2017 didn’t exactly start out as I’d planned. I took time off guiding to work construction across the country in Newfoundland and never in the past few years have I ever been so out of tune with hunting. I hadn’t stalked an animal or even touched my longbow since my amazing trip last November for Tahr in New Zealand with the JOMH crew. So, when I drew a limited-entry grizz tag in my go-to unit, I was determined to put in the work on my eight-day breaks back home between the long work stints on the other side of the country.
It didn’t take long to get comfortable out to 30 yards after an afternoon at the range. My gear was hastily stuffed into my backpack and I was ready to head to the coast. As always my good friend and number one hunting partner Ricardo had been keeping tabs, setting cameras, and watching our area for me while I was away in Newfie-land. Although he had the same draw and tag in hand, he is always determined for me to harvest first.
It was nice to be back where I belonged: trekking through skunk-cabbage-filled swamps, weaving down a narrow trail through giant cedars. The first time I broke the coastal timber’s edge, the salty air from the Pacific filled my sinuses and the mussels cracked beneath my feet as I gazed across the open estuary that had just started turning green. Geese honked, setting off their alarms, and the tide kept gently dropping – exposing more grizzly buffet. This was home. The first few days were slow; we covered miles of different areas in our unit and logged countless hours behind our glass, but pulled up little to no sign. On the sixth night, however, our luck changed.
We pulled a few cameras and had multiple bears on them. We decided to sit on our option B glassing point for most of the night and came up short. After a bit of a hike to option A, it wasn’t more than 30 seconds before we saw a boar feeding, way off on the flats. He just so happened to be in the same general area as the toad Ricardo had harvested last year, so our game plan was already set and we started our stalk.
We slipped into the timber and crept up through the old growth just as we had the spring before. By the time we got to where the boar was feeding, he had already disappeared into the timber. He was out of sight, but morale was high, since we hadn’t expected to see a bear this whole trip.
The pictures on the trail cams were sporadic at best, with most bears keeping nocturnal feeding hours, so I decided to spend the next morning fly fishing for an early run of chinook. I went out with my friend Maclean, who guides for salmon on the local rivers.
We ran into another friend of mine – Matt Riddler – on the river who is also a big-time trad hunter. Not only has he taken sheep with his longbow, but he caught all the chinook that day too. After a little bullshit and some love for his lab, he whipped out his phone to show me a picture of a boar shot across the channel from my area a few days ago. I told Maclean that Spey rods and chinook are too hard and that I wanted to head back to bowhunt grizzlies – like that’s any easier. Mac had never hunted before but was fascinated by the idea of it and asked to tag along. I agreed, and we were back in the jet boat heading west to the coast.
After a few hours and some verbal disclosure agreements, Mac could finally lift the blindfold off his eyes and we were off hiking to the tidal flats. Mac covered every question about grizzlies he could think of, and I filled his head with lies. Before we broke the tree-line to the beach I finished with, “We probably won’t see much, but you can always get lucky.”
I stepped out of the old growth and picked up my binos. I just happened to pick a lucky piece of real estate to look at first, because five seconds later I spotted a bear. Mac thought I was pulling a fast one, but I set up my spotter and let him take a look. The look on his face at that moment is the reason I hunt. I need not go into detail, because if you are reading this you have experienced it at one point in your life.
I have seen bigger bears, but it was a boar, and he was not rubbed at all. I was sure it was the same one from last night. We watched him feed for some time and made a game plan.
We dropped our packs, I grabbed the rangefinder and handed Mac my binos and Defender shotgun. I told him to listen to everything I said and to stay directly behind me. He nodded his head, and we were off crossing the beach to the other side of the estuary. We hugged the tree line until we got to a traffic jam of driftwood bunched up from the tide. At this point we were 110 yards out, so we dropped our boots, slipped into a creek, and started to slowly wade down in our socks.
The creek covered our sound, but the wind that had been in our favor had dropped to a dead calm. We pushed forward and crossed over some more logs to a gravel bend on the creek, but we pushed our luck a little hard: the boar managed to catch a bit of scent. He had now stopped feeding and was sitting up, nose in the air, trying to peg us.
Let me just stop there for a moment and paint a picture. There I am, in this do-or-die scenario, two nights left to hunt. Fifty-one yards from a concerned grizzly. Arrow nocked. Dead still, half submerged in a freezing creek. Then we have Maclean, this poor soul wondering what the hell he’d agreed to. A man that has barely handled a rifle, now holding a shotgun behind some crazed fool pinned down by a powerhouse predator, mere yards away.
The grizzly decided he’d finally had enough and charged for the timber. He stopped just short, climbed onto a log, and slowly walked back, staring in our direction. At this point I made it clear to Mac to take the safety off and get ready to hand me the gun on my call. Ten minutes went by; he was huffing and sniffing, glaring in our direction. My heart was pounding, and I’m certain I wasn’t alone.
