Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bear hunting

Part of my annual summer routine is to go see mom in Washington, and then stop off in southern Oregon to hunt black bears on the way home. When I tell people what I'm doing, they often ask why I want to hunt bears. What they really mean is "why in the world would you kill a defenseless bear, you cruel person!" Well, the way I hunt entails many hours of solitary sitting, watching, and listening, in between lots of walking. All of these give me a lot of time to think, and this last bear hunting trip I thought a lot about why I enjoy hunting bears.

It turns out that bear hunting combines three things that are very important to me: being out alone with Nature, challenging myself physically and mentally, and getting fresh, natural food whenever possible. My hunting area in Oregon is about an hour and a half from the highway, off of forest service and logging roads. It's a mix of firs, pines, madrone, and some cedar trees, broken up by previously logged areas that have, among other things, berry bushes. Blackberries, gooseberries, blackcap (a type of raspberry that's black when it's ripe), and thimbleberries (bright red, lots of little seeds, but absolutely delicious). There are lots of little creeks and springs, wildflowers, lizards, birds, and a variety of mammals: deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks, bobcats, and of course black bears.

About 8 years ago I read that southwestern Oregon had the highest concentration of black bears of anyplace in the continental U.S. Conversations with forest service and wildlife biologists confirmed this, and so I decided to give the area a try. The first few years, I concentrated on several areas close to the coast. The weather's cooler there (which I like), and bears were around. I wasn't successful the first two years, but I was slowly figuring things out, and went on to get a bear each of the following four years that I hunted; three of them were from the area mentioned earlier. That is, by the way, a 66% success rate (four years out of six), and 100% success over the past four hunts. That's pretty good when you consider that the average success rate for bear hunters is something like 10%. And most of THOSE guys are locals.

Yet my method of hunting is hardly some great secret. I find isolated roads, usually closed off to vehicles, with berries growing alongside them or in logged areas near the road. I very slowly walk these roads for a few hours after daybreak and a few hours before dark, often stopping to listen and to glass open areas with my binoculars. All very standard stuff; but rewarding in ways beyond just giving me a good chance at a bear. I get to feel the cool breeze, the fresh air, scented of pines and flowers. Dunk my head in a cool stream when it gets hot. Listen to the birds calling, the chipmunks scolding me. One time I was sitting quietly, just watching for movement around dusk when I heard the slightest sound behind me. I slowly turned to see a bobcat, no more than 10 feet away, sneaking up on me! What he would've done with me I have no idea, but when we each saw what the other was, we both about had a heart attack; he skedaddled at warp speed, and I about soiled my drawers!

On a recent hunt I was quietly standing on a hillside on a gorgeous morning, watching an area that I knew the bears liked. After awhile, I heard a small noise behind me; a minute or two later, another. So I slowly turned and there, about 50 yards behind me was a beautiful 4-point buck, trying to figure out who I was. He kind of huffed at me, and so I huffed back! That startled him, and he huffed again; I answered again. This went on for a couple of minutes, and then he slowly meandered off. About 5 minutes later, I had the feeling that something was watching me, turned around and, in almost the same spot, there was a little forked-horn buck staring at me. He wasn't as curious, and so he slowly ambled away too. It was a lovely morning, and seeing those two deer just really made my day!

Since it was so pleasant there, I decided to stay put awhile longer. Then I heard the rather distinct cracking of dry branches downhill from where I was standing. Could've been a deer or elk, but they were coming from down in a canyon where I knew the bears spent each night. And they were rather persistent, which probably ruled out a deer or elk (who are generally quieter than bears). To make a long story short, it took me nearly an hour to find where that bear was. From there, I stalked him for about 20 minutes, staying quiet even on the gravel road, and keeping my scent away from him. Finally, at about 35 yards away, he stepped into a clearing and I had what I wanted. At the shot, he spun, and ran back into the bushes - but only 2 or 3 bounds, and then he collapsed, dead as a doornail. He never even knew what hit him, never even knew I was there. So yeah - a pretty nice morning.

