It's been a little over a month now since I returned from my 2023 Oregon Spring Bear hunt... and it was a success!
Before I forget all the details, I figured I'd better put the ol' "pen to paper" aka "fingers to keyboard" and write up the story. So here it is...
I was fortunate enough to draw my spring bear tag with zero points. I know. Lucky.
My good buddy Thomas of Chasing Roosevelts Outdoors didn't draw, but he agreed to tag along on my hunt and help film. We hatched plans to be out for opening weekend as well as a few other dates during the season, with the first week of May being our big chunk of time to really hit it hard.
With opening morning upon us, we headed out to an area I had hunted last season on a chunk of State Forest land. I had found some fresh sign there last year and I thought it might be a good area to test out the e-bikes I was being loaned from a couple companies.
Unfortunately, the weather that weekend was terrible and we opted not to take the e-bikes along. We weren't holding out a ton of hope for bears either but it's always fun to be out in the woods with a tag in your pocket on opening day.
We endured quiet a bit of rain during our hike into and out of the area, with little to show for it. No bear sign, and the green up looked like it was still a couple weeks away.
We snapped this photo in the 2 minutes of sunshine that we had.
We did see quite a bit of elk sign, as I had last year, and this would also be a recurring theme throughout the entire hunt. Elk everywhere! We also came across a decent amount of coyote sign but never saw one.
We made the 2 mile hike out of that area and, due to the weather, decided to cruise the logging roads looking for good timber cuts and any sign. We covered well over 100 miles in the trucks and with the weather outlook worsening, decided to head for home instead of staying out in the rain another day.
A couple weeks later, Thomas and I headed south again for another weekend hunt. This time we met up with Brad Powell (@coastcade_hunter) and Garrett Weaver (@onpointwithgarrettweaver) in their neck of the woods. They were kind enough to give us the lay of the land and suggest a camp spot and a few timber units to check out. We'd be mostly on our own, but they had some plans on hunting in the area as well over the weekend so it was likely we'd run into them up in the hills.
We camped with a view of the city lights below us, and in the morning we were off searching for bears in various timber cuts.
Early in the day, we were foiled by some locked gates that we expected to be open. This hiccup ended up sending us into a new area where Brad and Garrett had given us an additional spot to check out. They said all of the units around that one spot should be pretty good.
Due to a misunderstanding on our part, Thomas and I thought we needed a permit to hunt some of the private timberland in that area so we ended up avoiding a number of what looked like really good units. Eventually, we decided to hike behind a gate into a unit we knew access was allowed.
It was less than two miles into the cut, and on the way in we came across a nice, fresh pile of bear scat.
As we finally arrived into the cut, it looked like a bear paradise for sure.
From our vantage, we had a good area below us down to the creek bottom, then a huge hillside across the creek that we could glass.
We decided to spend the rest of the day sitting the unit and waiting for a bear to come out and make a mistake.
After a few hours of sitting, some movement caught my eye across the creek.
To my surprise, it was 3 other hunters who appeared to have hiked in another road that led them to a landing on the other side of the creek from us.
It wasn't too long before they also spotted us.
After seeing that we were on the other side, they decided to stay put... apparently willing to glass the same country and race us for a shot if a bear came out. I can't say I fully understand this mode of thinking, but if I've learned anything in my short career as a hunter is that there are ALL types of people out in the woods.
We glassed this drainage the rest of the day without any animal sightings.
After getting back to the trucks, we found a new spot to camp, made a quick dinner and then called it a day. The next morning we weren't in too much of a rush to get moving as we were planning on meeting Brad around 10am at a cut he had seen some bears in the day before.
Thomas and I got there at about 9am and started glassing in between rain showers.
Brad showed up while we were waiting out some rain, gets out of his truck, and promptly spots a bear! Go figure!
The longer we watched the bear, the smaller he got. Ultimately, I decided he was too small and too long of a shot for my first bear and we moved on to check out some other areas.
After showing us a couple different areas over the course of a couple hours, Brad eventually had to peel off and head out. Thomas and I decided it was a good time to make lunch and grilled up some hot dogs for a quick bite. During lunch, Thomas spotted some deer below us out feeding on a nice secluded bench.
After lunch, we hopped back in the trucks and started making our way back towards where we had seen the small boar in the morning. In took about and hour or so to get back into that area, checking a few units along the way. To our surprise, when we arrived back to the same unit where we had seen the boar, we were greeted by a sow and two cubs.
The sow seemed to be a pretty good size... or perhaps that was just in comparison to the tiny cubs with her.
We watched the sow and cubs for a while until they eventually fed off into the timber and we lost visual. It's always fun to get some time observing these animals doing what they do on a daily basis and, of course, exciting to be seeing the species you have a tag in your pocket for!
We left momma and cubs and spent the rest of the afternoon cruising logging roads and glassing into timber cuts looking for those tell-tale black spots moving ever so slightly.
