Sharing the Excitement of the Chase
By William M. Gesel D.V.M.
November/December 2006 Issue of Bear Hunting Magazine
My first bear hunt was three seasons ago. A friend was looking for someone to fill in on a bear hunt because his hunting partner had died suddenly of a heart attach. The only time that I could schedule to hunt was the first week of Maine’s bear season and the outfitter was already booked full for that week. Plans were made for the following season. About two weeks before the start of the season my buddy called and said there was a cancellation and they had room for two additional hunters to hunt over bait. I quickly changed appointments in my veterinary practice to go bear hunting.
We made the 1,200 mile trip to Forest City, Maine to hunt with Steve and Brenda Cole at Spruce Mountain Lodge. We each got a bear and I returned the next season with another friend to hunt bear with hounds. It was an exciting hunt with each of us getting a bear. I wanted to share a bear hunting experience with my son, Bret, so I booked a hunt for the next season.
The Coles made the reservation but with the understanding that there was a chance that bear hunting over bait and with hounds my end in Maine, depending on how the bear hunting referendum vote turned out that November. It was a long election night and finding a source for Maine’s election results in Ohio was not easy. When morning came, the referendum had been defeated and a call was made to confirm our reservations. We were scheduled to hunt the first week that Steve started hunting with hounds.
Whenever I travel I don not set the alarm, but leave when I wake up. It was 2:30 am when I awoke and decided to leave. My wife looked at the clock and wondered why I was leaving. I explained to her I was awake and might as well get on the road. The expression on her face changed and she told me that she did not think Bret was home yet. Was it time to go hunting or was it time to drink a couple of cups of coffee and wait? When I entered the hallway, I noticed Bret’s bedroom door was closed, maybe he was home. At my soft knock on the door he answered. I told him it was time to leave for Maine and his feet hit the floor. We were on the road in ten minutes. In the truck he told me he got home at 1:30 am and had not fallen asleep yet. He slept for the next eight hours.
The trip was uneventful and we arrived at Spruce Mountain Lodge early Sunday afternoon. Another hunter, Ben, arrived and we spent the afternoon getting acquainted and making sure our rifles were sighted in. Bret and Ben were using lever action rifles chambered for the Remington .44 Magnum. They both were using 300 grain Hornady ammunition. The .44 Magnum is an adequate black bear round but I felt more comfortable using my Ruger No 1 chambered in the .45/70.
That evening after dinner, Steven had us draw straws to see who would take the first bear. I got the short straw but traded with Bret, giving him the chance to take the first bear. Steve suggested that we should turn in early because we were going to bet up at 2:30 am and travel about 120 miles to the selected hunting area. Everyone took Steve’s advice and turned in early. Bret and I did not bring an alarm clock so we decided to set the alarm on his cell phone to wake us up a little earlier than 2:30 am. Little did we know that his friends would start calling at 11:00 pm and continue until we shut the phone off at 12:30 am. When 2:30 am came, we were up and really did not feel at all tired.
We loaded the dogs and started the trip to where we were going to hunt. The area we were hunting was a vast stretch of logging company land that was close to the Canadian border. Most of the trip was made over paved highways and went quickly with no one falling asleep. When we left the highway, the road quickly turned into a one lane gravel and dirt logging road. As we bounced over the logging road, Steve got on the radio to find out who was going to hunt with us. Immediately a response came back, “Hey old man, where are ya?” It was Trevor, Steve’s son who was going to be the other guide on the hunt. Steve told him where we were going to meet and then the other guys started checking in. When we met and walked the dogs, there were five other trucks with guys wanting to participate in the hunt. Steven loaded the dogs back into their box and decided to check a bait site about a mile and half away. The bait had been hit and cleaned out. Two strike dogs, Moses and Jim, were set loose and they hit the bear’s trail almost immediately. It was a little after 6:45 am when Moses started on the track with Jim following. Five minutes later, tow more dogs were added and the chase was on. The dogs were out of hearing range within 10 minutes and now Steve would rely on electronic tracking collars to locate the dogs.