Most days, I don't see another soul when I'm back there; sometimes somebody drives by when I'm in camp and we wave, but that's it. Nobody's out there after dark, so I have an area of 20 or 30 square miles all to myself at night. Similarly, when I'm actually hunting, I'm all alone. If I were to break a leg or take violently ill or something, well - it would be interesting. Out walking the roads, I'll occasionally see or hear a truck, but never anyone hunting like I do. Sometimes it's bear hunters in the trucks, but they don't get out; they hunt from their trucks. Thus, their 10% success rate....

Getting a bear is hardly a slam dunk. I hunted them in the 1980s when I lived in Oregon, in the 1990s in Alaska and Colorado, and then again in Oregon in the 2000s - without success until 2005, which shows what a challenge it is. And just to make sure it stayed a challenge, the last two times I hunted with a primitive muzzleloader rifle; no scope, one shot. That required me to get within 75 yards or less, and just made things a lot more "interesting". A 200-300 pound bear, pissed off if he were merely wounded, well - a guy would be in big trouble. With my experience and a weapon, I've got the advantage; but the bears are anything but defenseless.

The way that I hunt is pretty challenging physically, as well. I put plenty of miles on each day, including some ugly stretches when I decide (against my better judgment) to go off-road up or down a hillside. That's never pretty. Once I get a bear, then the real work starts. Cutting him up (my bears have all been mature males) and hauling him back to the truck, usually in 80+ degree heat - not a lot of fun, and very hard work. So yeah, four hunting trips in a row, successful hunts finding, shooting, cutting up and packing out a bear all on my own - I take a lot of satisfaction in that.

Back home, I spend the better part of a day butchering and wrapping the meat, and grinding some up into burger. The meat is: delicious. Dark reddish/purple from all the berries they've been eating, it has no gamey smell at all, and very little fat; all natural, all organic, no additives of any type. The way our food is supposed to be, IMO. And I did it - all of it. Didn't pay a hunting guide, didn't pay a butcher, with the end result of fresh, healthy, natural food. One less domestic animal that has to suffer in our horrific factory farming system to feed my family. I like that.

By the way, let me just reiterate that the bears I hunt are far from endangered. In fact, there are too many bears for the habitat and they put heavy pressure on other species in the area. That's why southwestern Oregon actually allows hunters to take two bears a year.

So I don't feel guilty one tiny bit for hunting bears in Oregon. I'm out enjoying Nature, challenging myself physically and mentally, and putting (hopefully) some healthy, delicious food on my table while helping to keep the animal populations in balance. How many people can say they accomplish that much with their leisure activity of choice?

(For a more detailed look at ethical issues involved in big game hunting, read my earlier blog essay Ethical Hunters - You Gotta Be Kidding Me!, which can be found under my 2009 archives)


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

A great post - thanks for the tip, I didn't realise oregon was such a hot spot for bears!

I really find your writing interesting, it's just that usually the subject matters of our respective blogs are quite different so I've never linked to you.

I'm planning a blogpost about bears and bear hunting soon and I'll be sure to include a mention for this piece in it. Great writing.

Happy Hunting

Anonymous said...

Mr. Strebler,
I really enjoyed reading your post. I usually dislike the idea of hunting, but I find your reasons completely justifiable. I think it's great that you challenge yourself to use a "primitive muzzleloader rifle" as you must make a clean kill instead of injuring it first and then killing it. I am also relieved that the bear is not an endangered animal and that by hunting it you are actually aiding the environment. Overall I really enjoyed reading this essay.
Nadia (per. 3B)

Jared Zisser said...

Hello Strebler,

I have never actally thought of hunting in that way. I have always thought of it as something that the magazines make it look like, where its all about the gun, the equipment, and the location. You make it really seem like its all about the heart, and I really respect that.

I have gone fishing before and i have to admit its a little gross to see hundreds of fish lying there as straight as a post in a pile, as i have witnessed from my numereuos fiushing trips. So hunting large animals seemed like probably too much blood and out of the question. But you made it seem so tranquil and calm, enjoying the nature, that I think i would like to give it a try.
Hopefully i can convince my dad to take me. Now the bears you hunt i assume give you meat for many months assuming you dont have a little each day, how do you prepare it (besides putting it in burgers)?

Thank you for posting this blog i really enjoyed reading it and am always looking for new ways to enjoy life through various experiences.

-Jared Zisser

Anthony said...

