Colorado Black Bear 2023 (public land)

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Special Hen
Aug 7, 2013
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As usual my son, Asa and I applied for bear tags for Colorado. We went back to same area we hunted last year. Results from the draw was an anticipation but we were above 90% chance to draw tags again. Price went up a little for the license and tag. $212 which includes non-resident small game license, bear tag, search and rescue, and conservation fee, plus includes your fishing license. Not bad considering if we hunt bear in Oklahoma as a resident, it will cost $100.

So, I just needed to motivate myself to exercise and train for mountain hiking. Asa was encouraging by telling me how often he went jogging or worked out. For some reason every time I started, something would flare up on my body. Torn meniscus in my right knee. Hip pain. Plantar fasciitis. Arthritis. I got to get back in shape.

Time to prepare for the trip. Season is from September 2 through September 30, but we can only really go for about a week. Last year we convinced ourselves that we went too late. We spoke to a few other local hunters who said, ‘oh 10 days ago, they killed 3 bears right here in one day’. Also heard about 12 bears being killed in the same valley over the first week. When we got there, all the acorns and berries were gone. So we worked it out to go early in the season. We decided to drive up there on September 2nd. So, we would start hunting the day after season started. Sounded like a good plan. Can’t remember the temperatures last year but early September is going to warm.

Last year I had to rent a motel for a night to use Wi-Fi and to work and use Asa’s laptop to connect to the office to rework and change proposals. We were camping but the proposal stuff required a different setting. So this year, we would camp for a few days and I reserved an Airbnb for Tuesday night thru Friday morning. It would give us the Wi-Fi if we needed. Plus, showers.

We thought we would truck camp for a few nights but were prepared with packs and gear to remote camp if needed. So camping Sat, Sun, Monday, then Airbnb Tues, Wed, Thursday, then if we stayed longer may camp Friday or Saturday again.

With that all decided and booked, we moved towards departure. Packed and organized stuff halfway. I didn’t purchase food until night before we left. Got to bed about 11pm. Back up at 3:30 to get ready for Asa to pick me up about 4 or 4:30.

Off we went to Colorado. The goal was to arrive with daylight left so we could put up the tent.

The first place to try was that drainage that had good success for others the year before and use that as a starting point.

Oh, I threw in my Tenkara rig for fishing if we wanted to give it a go.

The drive up took I-40 a little west and the branched off to NW out by Weatherford. Weather was in our favor. No big storms for the drive. Switching off about every 3-4 hours and it gave a little opportunity for each of us to get a short nap along the way.

We stopped in Westcliffe CO for a lunch. Apparently, the furniture store (Amish crafted) has added on a Deli store. We got some good sandwiches and I bought some cookies. Asa bought some pretzels.

We arrived about 5:30pm. Got the tent set up and started talking with others in the same area.

A white guy had his truck up there and he had a bear tag but had been hired to transport 4 Amish people up there who were hunting bear. This is Saturday night, so all 5 of these hunters were leaving that night because they had to be back at home for church Sunday morning. There were a few other vehicles, some Colorado tags, and some out-of-state tags. We met a Colorado guy, his 10 yr. old son and his dog Toby. They were bear hunting in the same drainage. The driver told us about a 500 lb. bear had been shot off on a trail to the west. He also said he thought there were like 15 trucks in that camping spot earlier in the day but some of those were helpers to pack out the big bear.

Standing around talking about 7 PM and two of the Amish come back to the truck. It was two young girls. Dressed head to toe in heavy fabric dresses and orange vests and hats and carrying rifles. Not something you see every day. Right after they arrived, we heard 5 shots fired. The driver told us that the two Amish boys were up there in the saddle and that’s where the shots came from. Just the guy with the dog said look its running. Asa looked up and also spotted the bear running. I never saw it.

The guy with the dog said look at that dark spot, is that his bear down right there? Asa got out his spotter and used the attachment to his phone camera to look. Asa confirmed he thought it looked like a bear. They both were convinced but that wasn’t the area where the boys were shooting. So, while one of the boys went to go check if they hit the bear, the other boy scaled down to the spot where we thought there was a bear on the ground. It was only about 80 yards from where they were standing to glass and shoot from. Apparently the failing light from the sunset and weird shadows had made it look just like a bear but it wasn’t. They actually had radios (walkie talkies) to talk to each other. So that’s how we told them where to go look.