By 10:30 am the dogs had chased the bear over 10 miles and were heading back to the area where the strike was made. We had relocated to intercept the bear and could hear the dogs coming, but they were moving very slowly. Steve thought the bear and dogs were all tired and were walking. The direction of travel suddenly changed and everyone in the group said the bear was going into the swamp to lose the dogs. We drove as close as we could get to the swamp and could hear the dogs. The chase had stopped and Steve thought they were about ¾ of a mile in. He had Trevor and Ben drive to the other side of the swamp. We were going to start in from this side with Trevor and his hunter entering from the other. Trevor radioed when he got to the other side of the swamp and said he was starting in. While we were waiting for Trevor to get to the other side the comment was made that this was one of the worst swamps in Maine.
When we started in, Steve and I were carrying .44 Magnum revolvers and Bret had his rifle. In Ohio, ¾ of a mile is nothing to walk, but in a Maine swamp, it is an eternity. When we were about 200 yards from the dogs I realized my holster and revolver had separated from the shoulder belt and was gone. Steve and Bret stopped to help look for it but I wanted them to get to the bear. They went on and I started looking for my revolver. I kept expecting to hear a shot but none was made. I had been searching for the revolver about 30 minutes when Steve and Bret returned. The bear had gotten away and dogs were too tired to continue the chase. Trevor and Ben got to the dogs first but could not find the bear. They thought the bear was up a big sycamore but could not see it. When the bear appeared, it came out of a blow down next to the sycamore and Ben could not get a shot. By the time I had given up on finding my revolver, I saw part of the holster sticking out of a sinkhole. I was lucky. When we got out of the swamp, an old knee injury was taking its toll and Bret and I decided that we had seen enough of that swamp. The dogs ere so tired we called it a day and headed back to the lodge.
When 2:30 am arrived the next morning, everyone was slower but eager to get on the road. It was an unusually warm and dry September morning. The trip to the hunting area went quickly as we rehashed the previous day’s chase. I had secured my holster, acquired a knee brace and was eager for the chase to start. We met at the same area to walk the dogs with the same group of people we hunted with the day before. A bait site was selected and was found to have been hit and cleaned out. Four dogs were sent in and the chase began. After a short time, one of the strike dogs came back to the bait and started in the opposite direction. Steven felt the dog was backtracking. Soon the other three dogs were back and barking at the bait. They had lost the bear’s trail due to the warm, dry morning.
Another bait site was selected and two dogs were turned loose. Moses, the lead dog, hit a track and was off. The other strike dog kept testing for scent at the bait. Two more dogs were sent in and they followed Moses. We put Jim back in his box and waited to see where the chase was going. This chase was not as fast as the one yesterday. Steve decided to catch the last two dogs and put in two young dogs and an experienced older dog into the chase. The dogs were fresh and immediately followed Moses. The dogs were quickly out of hearing range. About 20 minutes into the chase, Steve used an electronic locator to determine which direction the dogs were headed (al of the dogs are fitted with a radio transmitter tracking collar). The dogs had separated and we had two chases going at the same time. Moses and one dog were going one way and the other dogs were going in another. Trevor and Ben went after Moses and we went with Steve after the other dogs. Steve felt the dogs were after a sow and an old yearling who separated or the dogs were running trash (an animal that is not a bear). After a half hour, Trevor radioed that he had found Moses and the other dog backtracking, trying to find the trail. Steve decided we needed to get ahead of the young dogs and catch them. We found where they had crossed a logging road. Fifteen miles and two hours later, Steve finally caught up with the dogs. They were tired and went willingly into their box.
Everyone met back at the bait site where the hunt started. After lunch, Steve decided that the ground was too dry to hold a good track and we would call it a day. We checked and rebaited several sites before going back to the lodge. On the way back, Steve decided we were going to hunt the same area tomorrow. There was a bait site that was only intermittently active but a big boar was killed off of it last year. The weather was expected to change, getting cooler with more humidity, which would help the dogs stay on a track.
