The Deer and The Bear

The Deer and The Bear

It was early morning, late in the fall. All signs pointed to a hard winter coming. Our meat supply was about half what it should be, so the pressure was on. I strapped on my .44, checking the barrel and action one last time then I grabbed my pack and bow. The last thing to check was my 12 gauge as I opened the door. It was a typical clear sky, Alaska fall day. I could see my breath as I told Ami good-bye and headed into the forest.
I knew that time of year snow was pushing the deer down from the high country. I was heading to a spot about two miles away, where just the day before I had seen two good bucks cross a stream. I was hoping to pick up some kind of trail, at least enough to see which way they went.
As I was reaching the river I climbed a small hill then something inside told me to take it slow, so I crouched down and inched my way up the hill. On the other side I saw the bear. He was a big male. I wasn’t the only one hunting today. The wind was in my favor so I watched until he followed the river down and out of sight.
Carefully I made my way to the edge of the stream. The tracks from the day before were plain. They were pushed deep into the sand. Even fresher tracks were right beside them. More deer had passed that morning, all heading the same way.
I traveled up slowly and carefully trying to follow the trail. As I looked up the mountain in front of me, it was obvious where they were going. Above me about a quarter of a mile there was a long thin muskeg valley, or meadow. The wind was still in my face so I put my camo together and literally inched my way up the hill.
When I finally reached the top I stopped beside a large fallen tree, leaned back and became a bush. In seconds I saw the first movement, two does about a hundred yards in front of me. One was looking my way, but her posture showed she didn’t see me.
I knew the bucks were just inside of the forest watching them too, so I did what hunters do, I waited, and waited. Almost an hour passed and I really needed to move my left leg, but I didn’t. In all the time I’ve been hunting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a buck walk into a clearing. I would look away or blink and they were there. Today was no exception. In one look behind the does, he wasn’t there. When I looked again there he was, an eight point, in really good shape.
The swollen neck of the rutt matched his broad shoulders and hips. He stood behind the doe, testing the air for a minute or two then he started to graze.
For my 30.06 it would have been an easy shot, but with my old bow I knew I was in for a wait, until he came a lot closer. Another hour passed, my left leg was numb now and somehow feeling better. Everything was working perfectly. The buck was relaxed now and grazing slowly toward me. He was staying about two jumps from the forest, following the edge of the clearing, bringing him right to me.
Another twenty minutes or so passed, putting him just outside of the range of my bow. Slowly I raised my bow getting ready for the most dangerous part of the hunt, the pulling of the bow. I had lost enough shots at this time to know the pull had to be steady and slow.
I was just about in the middle of the pull when I heard movement behind me. It was just a small rustle, but it was enough for me to know something was coming up behind me. I froze and literally held my breath. After a few seconds I heard the rustle again, this time a little to my right.
As slowly as I could I turned my head enough to see the bear about forty feet to the right of me. It was a grown male, ten feet at least. He was crouched low, head down, ears back. He was after the same buck I was. Only he wasn’t waiting for it to come to him. He was slowly working his way around to come up from behind.
I was in a very dangerous situation with no way to get out of it. All I could do was not move and hope the bears’ mind stayed on the deer. He had already come from down wind of me and not noticed anything, but the deer.
The 12gauge was lying right beside my numb leg and I was really wanting to put it in my hands, but the bow was still half pulled, just after the cam had released some of the tension. I didn’t dare move enough to put it down and get the shotgun or even the .44 in the belt on my back. My heart was beating so fast and loud I was sure the bear was going to hear it.
Every thought in my mind was to throw the bow down, grab the shotgun and try to get out of there, but deep inside I knew to not move. I was quickly reaching the point where my right forearm couldn’t hold the bow string anymore. It was burning and starting to shake. I had to either pull it all the way back or let it off.
As I ever so slowly started to let the string down I could plainly see the bear slowly crouching down. Any second he was going to spring. Then the buck changed his posture. He didn’t pop his head up fast and look, ready for the flight. He sensed the danger was too close for that. Instead he slowly raised his head like he was just moving spots, but I could see his ears moving quickly back and forth listening and then, although ever so slightly the raising of his nose to smell.
To my surprise, in that second another buck in good shape, but only a six point with an extremely uneven rack, came from behind and challenged the buck in front of me. As the eight point turned to face the other the sight of the bucks back was more than the bear could stand. He jumped, but in his impatience he was short by a few feet.