The other guy searched where he shot and never found blood or bear.

We walked back to our camp to fix dinner and get to sleep. Before I fell asleep, I heard the Amish voices. They made a fast hike back in the dark. Impressive because the spot was about a mile straight line thru the air from the campground but probably a 2.5 mile hike thru the woods in the dark. Asa heated water for a mountain House meal called chili mac. He was thoroughly disappointed with the taste. I warmed a Dinty Moore package with meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It was okay.

Up early the next morning with orange on and rifles in hand.

Some of the hunters were still there or came back (locals from Colorado).

We thought we knew where some of them were sitting, so we eased up the jeep trail to find a different spot for Sunday morning. We had to battle the thick brush for a couple hundred yards but we finally got to an opening where we could glass the other hill side in the oaks for bear. We stayed together that morning to hunt until Asa decided to go on a walk-about. We actually heard a bear on the same hill as us below us 50-100 yards. It was breaking branches trying to get berries or acorns. So Asa went to go scout it out. He found blue berries and lots of acorns and a little bear sign, but when he was crossing the creek he was in super thick brushy stuff and heard a bear growl more than once and it was close. So he backed out and came back to me. Just too difficult to hunt that thick stuff.

I think we hiked back out for lunch along the irrigation ditch. That irrigation ditch trail was much easier walk than how we got in there that morning. Also, along the irrigation ditch, we saw a snake and several trout in the stream of water. We ended talking to two young guys from Kansas. They were also hunting the same drainage that morning as the Amish. We tried to gather where they were hunting that evening but it was strange. They left a tent and orange up in the woods to claim a spot/area but then came back to the truck to regroup. They said that evening, they were splitting up one hunt to the west of the truck and one hunting to the east of their prop tent.

We think they were feeding us a load of crap just to keep us from getting their spots and keep other spots at the ready. I ended going back to the spot from that morning and Asa went farther down the irrigation ditch trail and found a good spot. We didn’t see any bear that evening.

Based on the load of bull from the Kansas boys, we weren’t sure where they might be but for some reason, we decided the next morning to take the trail to the west. Since we heard a big bear was shot over there on opening day, we thought there might be another bear back that way. At the time we left the bearded Kansas guy was still in his sleeping bag at the truck. Asa thought the other guy might have been in the bed of the truck. So, we took off west. As we went past the gate, I thought I heard the bearded guy make a walkie talkie call saying, “two headed your way.” About 1/2 mile in, it was getting light enough to see and Asa spotted orange uphill side above us. We went on about another 1/3 of a mile and started off the trail to go up towards a pond Asa had spotted on the map. As we were closing in area of the pond Asa spotted two bow hunters and then he spotted a bull elk that was moving away from those bowhunters but watching them. Not sure if the line elk knew we were there. That young bull was injured and really only using 3 legs. The front right leg was not being used. When we had reached the pond, the non-bearded Kansas guy had moved much closer to us above the pond using our movement to watch for bear. We kept moving higher and NW away from him. We ended up near a lower part of a big rockslide. Asa and I talked about strategy. He was interested in scaling up the steep terrain next to the rockslide to get a good vantage point. I said I would wait right here until he got in position and then I would make a big loop around the SW of where we were and see if we could move something or spot something. Asa was on his way scaling up the side of the steep stuff but looking around. If I am looking at the rockslide, Asa is going up the right side where there is still dirt and vegetation/trees. I get a message on my walkie talkie “I see a bear”. I look up to see Asa looking at the rockslide towards the West (my left) I look over and a bear is just casually walking up the rockslide at an angle that would intersect with Asa on his path to the top. At first the bear is lower than Asa. So, the angle is bringing him closer to Asa with every step. I pulled my range finder and got a reading of 386 yards, so it was much closer for Asa and well in his range. The rockslide was barren of plant growth except a few loan trees dotted around. The bear passed behind one of those trees blocking my view, so I quickly adjust my standing place to get a better view. I could tell Asa was quickly getting all his gear off his backpack and getting ready for a shot. The brush was chest high where he was so he was adjusting to find his opening and to get his shot off. He ended up breaking a stick or limb when moving in to position. The noise, which I never heard, actually caused the bear to slow down and look his direction. This actually allowed Asa to settle his aim and pull the trigger. KPOW! One shot and the bear just turned and fell. It was down! I look up and Asa was celebrating with arm pumps. I had the biggest smile on my face. I watched the whole thing with my binoculars. There was still a little movement with his head, so Asa moved positions and fired another shot to finish him off. I heard in the distance a cow that mooed a couple of times. I remember thinking that was strange to hear a cow up that way. Asa told me later it wasn’t a cow. That was his death moan. Worried about the bear running off, I stayed where I could watch and possibly shoot if needed. We didn’t see any more movement. Asa worked up and across the hill where there was vegetation. After getting slightly above him he closed the gap. Asa tossed a few rocks over at the bear and radioed to me that it wasn’t moving, so he climbed over to the bear.

