Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Successful Hunt

Fresh mountain air.
We awoke bright and early on Monday morning and dressed in silence. The suburban was already packed from the night before so we set out towards our public hunting grounds as quickly as possible. I drove in darkness toward the mountains as Ryley sat asleep in the seat behind me. Excitement and just a little bit of fear flooded my veins. We would be doing something today that hadn’t been done in these mountains for well on 63 years. Today we were going to hunt bear.

In 1972, three years before I was born, the black bear (Ursus americanus) was added to Maryland’s endangered species list. Prior to that listing it had been 19 years since the state allowed its last black bear hunting season in 1953.

Since those dark days, through the efforts of our Department of Natural Resources, black bear populations in Maryland have steadily increased. In 2004, 51 years since it held the last black bear season, Maryland again established a black bear hunting season in its two western most counties. After that first season in 2004 the black bear population has continued to grow and their range has expanded east. This year for the first time in 63 years, hunters were allowed the chance at taking a black bear in Maryland’s Frederick County, where I live. I was lucky enough to draw a tag.

Ryley on the lookout.
As dawn broke we were already making our way to the area where a friend had seen some bears in the previous weeks. There was a slight chill in the crisp autumn air and the only sounds we could hear were the crunching of our boots on the road. As we made our way off the road and onto the well beaten path I could hear a rustling in the leaves. Not the rustling I had expected or wanted to hear but the rustling of the wind as it picked up and began a terrible blow. We hunkered down on a ridge above a small pond in hopes that the wind would die out.

In Maryland you can hunt bear as a group, where I can designate up to two additional hunters on my tag to assist in hunting the bear. This was going to be something totally new for me and by extension for Ryley. I had never hunted bear before and only watched a few shows that even included bear hunting. In Maryland you cannot bait bear or hunt with dogs. So our options were limited.

Nothing like the smell of gunpowder in the morning.
In preparation for our next adventure I headed to the range the week before to sight in my rifle and release a little angst. The proceeding weeks had seen some friends of mine encounter a Sow and four cubs on one occasion and a boar on another. In both instances the bears did not show any fear of man. Even more concerning were two separate videos shared to Facebook during that same time frame that showed two different hunters, in tree stands, having close contact with aggressive bears. I wasn’t really sure I would be able to take Ryley out with me given the circumstances.

There was also the realization that the season opened up for only four days, smack dab in the middle of my work schedule and Ryley’s school calendar. Trying to make the best of a slowly deteriorating situation I decided we would set out in search of a black bear on opening day, Monday October 24th

Someone was tired...
Things weren't quite going as planned. The wind was howling, sending our scent down the mountain, to where I had hoped to find a bear or two. The longer we waited the worse our odds were getting. So, despite the wind overhead I decided we should set out on a spot and stalk.

Not five minutes into our walk and I saw a blur of black out of the corner of my eye. I stopped mid stride and slowly turned to Ryley and whispered that I saw a bear. In the next few moments I tried to set up the rifle and bipod so that Ryley could get a good shot at the bear. Unfortunately because of his small stature and the fact that the mountain laurel was higher than he was, Ryley couldn't even see the bear. By the time I realized this fact the bear had caught wind of us and had bounded over the ridge back down the mountain.

The rest of the afternoon went about how it had went earlier in the morning. We didn't see another bear all day and as the sun began to sink in the sky so too did the realization that Ryley would't be tagging a bear this year. I turned to Ryley and told him I was so sorry that we weren't able to get him his bear. He just smiled and looked at me. He explained that he wasn't upset at all. That he had a great time being out in the woods with me even though we didn't get anything. He was super excited that we got a chance to see a bear and that the thrill of the hunt was enough for him.

As we drove off the mountain and back into the real world I took in everything that had just happened. My newly minted 10 yr old had just taught his Father a very valuable lesson. Sometimes a successful hunt isn't successful because you take an animal. Sometimes it's successful because it grounds you and reconnects you to nature and your loved ones. Sometimes a successful hunt is just to be able to hunt. Until next time keep taking your kids outdoors...

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