Mr. Strebler
I defiantly enjoyed reading this article, both because of how it was written and because it showed me the other side of an argument I’ve only heard half of. I didn't know about the fact it could really help an ecosystem instead of hurting it, or that it relied more on skill tracking than skill with a gun. I am actually looking forward to reading some of you other essays, to see what kind of insights they open up
Anthony Gillespie

Jon Strebler said...

That's great, Anthony, but you don't have to be defiant about the article. Maybe you meant "definitely"?

Alan Tam said...

Mr. Streb,
I enjoyed reading about your essay because it made hunting seems like it requires skills (tracking, stalking, aiming, etc), enjoyment, and love instead of requiring better weapons, equipments and location. I think I would like to try hunting someday so I can experience the wilderness and the taste of the "organic meat" you speak of.

-Alan Tam

Angel Aguilar said...

Well i think that bear hunting should be a nice, clean kill and that it shouldnt let the bear suffer but i still think that bear hunting should be easier and faster so the bear wont feel a thing. Its good that bear hunting is a way to keep bear population stable but, maybe we should use more sofisticated weapons that will kill them fast. Even though they are animals i think they still feel pain, bears protect their cubs from any danger or themselves, but they do not attack randomly. They attack if they feel in danger. I think bear hunting should be more human.

Jared Zisser said...

I have never actually thought of hunting in that way. I have always thought of it as something that the magazines make it look like, where it’s all about the gun, the equipment, and the location. You make it really seem like it’s all about the heart, and I really respect that.

I have gone fishing before and I have to admit it’s a little gross to see hundreds of fish lying there as straight as a post in a pile, as I have witnessed from my numerous fishing trips. So hunting large animals had seemed like it would probably include too much blood and out of the question. But you made it seem so tranquil and calm, enjoying the nature, that I think I would like to give it a try. Hopefully I can convince my dad to take me. Now the bears you hunt I assume give you meat for many months assuming you don’t have a little each day, how do you prepare it (besides putting it in burgers)?

But in my opinion I can see why people, a lot of the youth, would see it as bad, as it is solely the killing of animals. Of course they don’t take the time to look at the meat they eat and imagine it getting shot, so that killing is ok. Its rather very strange actually as modern youth are into saving the planet as good yet still look as game hunting as something bad, it is perfectly natural for man to eat, and thus to kill for food. I think youth should consider that some people enjoy sticking to the alternate way of enjoying great food, by killing it and cooking it yourself. In fact youth should look up to hunters as they provide a model way to eat healthy and help enjoy life to the fullest.

Jared Zisser

Anonymous said...

Mr. Strebler,
I liked this post! It changed the way I thought about bear hunting! It doesn't seem so cruel after the humane way it is killed and the fact that they are not endangered. It's pretty neat how you do it all by yourself as opposed to getting a guide and a guy to cut up the meat. It also seems like it's a great de-stresser for you being one-on-one with mother nature!
-Lorelay Mendoza (1B)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Strebler,
I enjoyed reading this post; the way you described the wonderful sensation you get from being outdoors, in the wild, hunting bears made it seem like a great expirience. Although, the other side would be: If you are able to have such enjoyment from being in the outdoors, and challenging yourself phisically, could'nt you just simple go on a hike? You did explain that the bears are NOT endangered, but if they were ever to become endangered, I trust that you could find enjoyment doing other activities.
Reno Lott (3A)

Sid said...

Personally, I know nothing about Bear hunting, and have never gone. Yet, it seems very interesting. I’ve been to Oregon once, but just passing through it. I had no idea that southwestern Oregon had the highest concentration of black bears in the U.S.

The most interesting thing I find in this Post, it that the average success rate for bear hunters is about 10%. No offense to anyone but, that Sucks! If that’s all I heard about Bear hunting then I’d be like no way. You state that you had a 66% success rate. (Four years out of six years) that’s amazing considering you know the facts. How come you think you did so well? I’d like to know if maybe the locals are doing something wrong. But if what you say is true about them hunting from their trucks then that’s reason.