The bear never managed to pin us down but he knew something was wrong, so he slowly walked off to the timber and out of sight. After a moment I turned to Mac and said, “How’s that for your first hunt?”
“What did we do wrong?”
“Not ‘we,’ but me… Any other weapon and that bear would have been dead. Unfortunately, this is the life of hunting trad.”
We drove home with a sense of accomplishment, and I knew Maclean was hooked. The truck got quiet and then Mac spoke. “Shoot, I don’t ever want to fish again!”
I smiled and agreed. The road disappeared and I fell into deep thought and pondered how my last night would go.
I decided to take the next morning off, hoping the boar from the night before would calm down and come back somewhere in the same area to feed. I planned to be out for the prime twilight hours. This time Ricardo would be back to hunt, and with the escalating excitement of the last few nights, we knew something big would happen.
Once again we found ourselves breaking tree-line onto the beach. I explained the events of last night in detail and before we picked up our binos, with his bare eyes, Ricardo had spotted a blob down the beach that didn’t belong.
Sure enough, it was the same boar – and he was only 50 yards from where we’d stalked him the night before. Once again the wind was in our favor, so we wasted no time dropping our packs and heading off. At about 100 yards we came to a standstill. The bear was well off in the open and we didn’t have a move. A million thoughts raced through my mind.
This was my last night to hunt. I wondered if I’d miss the action on my next work break. I wondered if I’d have to stay in Newfoundland for extra days on this upcoming shift. The provincial election had just unfolded with one of the parties promising to close the so-called “trophy” grizzly hunt. I didn’t have a play with my longbow. I’ve tried stalking these costal bears across the open flats with no cover multiple times, and have always come up short. I picked up my binos and took one more look. He wasn’t rubbed at all, a truly beautiful hide. Although I guide and have been around grizzlies going down, I have never been the one to cut the tag.
I swallowed all pride and ego, and asked for Ricardo’s .375. Without hesitation, he handed me the rifle and told me I’d made the right choice, and that there’s no shame in using a gun on my first grizzly. I felt dirty.
I hopped a log and began to crawl up the open flat to a piece of driftwood for a rest. Ricardo held back in the cover of a log jam. I found a solid rest and settled in. I was actually filled with excitement, and even shaking, because I knew for certain I would cut my tag in a few moments.
The boar was feeding and fairly still, standing broadside. I waited for him to tuck his leg in tight so I could break his shoulder and guarantee lungs. The cross hairs found their mark, and I gently squeezed the trigger.
The .375 screamed and connected with a damp thud. The bear rolled right over himself and spun in a circle. He sat back up and before he could decide to get into the timber I fired two more rounds. The .375 claimed its fourth grizzly as the excitement stopped and the silence once again settled on the beach.
Ricardo congratulated me. I told him that I hated myself – but we both knew I was happy. It was a decision I could live with.
We picked up the brass and headed back and grabbed our packs. I cut my tag, and after a few pictures we got to the knife work. It went relatively quick with two guys. Just as we finished loading my pack, I looked over and spotted another grizzly only 150 yards away up the other side of the beach. Ricardo still had a tag in his pocket, so we decided to take a closer look.
This bear was in the perfect scenario. He was in a good spot, feeding on the fresh-sprouted grass, nuzzled between massive logs pushed up to the tree line by the tide. We had an abundance of cover and started making our stalk. It didn’t take long and we closed the gap to 20 yards. There was nothing left but a big log separating the three of us. We sat there for 30 minutes, watching him. We were so close we could hear him munching the grass.
This was why I bowhunt.
The bear was around the same size as mine, and after already harvesting three grizzlies, Ricardo was holding out for a monster. I knocked an arrow and just drew back. Every angle: broadside, quartering away, frontal, even the Texas heart shot. I had spots picked out on all of them. Shot after shot. I had this grizzly dead to rights. In his environment. In his home. I had him beat. I had every certainty that I would make this shot.
It was the moment I’d worked so hard for, and the surge of adrenaline that I’d chased for years.
If only I had been more patient.
This I could walk away from, I finally felt like I’d accomplished everything I wanted, without even letting an arrow fly. It’ll never be as good as actually taking one with my longbow, but it was a damn close second.
As it got dark, we watched him feed a little longer, and then we backed out to safety. That experience was every bit as good as any harvest. We grabbed our packs and slinked back into the timber, letting the bear disappear into darkness.
I will learn to live with my decision to use a rifle, and now that I think about it, it’s a little ridiculous that I’m even remotely upset about it. It’s still an accomplishment few on this planet will ever experience.
I left that beach with a smile on my face, one of my most sought after hunting accomplishments now achieved. But next year, if politics allow, I’ll be back on those coastal beaches with my bow in hand.