I started climbing across and up the rockslide to go help. As I forged my way up, I think I remember Asa saying over the radio that there was no ground shrinkage. Without any reference points in that rockslide I had no idea how big he was before Asa had shot. I just knew there were no cubs with the bear and it wasn’t a cub.

Half the time I was climbing up the rockslide, it was so steep that I couldn’t even see Asa. These rocks weren’t small or even large gravel type rock. These are boulders from 20 pounds to 500 pounds and they are just laying on each other. So dirt in between, so it you scoot a rock a little it launches or slides down the hill, so you have to test and pick each step or each stone carefully. As I started clearing around the large pine trees a little below the bear, I started to see how big he was.

To give you a reference of time, Asa spotted the bear about 7:50 and shot about a minute later. At 8:43, Asa had traversed the mountain to get above the bear close enough to toss a rock at it to test if it would move. I unloaded most everything from my pack before starting up. By 9:44 I was about 3/4 of the way up to Asa and the bear. It is mid-80s, and I am struggling with the climb. I am pretty sure was using his tripod and camera to take a little video and photos. I arrived on site at 10:10 and started taking a few pictures as Asa and the bear. With the pictures taken, we tried to position this enormous thing so Asa could start the cleaning process. The first knife work started at 10:15. At about 12:30, we had the skin off the body and started trying to get the head disconnected from the neck. We both wished we had a tape measure string so that we could actually have taken measurements.

This whole of removing the hide and head was a struggle for several reasons including: we are doing this on a steep slope, we are doing this on rocks and boulders so every step or perch is unbalanced and possibly loose or sliding rocks, my outdoor edge was not in my pack, so I am helping with less effective knives, plus we are worried about the bear sliding out of position and tossing down the rock slide.

With the head and hide finally separated, I try to get it folded up with skin to skin and hair to hair. Doing this while trying to be ready with a game bag for Asa as he cuts off each quarter.

The heat and work was taking its toll on me but Asa had strength and good thought control. We finally got all the meat in game bags and made an attempt to get the head and hide in one but it was too large.

I had the last drink of water, loaded a rear quarter in my pack and was planning on going all the way back to the truck and bring back waters for us. I begged a half bottle of water from Asa to help me on my way back.

So, here’s where I broke down. Going down on this rockslide was really hard. Part of the time I was on my butt, trying to crab walk down in the steep parts. It was super slow going. I was drying out but trying to avoid using that last water.

My progress slowed more after slip and fall a couple times. I radioed Asa and told him I was having muscle cramps in my hands, arms, and legs. I suggested he go to the truck for water. He had ferried the meat down to a shady spot. He then loaded the hide and head on his pack and started down. He didn’t know what path I took but he ended at the same spot where I had stopped going down. I started calling to see if we could hire some help to pack off the meat back to the truck. I tried to reach the Airbnb host to see if they had any contacts for possible packers to hire. Sometimes phone calls would work but other times only text messages. I got Kent Stafford’s help to try to reach the game warden but the holiday meant the office was closed.

Finally got in touch with the host, Michelle. She said she would check with her husband about packers and get contact for a meat processor too. I could tell my phone wasn’t in the best service area so I also texted her Asa’s number. She was able to call him and she told him that she and her husband were on the way. Asa used the walkie talkie to let me know. HELP WAS ON THE WAY!

I still wasn’t back down off the slide to my rifle and gear. I pushed myself to get up and keep moving but still took several stops along the way. I had used the excuse of partial phone service to stay in the spot too long. The farther I went down, the less service I had but since help was coming I needed to keep descending.