Alas, the sow and cubs were the last animals we saw that day. With more weather moving in and 4+ hour drive home, Thomas and I decided to call it for the weekend. Overall, it was a great weekend trip. Time with buddies, and multiple animals spotted. Can't complain at all.
I had a couple weeks to wait before Thomas and I were planning on heading back down south to continue the hunt. During that time, my suppressor was FINALLY out of ATF jail after 270+ days of waiting. I had just enough time to pick it up, test it out, and get my rifle re-zeroed. When I was shopping for a suppressor, I landed on the CGS Hyperion K as it came in with top ratings from Pew Science in terms of noise reduction for the size and weight. With my overall goal of keeping my rifle build as light as possible, the Hyperion K fit the bill nicely.
A couple of weeks later, it was time for our "long hunt." I had 6 full days to hunt and Thomas would be able to be there for 4 of them. The challenge? Where exactly to hunt.
Originally, I had wanted to hunt the hike-in area where I had spotted multiple bears last year at the very end of season. I was trying to put together a plan to bike in, but ultimately couldn't get that plan sorted out in time before the hunt.
Due to the misunderstanding on the permit requirements where we hunted the weekend, I decided to head into a new area. I would hunt/recon the area for a couple days and then hopefully have the lay of the land once Thomas arrived.
I arrived to the new hunt area on a Tuesday morning and got busy familiarizing myself with the area and the various timber cuts. It was a good zone with about 10 different cuts that were the right age to hold bears all within about a 10-15 minute driving radius.
As a new hunter, I've tried various strategies... sitting on one cut all day, doing one cut in the morning and one in the evening, and moving between cuts frequently all day. So far, my experience has been that I very rarely see an animal feed out into a clear cut while I'm there watching it. 9.9 times out of 10, if I see an animal it's there when I arrive. So, the name of the game for me in this country is bouncing between cuts until you finally catch a bear out feeding.
I spent all day moving between cuts and getting a lay of the land. Many of the cuts looked GREAT with a lot of green grass and all the indications that a bear might inhabit the area. Still, I didn't see any bears that first day. After a lot of driving, I decided to search out camp a bit early and get a good dinner. It was also the Stanley Cup playoffs and my Dallas Stars had a game, so you know I had to find a camp with enough signal to watch the game! Mission accomplished :-)
On Wednesday, I woke up to being completely socked in by fog. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to see anything in any of the cuts, I wasn't in too much of a rush to get on the road.
Finally around 10am the fog started lifting and I began making my way to various cuts in search of bears. After getting skunked on the first few, I decided to move a bit of distance to check out an area a little further away.
It was more cuts with no bears.
Finally around 1:40pm I came across my first wildlife in the area... a group of about 20 elk. The herd was mostly cows, but I did see a couple young bulls in the group with antlers just starting to form.
After watching the elk for a solid 30 minutes or so, it was time to move on. Given how little wildlife I had seen in this area, I convinced myself I should probably go back to where we had seen bears a few weeks ago. I started heading that direction but as I was reviewing the maps I noticed one more timber cut on the way out that looked like it might hold bears. It was a couple miles off the main road, surrounded by thick timber and a solid creek in the bottom.
When I finally arrived to the cut, I immediately noticed something that looked out of place.
Then, things got a little crazy. GIANT BOAR SPOTTED!
I couldn't believe my eyes! As you can imagine, I was completely freaking out.
Here I was, alone, hoping to get my first bear in my second spring bear season, and the Oregon Black Bear of a lifetime was out feeding in the middle of a huge clear cut.
I got my spotter on him and started capturing footage. It was immediately obvious it was a giant bear by the way it moved and its size relative to the trees and stumps in the cut.
I ranged him... 460ish yards.
I double checked my maps... he was over 500 vertical feet below me.
I had never shot that far, nor had I ever shot at that steep of a downward angle. Those facts, combined with the fact that I was alone and I wouldn't have help until the next day, were enough for me to convince myself that I shouldn't attempt a shot on this bear in this particular moment.
I was able to get six minutes or so of footage before the bear finally fed off into the timber and was gone.
Thinking through my options, I reviewed the area on maps some more and, given the conditions, thought it was very likely that this bear would come back out to feed in this cut at some point. It was the only open area for miles around.
I stayed and glassed until dark. There was no sign of the bear, though a lone bull elk did come out and feed for a bit at last light. Ironically, one of the only times I've been sitting on a cut and had an animal feed out!
With the light gone, I made my way back to camp. That night I hardly got any sleep as the angle of the ground I was sleeping on was just enough to keep me sliding down and the full-ish moon lit up my tent like a giant night light in the sky.
The next morning, I got up early and was greeted again by the coastal fog. I stayed wrapped up in my ZenBivy quilt, content to stay warm until the fog burned off, which it eventually did. I glassed the cut for a couple of hours and eventually Thomas arrived a little after noon.