You mention that there are many different types of berries in the areas where you hunt. Blackberries, gooseberries, blackcap and thimbleberries. Since these berries are in the areas of the bears, its part of their diet. You say that what the bears have eaten affects their inside. As in, their meat. You say it’s a Dark reddish/purple color, but does the taste of the meat change too? I’m a meat lover so “all natural and all organic meat”, that sounds just delicious.

xander said...

I am not a game hunter and I don't think I will ever be one but I have eaten wild game before like venison, buffalo, rabbit, and ostrich. So I guess if I eat it, then I am not against hunting it. In fact, can I call myself a hunter since I hunt fish? Although my fishing experience is relaxing and fun, I must admit it is not at all involve the intensity of bear hunting. I know you are out enjoying nature at the same time but I would think that it can get kind of stressful having to be ever vigilant of not only bears but deer, bobcats, and other critters. Nonetheless, it sounds exciting but I thought that seeing black bears in their natural habitat doing what bears do was exciting so I don't think I would ever hunt one myself but I would eat a bear burger if given the chance.

Darius Lameire said...

I’m very glad to read a different side to Hunting. I’ve always been told that killing a harmless animal is bad and cruel but this essay has made me reconsider. I didn’t realize how much skill and patience it takes to kill a bear. I also didn’t realize how difficult it is to hunt bears. I personally wouldn’t have the patience in my life at this stage to wait hours just linking without any action. This would be very difficult for me but I would like to try it one day now that I understand the benefits.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion hunting is not a bad thing but like in evrything else everyone else has a different opinion. The ionly way I would think that hunting was bad would be if they did it on animals that were endagered and if it was done in a cruelly way and of course if they didn't do it. Other than that hunting would be alright and fun.

-Perla AbeldaƱo

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I too see nothing wrong with going hunting. Yeah you are killing animals in the wild but its a better way to kill them than the way they die in the factories, cruel and pinfully. The other point that was made on the essay which I agree with is that one of the good things about going hunting is that you get to eat the way mother nature intended, that is with no preservatives added, all natural.
-Francisco Madrigal

Alex said...

“Bear hunting” is an article about the personal reason why the author likes to hunt bears. He starts off with a mini-dialogue from the average Joe who asks him about bear hunting, which then turns into a self reflection. Since we live in California, where bears are not as common (especially in San Diego), it would be expected that most people wouldn’t acknowledge the reasoning of why the author, or anybody else, would want to go bear hunting. He states, very promptly, that it is because of his love of nature, self-challenging, and love for fresh food and water.

Lizzie Hall said...

Your essay made me reflect on the good and bad of hunting. When you think about it, most animals on the planet hunt to survive. If a person hunts for valid reasons, like for food, and the animal they are hunting is not endangered, I see no problem with hunting. You seem to hunt for good reasons, you like the food and you like the physical challenge. I think it’s great that you do everything yourself. Since the area you hunt has too many of the bears you are hunting, in a way, you are doing them a service. If an area has too many of an animal, they can take it over. Since they said that a hunter could kill two bears a year there, they must be extremely overpopulated. I like the fact that you put a lot of thought into how you are hunting, and how you can hunt in the must justified way possible.

Jorge Saldana said...

I believe the sport of bear hunting is mostly frowned upon individuals who are close minded and are simply uneducated about it. They do not see what it takes to successfully hunt a bear and fail to see the natural side of things. I would rather eat something that I worked hard for rather than something that was abused in a factory with hormones and then processed. This was a very enjoyable article. You should post more stories about your hunting experiences!

Maria Mendoza said...

Considering the point of view of a hunter was quite interesting and made valid counterarguments to the usual "animal cruelty" claims of hunting. Usually when people dislike other people’s actions, it is because it goes against their moral values. It was amusing to read that people question your hobby in a form that makes them seem curious of what rather than why. People justify that what you are doing is cruel since you are taking away the life of another, but I find your point of view justifiable and acceptable to modern day society.

Armando O said...

This is by fact one of my favorite essays. I was amazed on the strategy and the skill it takes to hunt. I feel that it is one my favorite essays because it created imagery that allowed me to feel like I was there alongside. I've never gone hunting myself but this essay gave me the other view point on why hunting is not that bad. I personally like this essay because it also justified that even if you're hunting an animal you're still doing much for the environment and yourself. You challenged yourself mentally and physically to put food on the table.