Asa made it back to the truck. I kept going and made it to the spot where I watched Asa shoot. I took off my pack and laid down in the shade. The Airbnb hosts arrived, brought their son and a guest of the Airbnb (Josh) who volunteered to help. Asa gave the onX coordinates of where I was and where the meat was. The four helpers grabbed water for me and headed up.

Asa recovered and rested for a little and then headed up too.

Brad, Hunter and Michelle got to me along with the Airbnb guest Josh, who happened to be from Oklahoma.

The three guys traversed the rock slide up to the meat tree. I was amazed at how quickly that Josh got up there. I found out later he is one of those extreme trail competitive runners. They loaded their packs and headed down. Asa showed back up and explained he was delayed with muscle cramps in his legs. I wasn’t the only one.

The water definitely helped me to recover.

With everything off the slide, we distributed all the loads and headed back. My muscle cramps were at bay for now but still a lot of pain with plantar fasciitis, right knee pain, a little hip pain and my neck was hurting too. The four helpers beat me back and Asa beat me back to the truck. Asa hung back with me for a while but obviously felt the need to get back to the camp with them. I came in about 20 minutes after them and the four helpers had left.

I can’t remember if we ate dinner that night but we did make an ice run to try to cool the bear down. Asa said he was hungry, so he found a Taco Bell about 20 minutes away and so we made a TB run. We ate about 9:45pm.

Went to bed exhausted. Leg cramps revisited me for a couple of hours.

We slept in. Got up and started making a plan. Check-in bear, process meat, figure out head/hide.

Asa called and left msg again with regional CPW office. Not long after about 8:50am, a game warden truck drives up. The GW gets out and walks over to our camp. Asa said ‘that was fast. I guess you got the message. “ the GW said no message that was just there to check licenses of people in this area. Asa explained he had a bear to check-in and that we had called and left messages.

The Game Warden gloved up and wanted to see the bear.

The GW’s reaction to Asa pulling the head out of the game bag was obvious according to Asa. He said the GW got wide eyed. Later the GW mentioned it was the biggest head remembered checking in.

The GW finished that process and took off. We were about to head to town, but a truck drove up and a couple hunters jumped out and walked over. These two guys were from the SE part of the Us. One from Georgia and the other from Alabama. The warden had told them about the bear, and they had heard the evening before about a big bear. These two were staying in the Airbnb that we were going to check-in that afternoon. Nice guys. We talked for a while and then they went off to scout for elk. We took off for the game meat processor in a town a little NW of us. Head/hide were put in their cooler and they said they could have the butcher meat ready by Friday at 8am. Note. We should have asked for the head/hide to be frozen. Crossing our fingers there is no spoilage on the hide.

We stopped and had a nice lunch at a burger place nearby the meat processor. We both had burgers and fries. My fries were sweet potato. Asa got a recommendation to try the milk shake and he got one too.

We headed back to our camp to pack up. It was hot. Got everything packed up and headed to check-in at the Airbnb. We moved in. Asa did some work. I showered and took a nap.

After waking from my nap, I found Asa on the back deck writing in his journal.

He encouraged me to do so as well but I didn’t start until the drive home.

The following day, Asa and I were back at it to find me a bear. I thought to myself, if there were two big bears killed over there, there is probably a reason that those bears were over there, so we hiked back in but both of us wanting to avoid killing a bear on that rock slide again. We got a good vantage spot to glass from above the pond. We actually used a Fawn-in-Distress call for some of the time we stayed and glassed in that area. The calling worked because Asa looked downhill and saw a coyote stop and look up at us and then turned and ran but it got within 80 yards before it started to turn and run. We stayed until 10am and then hiked back to the truck. I think we returned to the Airbnb and fixed some lunch and possibly Asa did some more work during the hot afternoon. That evening we went back to the parking area where we camped earlier. I thought I would go back to that spot where Asa had sat on the irrigation ditch/trail to glass across the drainage. When I got to the spot, there was some young guy from South Carolina already in the spot, so I returned about ½ way to find an open spot that I could glass from. There was a hunter already down in the drainage sitting under a nice shade tree glassing the other side of the drainage. That left the open spots on my side of the creek between that other hunter and me.

