I laugh to myself now when looking at that picture now with my pensive look, but trust me, the last thing I was thinking about was the possibility that in May 2015, I’d have two bear hides in my possession that I’d shot with a bow. Shoot, I didn’t even own a bow at that time. And I certainly had no idea that my passion for hunting would take me 2000 miles to Alberta, Canada on a trip where, for the very first time in my big game hunting career, everything that could go right for me, finally did.
My work colleague and accomplished bow hunter, Gord Nuttall, and I quickly became friends through our mutual passion for hunting. Our “business meetings” typically start out with 15 minutes of sharing war stories of me chasing ducks and geese, and he chasing the abundance of game animals available in Alberta, including moose, elk, deer and black bears. In 2013 he invited me to come hunt with him for black bear, but his invitation was clear:
“Whenever you want, you’re always welcome to come hunt with me in Canada. Spring bear season would be perfect. But, if you think I’m letting a Yank from California into my great country with a rifle, you’re crazy. If you want to come, get a bow.”
I was off the charts excited, but also intimidated. I’d never shot a bow or hunted bears. And I’d never left California, let alone the country, to hunt anything. It would be a lot of firsts, especially for a guy who hadn’t harvested any big game to date. Life got in the way for a year before the trip North of the border was possible, but eventually I made it a priority and bought a bow and began practicing. Two months later, I was more than ready.
This lesson was reinforced later that evening, when Gord and I had just began our evening sit in the ground blind 25 yards from the bait. We heard a twig snap behind us and turned around to watch the shadow of a bear brushing alongside the backside of our blind. The bear touches her snout to the blind and slowly presses in, sniffing loudly. Still curious, it makes her way around the left side of the blind, turns the corner, and I kid you not, sticks her entire head in the shooting window!
The next morning, after tracking a blood trail for an hour, we found my bear expired about 150 yards from the bait. I can only count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve been so thrilled and proud. My first bear. My first kill with a bow. My first hunt in Canada. All culminated in an animal that I could call mine forever. I told Gord that, “It feels like I just earned a billion dollars.”
At that point I could have left for home an elated man. I couldn’t have imagined anything better. But the funny thing is, there was something better than earning one billion dollars, two billion dollars! And that’s just what I earned on the last night of the hunt.
Same site, at 8:57 pm when a beautiful cinnamon colored bear waltzed into the bait like he owned the place. Same nervousness, but with a slightly better shot, the bear dashed away from us. A few seconds later we heard what’s commonly known as the death moan – no need to wait and track this bear. We quickly took up the obvious blood trail and discovered him less than 40 yards away from where I shot him.
The full gravity of my experience over the last five days really hit me during those hours spent fireside. Beyond my wildest dreams, I never even considered the possibility of notching two bear. I couldn’t have imagined how close and personal I’d come to these dangerous animals. I couldn’t foresee the anxiety and sleepless hours that follow an ill-placed shot. In contrast, I had no idea just how amazing a quick clean ethical kill can make you feel. And I certainly couldn’t forecast the pride of bringing extra luggage of bear hide and meat. But for the first time with big game hunting, it all worked out for me, thanks largely in part to my guide, bowhunting mentor and friend, Gord. And from the culmination of all those emotions, the beginning of a new man was born. I’ll always be a duck hunter, but from here on, I will continuously pursue the art of becoming a bowhunter as well.