OPINION —The bad news is that I didn’t get a bear. The good news is that a bear didn’t get me, too. So I guess my bear hunting trip was a wash.
Jerry Seinfeld once said his scuba diving experience consisted mainly of swimming around trying not to die. Bear hunting is a lot like that. Quietly walking along an unfamiliar trail in the predawn, stygian blackness, navigating by the dim glow of a reluctant penlight, creeping toward a barrel of corn placed specifically and strategically to attract bears, you have a lot of time to think. Mostly you think it would be really nice not to bump into a bear on his way to breakfast.
Granted, black bears are not necessarily considered aggressive toward humans. I knew that. I also knew that if I were a bear, and I was headed for my favorite restaurant, looking forward to a relaxing repast to start my day, and I happened to encounter a guy looking to perforate my anatomy with a sharp stick, I might be inclined to express my disapproval. The great majority of bears will skedaddle at the first sign of a human, but you never know. There’s always the chance the bear you run into will be the exception, the one that figures a dietary change might be good for his complexion.
I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to hunt bears that first morning, anyway. I had arrived at the cabin just before 11 p.m. the night before, where I found that Roger and Jayson had already hit the sack. There were only two beds, a double and a foldout couch. The combined area of the beds constituted approximately 80% of the floor space in the cabin, the remainder being comprised of a kitchenette and a bathroom designed for pygmies. Roger was in the double bed, and Jayson had thoughtfully gone to rest at the very edge of the hide-a-bed. I was obviously expected to bunk with Jayson, whom I had never met.
There were problems with that scenario. For one thing, the springs of the foldout bed seemed to have also been designed for pygmies. I gradually slid toward the middle. I have no idea how Jayson stayed on his edge, but I was grateful.
Roger, on the other hand, seemed to have no such difficulties with his bed. I could tell he was fast asleep by the volume and timbre of his melodious snoring. He sounded pretty much exactly like a Brangus cow. And while I could have poked him with my finger by leaning several inches in his direction, I found it more satisfying to throw things at him once in a while. The TV remote, a boot, a magazine, and a jar of peanut butter all ended up in bed with him, to no noticeable affect.
After an hour I decided discretion was the better part of valor and retreated to the cab of my pickup for the rest of the night. But regardless of where you sleep, it doesn’t take long to spend the night in Mena, Arkansas. My phone woke me up at 5 a.m., and after a cup of coffee it was time to head for the bear woods, where I hoped to run into a bear exactly when and where I wanted to, but not before. Definitely not before.
Hunting deer with a longbow is a challenge, which is fine because that’s the main reason I hunt. But stumbling around in bear country in the dark is a whole different thing. Not that I expected to defend myself from an angry bear with my longbow, though. I’m not exactly Alvin Einstein, but I know enough to give myself a fighting chance, so I also carried a .45. Because I don’t own a .46.
Bears are evidently not real hard to bait, since they’ll come to just about any food you put out for them. Some people use dog food, some use old bread and doughnuts and other pastries, and a lot of people sweeten the pot with syrup of some kind. A friend told me he uses peanut butter, which is supposedly kryptonite to bears. The guy who runs Backwoods Lodge & Cabins, where we were hunting, uses corn, and it seems to work quite well. Not that we saw any bears.
The main problem was that the bears had been hunted for a month by the time we got there. They’d been coming to the corn pretty well, but after a month of pressure they’d gone nocturnal. We found fresh bear droppings around the bait stations every morning, but no bears showed up during the daylight hours.
I not have seen any bears, but the trip wasn’t wasted, because I learned a few things that will come in handy next year. I learned to book a bear hunt on opening weekend, or as soon as possible thereafter. I learned what fresh bear poop looks like, and that bears smell like wet dogs. I learned to get to camp first, in order to claim the best bed. Mostly I learned to take ear plugs next year, because it’s hard to sleep in a cabin with a Brangus cow . . .