It was a little disappointing that I picked a spot and hiked almost a mile back in there only to find someone in the spot. This area has lots of pressure that early part of the season. While looking and glassing, I looked back through waypoints that we had on On-X. There was mention of some cherries trees that were spotted last year. I thought it might be worth hiking in to go check for sign in that area tomorrow morning. I finished out the evening about sunset and was back at the truck pretty quickly. We headed off to the Airbnb because Brad had invited us to eat with them. He said he was cooking his curry dish with antelope meat for dinner. We did eat with them, and the curry was excellent. We also watched one of the Hunger Games movies. I talked with Asa about the cherries trees he had marked on On-X and we made plans to drive that direction in the morning and hike back into that area. We ended up finding a little bit of sign that wasn’t too old. The bears are in that area, but we never saw or heard one. During that morning sit, Asa ended up spotting 3 elk way up on a mountain to the west of us and he coached me to be able to see where they were and where they were moving to. That morning sit didn’t produce any sightings of bear. I pondered on going back to the Airbnb to rest and cool off because it was another hot day, but Asa encouraged me to stay out all day. I was at a loss on where to go, so decided to go back to the original drainage and go down and sit under that shade tree. There was still lots of acorns in that area, so eventually the bears will be back to finish off that supply. Asa stayed near the truck because the phone had good reception in that area around where we camped earlier in the week. I made my way down and found the shade tree. With my range finder I decided to starting memorizing the distances to spots where I might be a shot. Most of the shots would be over 400 and that’s really too far for me. My only hope is that someone might move a bear on my side of the creek and it wander in close enough for a shot. Asa finished his calls and did come down and sit with me for a while. He spotted another hunter on the trail we could see on the other side of the creek. When that guy came back along the trail close to us, he actually stopped and sat down to talk for a while. With all the scent that he left on both sides of the creek, there wasn’t much hope for me. Someone would have to spook a bear and it run my direction for any possibility. As went back to the truck to call and talk to his sons. I finished out the evening in that spot and walked up to the truck after the sun started setting. I wasn’t sure I wanted to make a long shot on a bear across the creek and use up all that remaining energy to go track a bear. Plus my knees, feet and back were all affected by pain.

At dark we headed back to the Airbnb and I cooked dinner for Asa and me. Not much but it was a decent meal (Jalapeno Cheddar Brats, green beans, and mashed potatoes (instant). That ended our hunt. We could have stayed longer but the need to get back home felt stronger than finding another bear. We organized and packed a little during the evening.

Next morning, we were up early enough to finish loading and get to the the Meat company before 8am. We were actually there early enough to try to find breakfast, since they didn’t open until 8am. My search showed that a restaurant which was a BBQ place was open for breakfast so we took a chance. Both Asa and I agreed that the breakfast was outstanding and we need to remember that for a future trip. I had some breakfast burrito that had a green Chile sauce over the top. Asa had a traditional breakfast (2 eggs, bacon, country potatoes, and biscuit and gravy). He said it was one of the better breakfasts he had in a while.

Finished eating and went a few blocks over to the meat company and picked up his bear. Packing to keep it cool was a challenge. On the way back still in Colorado, we stopped and talked with a Taxidermist for a few whose shop was along the highway. He was way behind and wasn’t taking on new work, so we purchased a bigger cooler and repacked the head and hide for the trip home.

The trip home seemed so much longer than the drive up there. We didn’t get to Piedmont until 12:40am. Some where along the way, the GPS mapping software directed us to a different path and it added some time to the drive. Part of the drive through Texas was a zone of a 1000 harvests of silage. The sky was dusty and hazy for all the fields being harvested and there were silage trailer trucks going both directions on every piece of the highway for 50 miles. I think all the field work was causing the bugs and grasshoppers to move, so it was a constant barrage of impacts to the windshield and grill of Asa’s truck. The wiper fluid didn’t make much impact on the build up of bug juice on the windshield.

Once in Piedmont, we tried to offload all my gear as quickly as possible, so Asa could get home.

I don’t think he was able to get to bed until about 3am. Then he was woken up early by eager sons wanting to see their dad. I went with him to take his head/hide to Terry’s Taxidermy. There’s always the verbiage from the taxidermist about possible spoilage and so then the worry and stress starts up about whether they will be able to make it in to a rug as planned. I am praying it is still good and that God will help with making sure it turns out good.

This trip was such a good trip for me with Asa. I hope we get a few more of these in the future.

If I am blessed to go again, I really need to push myself to be much better at the conditioning and training for these mountain trips. I want to be around when my grandkids kill their first deer or bear.

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