We didn't see anything but that same bull elk the rest of the day.
We would spend the next 2 days sitting on that cut waiting for the bear to come back out. He never did... but we did see this cool owl!
Apparently this is a Burrowing Owl, also called a Shoco, which nests and roosts in burrows, hence its name.
Pretty sweet. They are real tiny. The above photo was through my spotting scope at just 15 yards or so.
We also had some killer sunsets and pretty views... can't complain!
In hindsight though, knowing what I know now, I wish I would have taken a shot at that bear. Live and learn.
With our time on the hunt quickly winding down, we made the decision to move on. We went back one last time early Sunday morning, saw an empty cut, and then headed out to circle back to the area I had been at earlier in the week.
The first cut we glassed had a few cow elk in the bottom and that was about it. For a minute, they got a little agitated and were all looking the same direction and we thought a bear or something else might come out, but nothing ever showed.
We moved on to the next spot which was about a 10 minute drive.
We parked at the rear of the landing and walked out to the end. At this particular location, there were three distinct cuts to look into. One left, one center, and one right.
Thomas went left and I went right. My view was pretty obscured by the rising sun. As I was turning to move on to the center unit, I heard Thomas calling out to me in a half-whisper, half-scream.
I looked over and he was giving me all the hand signals possible to indicate there was a shooter bear in the cut he was looking at.
I ran back to my truck and it was a complete yard sale as I scrambled to get my rifle and everything I would need for the shot. With all my gear in hand, I ran over to where Thomas was to get set up and take a look at this bear.
Sure enough, across the canyon on the other side was a beautiful chocolate bear feeding up the slope face towards the timber line.
The size of the bear shrunk a little bit as the initial excitement wore off, but it was definitely still a shooter bear that I'd be happy with. Thomas and I hurried to get the camera and spotter set up and then I got into position behind the rifle.
Thomas ranged the bear at around 340 yards and gave me my scope adjustment. With everything set, it was all about calming my nerves and waiting for the bear to present a clean broadside shot.
The bear kept feeding up the face towards the timberline. He was getting dangerously close to the top and was still quartering away too hard for me to be comfortable shooting.
Finally, the bear took one step to the left and gave me a mostly broadside look. I exhaled, settled the crosshairs "middle of middle and forward a little" and squeezed.
By the time I reacquired my sight picture after the shot, the bear was gone. Once the initial excitement and adrenaline dissipated, we reviewed the phone scope footage.
It was a perfect hit. MAYBE a tiny bit high I thought, but we could actually see the bullet in the air and where it hit... had to be a dead bear!
I couldn't believe it. It all happened so fast and then it was over. Reviewing the footage, the bear had spun and run up and over the ridgeline into the timber. It was definitely nerve-racking not being able to see a dead bear from where we were at, but we knew it was a good shot and a solid hit.
For those that say they never see bears in the morning, I shot this one at 7:49am.
We came up with a game plan for getting to the bear and were fortunate that there was an old road that got us to the top of the ridgeline the bear was on. We had to cut through a few trees across the road, but eventually we made it to an old logging landing. From there, we grabbed a quick snack, loaded up our packs and set off on foot down the ridgeline towards where I shot the bear.
It was only about 600 yards or so and luckily there was a nice game trail on the ridge. Once we made it to the open cut though, the terrain changed quickly. IT WAS STEEP!
We carefully made our way down until we arrived to where we thought I shot the bear. Ranging back to the landing I shot from and then reviewing the video footage, we finally found the exact spot. There was bear scat everywhere and it was clear this guy had been living in the area for a while. We didn't see any blood initially, but started walking towards the stump we saw the bear pass when he went over the ridge in the video.
Not 20 yards from where he was shot, we found the bear piled up dead in a root ball hole, JUST before going over the far edge and down into a steep and deep hell hole. We got so lucky the bear didn't do downhill initially (it was cliffs below) and so fortunate he died where he did.
The Nosler Trophy Grade 165gr Accubond traveling through both lungs and out the other side did the job well.
With the bear located, it was time to break it down. Thomas and I got started while we messaged some friends for reinforcements.
Being that it was the first bear that myself and Thomas had been involved in processing, it was slow going.
Our friends Brad and James showed up after a bit and helped us finish out the processing and pack out the meat. I can't thank those guys enough for being willing to come help us out.
The packout was... fun. The first 200 yards were virtually straight up. Between the steep terrain and the occasional downpour, it took us a minute before we finally made it out. Thomas and I arrived back to the trucks around 4:30pm.
From there, it was down off the mountain, into town, and straight to the best burger I've had a restaurant in a LONG time.
When I think back on this hunt, it's still hard for me to believe it all came together on the last day. Huge thanks to Thomas for coming along, filming, and supporting my efforts.
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