A successful bear hunt in Washington
Thursday, May 14, 2015
I just got back from an awesome spring bear hunt on the Quinault Indian Reservation of western Washington. Though this was not my first bear hunt, I hoped that it would be my first successful bear hunt in the state of Washington. Fortunately, everything came together, and I had a successful hunt.
Located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in western Washington near the town of Pacific Beach, the Quinault Indian Reservation consists of more than 200,000 acres of heavily forested land. The bear habitat there is outstanding, and the hunting pressure on the bears has traditionally been light.
As a result, the Quinault Indian Reservation has a healthy black bear population. Unfortunately, the bears there have started eating the cambium layer on the reservation's trees. Obviously, this is bad for the trees.
Since the Quinault Indian Nation depends heavily on logging for income, they have legalized bear hunting over bait in order to control the bear population and reduce the damage they are causing to the trees. This makes for some outstanding bear hunting opportunities, and the reservation is the only place in the state where black bears may be hunted using bait.
I arrived at the reservation early Friday morning and met my guide Vern for breakfast. He then took me on a tour of his active bait sites. During our drive around the reservation, we refreshed his bait sites and checked his trail cameras for activity.
At the time, he had seven different bears hitting five of his bait sites. Several of the bears were pretty small, and several were only hitting the baits at night. However, there was one nice-looking bear consistently hitting the same bait every evening between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. This is the one that we decided to pursue.
Since the shooting distance would be short, and since I would probably only get one shot regardless of the rifle I used, I elected to use my muzzleloader on the hunt. I set up my CVA Wolf Northwest with a 209 breech plug and a scope (both of which are legal on muzzleloaders in Washington if you're not hunting deer or elk). My chosen load was a 290gr Barnes T-EZ propelled by 100gr of loose Hodgdon's Triple Seven powder.
On Friday afternoon, Vern took me to the bait at which I would be hunting that night. The bait site was located in a small clearing bisected by a road. The clearing was surrounded by thick woods, and the terrain dropped off sharply behind the bait site. He had a small, one-man ground blind already set up and cleverly camouflaged just inside the woods and directly facing the bait barrel.
View from the blind. The bait barrel is on the right.
While I was getting set up in the blind, Vern left the truck running and went about dropping off more bait in an attempt to cover up any noises that I was making while getting situated. I brought some rags soaked in anise oil, which he strategically placed around the bait during this time as well. After I gave him the thumbs up, he drove off and parked a short distance down the road, waiting for me to call him on the handheld radio he gave me if I shot a bear.
I sat in the blind all that afternoon and evening without result. When it got too dark to see, I called Vern on the radio, and he came and picked me up. As it turns out, the bear came and ate earlier that afternoon before I started hunting. Based off this, we decided to hunt the same location first thing the next morning, in hopes that the bear would get hungry and come in earlier.
When I arrived at the stand the next morning, I was relieved to see the bait was untouched, meaning the bear did not come in to eat after dark. After sitting in the blind for several more hours without seeing anything, Vern came and picked me up again, and we had lunch. Early that afternoon, I was back in the blind yet again.
This time I had a really good feeling that I did not have on either of the previous two hunts. When we arrived, the bait was still untouched, which was great news. At this point, it had been nearly 24 hours since that bear had eaten from this bait site. Either the bear had moved on to greener pastures, or it would come in and eat that evening while I was there.
For the first few hours, nothing of note happened. However, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye around 7:30 p.m. I turned just in time to catch a glimpse of a bear moving through the woods to my left front. The bear slowly and stealthily moved across the clearing and disappeared into the woods just a few yards to the left of my ground blind (see photo below).
View from the bait. My blind is below the arrow on the left. The bear was sitting near the arrow on the right.
My heart rate rapidly accelerated, and I struggled to control my breathing. The minutes slowly ticked by, and I didn't see or hear anything else from the bear. At this point, I was starting to wonder if the bear was actually there, or if my eyes played a trick on me. However, I still felt certain that I had indeed seen a bear and since I hadn't seen it leave, it must still be there.
I spent the next hour sitting as still as possible and trying not to move or even breathe too loudly. I figured the bear was sitting in the woods observing the bait and would come out just prior to dark if it was convinced the coast was clear. With this in mind, the last thing I wanted to do was spook it by making a careless noise.
Sure enough, around 8:30 p.m., the bear strolled out into the clearing and made a beeline for the bait. It grabbed a mouthful of bread and disappeared into the woods behind the bait without so much as pausing.
Though I was discouraged by the fact that the bear was soon out of sight, I was not surprised. Vern warned me that bears will commonly do exactly that, especially if they are afraid of a bigger bear in the area. He assured me that they almost always come back if undisturbed.
I took this opportunity to get my rifle set up on my rest and began looking through my scope in the direction the bear had gone. After a short time, the bear's head popped out of the woods. It sat there on its hindquarters for a minute or so and intently sniffed at the anise oil-soaked rag hanging from the tree above it.
By this time, I was starting to get a little frustrated. It was getting darker by the second, and I would soon be out of shooting light. I resolved to take the next good shot the bear offered me. A minute or so later, the bear appeared out of the woods again. It was acting nervous at this point and picked up another mouthful of food and began to leave again.
The bear was standing broadside to me, and I aimed just behind the right shoulder. It backed up a few steps then paused. I adjusted my aim point and squeezed the trigger. The woods exploded with the report of my muzzleloader, and I was instantly enveloped in smoke.
I heard crashing in the woods for a few seconds, followed by a grunt, followed by more crashing, followed by silence. When the smoke finally cleared, the bear was gone. I called Vern on the radio, and he was there within seconds. As dark closed in around us, we searched around the area where I last saw the bear, but we didn't find any blood.
I was discouraged, but I felt pretty confident I had made a good shot. We decided it would not be a good idea to follow a potentially wounded bear in the dark and resolved to come back the next morning for a more detailed search.
That evening, I ruminated for several hours, playing the shot over and over again in my head. I watched the video recording of the shot (which you can watch at the bottom of the article) several times and was satisfied that the bear was indeed stationary and oriented in the direction I remembered at the time of the shot. This assured me that I did actually make a good shot, though I would feel better when we actually found the bear the next day.
The next morning, we returned to the site and began our search. We still did not find any blood, though we found a couple of pretty distinct trails that had been recently used by bears in the woods.
The woods were incredibly thick. Vern brought a pair of garden shears and we used them to cut a path through the woods. Even so, the vegetation was still so thick that we had to crawl on our hands and knees.
After a few minutes of searching, we found the bear. She turned out to be a medium-sized sow weighing around 125-150 pounds. My bullet hit both lungs and the top of her heart before exiting behind her left shoulder. Mortally wounded, she ran only 20 or so yards before expiring. However, she died on a steep incline and rolled another 10-20 yards down the hill before coming to rest.
We had to cut her free of all the vegetation that she had become entangled in before starting the grueling task of dragging her back up the hill to the truck. After getting her back to the truck and taking some trophy photos, we went back to camp. Once there, Vern and I skinned the bear and loaded her into my cooler, thus bringing my spring bear hunt to a successful conclusion.
In short, I had an awesome time and enjoyed a great hunt. Not only did I get a shot at a nice-looking bear, but I've now got a freezer full of bear meat. If you're looking for a great bear hunting trip in Washington, maybe you should look into a bear hunt over bait on the Quinault Indian Reservation.
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