hunting elk and didn't purchase a bear tag. It would have been illegal for him to kill the bear with a broad head. He reached into his quiver and placed an arrow with a blunt, hard rubber tip on his bow. The bear advanced another step and the shot was good, right in the forehead. The bear hit the ground, stunned for an instant and then retreated down the mountain.
Who knows what might have happened had it reached the hunter.
Another hunter used a cell phone to video a 250-pound bear attempting to join his ladder tree stand. This bruin showed absolutely no fear of the hunter and finally decided to leave.
If these accounts are not fantastic enough, we had one bear attempt to push my electric vehicle off the mountain.
We access our hunting area via electric vehicles because they are so quiet. After walking out of our hunting area late one morning, we were in for a big surprise. We found the vehicle a good 20 feet from where we'd parked it; every seat was chewed and clawed with bear paw prints all over it. Upon closer inspection, we discovered the bear had somehow stepped on the brake, releasing it and then pushed on the vehicle, causing it to lodge against some oak brush on the side of the mountain. Had the buggy been 10 feet down the slope, it would have gone off the road and down a very steep mountain.
Another of our hunters had rented a condo in Steam Boat Springs for his family to stay while he was hunting. He received a phone call one evening from his wife stating that a bear had pushed on the door of the condo and actually stepped into inside. The bruin quickly retreated, probably scared by what I'm guessing was some high pitched screaming.
This was an elk hunt, right?
Then why all the bear talk?
Well, all the hunters had great hunts and all except one was within bow range of elk. We had one nice bull almost completely eaten by a bear before we could find it and I'm positive bears had to be a factor in several missed shots that were made by very seasoned bow hunters.
Bear are always plentiful in the area of northern Colorado where we hunt.
It's common to see several bears during the course of a five-day hunt, but nothing like the numbers we sighted this year. Biologists say the heavy acorn crop on the ranch was a primary reason for the increase in bear numbers; the wild fires east of there may have also pushed more bears into new territory.
For whatever reason, this will forever be remembered as the season bears took control.
In retrospect, we're all happy there were no serious bear charges and nobody was hurt. Trust me, a bow and arrow seems pretty wimpy when looking a bear in the eyes.
And a Nikon camera sparks even less confidence.
Listen to Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Campfire Talk with Larry Weishuhn at: catfishradio.com. Contact Luke via the website with hunting and fishing news from your area.
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