Wednesday morning we met and walked the dogs in the same place as the two previous mornings. This morning was different, it was cooler and there was a heavy dew. Another guide, Carl, had arrived at the lodge Tuesday night and was going to help. The morning discussion was centered on what bait to hunt off first. Steve still wanted to hunt the bait where the big boar was killed the year before but there was still the question about whether it would be active. The bait had not been hit for the last five days, but Steve wanted to check it anyway. Arriving at the bait site, Carl went to check it. He came out and said, “Turn the dogs loose.” It had been cleaned out during the night.
Moses and Jim were sent in and immediately hit the bear’s track. Two more dogs were added to the chase. This chase was different from the first two days in that the dogs only went out of hearing range for a short time. Instead or running away, this bear was making a big circle. The bear made two circles in the area of the bait when the dogs started tracking backwards. The comment was made that this bear had been chased before and was backtracking to loose the dogs. It was not long before we could not hear the dogs. Steve again relied on the tracking collars to locate the dogs. The bear again started to circle and all of the guides decided that his bear was not going to tree and we would have to intercept it. A hasty decision was made on what route the bear was going to travel and we were off to get ahead of the bear. Bret went with Carl, Trevor took Ben and I was with Steve. About 15 minutes passed and Trevor was on the radio saying he could hear the dogs and they were going to get ahead of them. Carl and Bret went farther on in case the bear got past Trevor and his hunter. Steve and I started toward the chase and we were hoping someone would get a shot at the bear. When we got to Trevor, they were walking back to the truck with a look of disappointment on their faces. They had seen the bear and had a clear, broadside shot at the standing bruin from about 15 yards.
Ben was hunting with a new rifle and forgot about the cross-bolt safety on the lever action and did not take it off when he cocked the rifle. When the bear heard the hammer click, he took off with the dogs only 40 feet behind. This bear changed course and started for a thickly wooded area. Carl and Bret were again trying to get ahead of this bear. Carl radioed Steve and told him where he was going to try and intercept the bear if it again turned back to lose the dogs. Steve and I had walked about a half mile up the logging road when we could barely hear the dogs off in the distance. Steve picked up the pace trying to get closer when his radio came on. Other guys in the party radioed to say they could hear the dogs and Carl and Bret were already in the woods ahead of the bear. Steve then started a faster pace to get closer to the dogs in the event the bear turned and came back. At this point I realized I was not in as good as shape as I should have been. We had not gone gar when the radio crackled and reported there had been a shot, we stopped. A few moments had passed when the radio came to life again and announced that two more shots had been fired and then we heard cheering. We had started back to the truck when the radio came on again to inform us Bret had gotten a really big bear.
We had to travel about three miles to get to where Carl and Bret went into the woods. All of the trucks in the party were there when we arrived. The guys that had been in to see the bear said that Bret had killed his bear about 200 yards into the woods. I grabbed my camera and Steve and I headed into the woods. Bret and Carl were still smiling and slapping each other on the back when we got there. The bear was a huge boar with weight estimates of 300 to 400 pounds. What a trophy for a 19 year old first time bear hunter!
Bret started telling the story of how they had just gone about 200 yards into the woods and stopped when they heard the dogs in the distance. Carl asked Bret not to shoot until the he said it was okay so he could make sure there were no dogs in the line of fire. In a matter of minutes they heard the bear coming through the dense woods with the dogs close behind. Carl was worried about getting a clear shot in the dense thicket. When they saw the bear, it presented the opportunity for one shot through a small opening in the dense brush. Carl gave the okay and Bret made the shot. The bear immediately turned, bit at his side and went down.
All of the guys who were there for the excitement of the hunt pitched in and helped drag the bear to the truck. The bear was left intact so a live weight could be made. The checking station had a scale and Bret’s bear weighed 351 pounds.
The rest of the week was spent helping Ben fill his tag with a 225 pound boar. Even though I did not fill my tag on this trip, it was a thrill seeing Bret and Ben get their first bear. Bret and I will always remember this bear hunt as one of the greatest times we have spent hunting together. Brenda and Steve Cole make you feel like family while hunting with them, which made for a great father and son bear hunt. Steve and Brenda Cole can be reached at:www.sprucemtn.com or 207-948-2908.
Author Bill Gesel and his son Bret
Article by Permission of Bear Hunting Magazine November/December 2006.