That eight point deer went straight up in the air like I had never seen. Still in the air he twisted around, landed with only his back legs, pushed off and headed down the middle of the muskeg with the bear only a few feet behind. As they disappeared into the forest the six point, wild eyed and scared, ran right at me. I should have thrown everything down and ran too, and that was exactly what I thought I was about to do when by almost instinct, instead I pulled the bow and let it fly.
The buck was at a dead run straight at me and only about twenty yards away when the arrow hit between his front legs just below the neck. Still running he passed not ten feet from me and fell about thirty feet behind me.
After a few seconds the whole situation started to sink into my mind. The eight point deer was too far ahead of the bear when they hit the woods. That bear wasn’t gong to catch that buck, at least not that day. He was obviously hungry and would no doubt circle back around to come back to the muskeg from down wind and here I was down wind with a dead deer lying beside me.
I started to just grab the deers’ leg and pull it down hill toward home, but I knew the bear would track me down long before I made the stream. As fast as I could I field dressed him. Purposely I scattered the guts and mess all around. I knew the longer the bear took smelling around the longer I had to get away. When all was set I tried to hoist the deer on my shoulders. After two or three times of trying, I had to admit even field dressed he was just too big.
By now enough time had passed that I was getting worried the bear would be back any minute. Part of me wanted to leave the deer for the bear and get out of there, but the hunter, gatherer in me wouldn’t let it go. I took the back leg, ran it between the tendon and bone of the front leg and made a kind of sling. I put it over one shoulder and took off dragging the rest behind.
By the time I reached the stream my heart was pounding, I was breathing hard and my legs were burning like fire. I didn’t even try to keep from getting wet I just splashed my way across. Up until now I had been traveling down hill. The small hill on the other side of the stream was more than I could climb. I was about halfway home when I had to stop. My legs couldn’t hold me anymore.
I was so worn out, for a few minutes I didn’t care about the deer or bear, all I cared about was air. On all fours with the deer still on my back I gasped over and over for air. As my heart slowed from pounding and the air I was gasping started to fill me, my thoughts turned again to the bear.
I strained my eyes, watching the woods across the stream. I thought again about leaving the deer but the hunter me wouldn’t let it go. I had a crazy idea in my mind that if the bear caught up I would give him the deer and take off. Of course anyone who had been around bears would know how dangerous that idea was. This was one of those perfect examples of how fatigue and over confidence leads to bad decisions.
In all, I must have sat there five minutes or so, which in my mental condition led me to another bad decision. I thought if the bear was coming he would have been there by then. Not taking into account, back when my mind was a little clearer, I had spread the guts around knowing it would give me more time.
Slowly I strained to stand and started walking again. The next few hundred yards were all up hill and that side of the hill caught all the wind. Dead trees laid all over. Most of the area had snarls of trees where four or five had piled on top of each other. The steady climb was hard enough, when you added the trees I had to go under and over, I had to fight for every foot.
At the top I fell on the ground, again gasping for air. By now I had tunneled my mind in to just getting the deer home so much that I hadn’t even thought about the bear until I looked down the hill at the stream below and saw him standing beside it, head straight up in the air smelling hard.
Then I watched him put his head down close to the ground and walk the exact way I had gone. My fatigue and over confidence left me as survival took over. This bear wasn’t going to stop he was going to keep coming as long as I had the deer. I knew with every step the bear took the scent would be stronger, making him track faster and faster.
Once again all I had to do was leave the deer and head home, but even though a bear can smell and hear exceptionally well, his eyesight isn’t that good. From where I was to the cabin door was only about a half of a mile away and even better, it was all down hill.
When his head went down I grabbed the deer and took off down the hill. Knowing the bear was only a hundred yards away made my adrenaline high. A couple of time the deers’ dragging leg hung on the branches making me stop to pull it out, but other than that I was moving quickly down the hill.
At the bottom my last leg was an open meadow with the cabin on the other side. My two dogs were already barking as I crossed the open field. Both of them were well experienced at keeping bears away and I knew in just a few more steps I would be safe.
About an hour later the deer was hanging locked secure in the shed and I was heading for the cabin. I stopped at the door and looked up at the mountain for a minute or two thinking about the day. I didn’t know if the bear was still up there watching or not, but just incase I gave a wave. Next time he may get my deer, or maybe even me, but today the prize was mine.
It was almost dark when I stepped back through the cabin door. The warmth of home and the smell of dinner filled the air. My wife Ami asked how my day had been. “Just another day.” I answered as I grinned to myself.      I guess for most people just the forest I walked through would have made a special day, not to mention the bear and the deer, but in the bush of Alaska where I’m lucky enough to live, it was just another day.

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