Mark, Steve, and I headed out of town just before daybreak. We had planned a day hunt into the McGregor Valley near Pass Lake to hunt for black bears. A quick pit stop at Tim Hortons to grab coffee, top up our thermoses and some sugar laden snacks for the trip and we headed out. We were loaded up with fuel, food, tags, tackle, and truck load of anticipation for what the day would bring. Our goal was simply stated, one, some or all of us would attempt to fill our tags on a mature black bear. The smell of warm coffee, tea for Steve lingered in the truck as we chatted our way down the forest service road.
We were less than 30 minutes into our trip, and we spotted a black shape about 1 km up the road ambling slowly towards us. It was just a handful of minutes into legal shooting light and here was the first bear of the day. Mark slowed to a stop and 3 sets of binoculars went up simultaneously and from inside the cab we began to assess the animal’s potential as a target. We moved through the qualifiers quickly. Shoulders thick and block like? Check. Large head with ears off to the back and sides? Check. Big swagger in its stride? Check. After a few moments of evaluation, the sound of confirmation rang through the truck, “That’s a good bear”, “He’s a shooter”, “Yep that’s a big one”. I took a sip of my coffee and all I could think was man that coffee hits the spot.
During our deliberations the bear had continued towards us to about 300 yards, it lingered broadside for a moment which allowed all of us to re-confirm our original findings and again there was universal agreement, this was a good bear. The bear headed off the main road and onto a side trail out of sight. Mark slowly crept the truck up to the intersection, we rolled into the gap with the windows down. Up again came the field glasses, the bear lazily grazed on the edge of ditch about 100 yards up the trail. I took another sip of coffee and Mark and Steve again commented that we had a nice bear in front us and yet there was not an inkling of intent by anyone to open a door or grab for a rifle. The cabin of the truck was oddly quiet for a moment and then the question of “Who’s up?” was put up for consideration. A few glances were exchanged between the three of us and still no one moved. I took another sip of coffee, it was really hitting the spot, while the bear, frustrated with our spectating lumbered off into the trees and out of sight.
There were a few short seconds of silence and reflection after the bear disappeared that were immediately followed by a couple of long minutes of laughter. We ran through a litany of excuses as to why not one of us felt compelled to take the bear…big but not big enough, thick but not thick enough, black but not black enough, bear but not bear enough etc. 45 minutes later we had another encounter with a mature sow This time there was a stalk, some debate and the same decision was made to pass on the opportunity; it was becoming apparent that the real purpose of our trip may not be bear hunting after all.
The day was spent exploring a lot of new country and just taking in the landscape. We waxed philosophic about hunting, politics, conservation, and discussed family life, movies, and the merits of our favorite beverage. The conversation meandered with as many twists and turns as the forest roads we drove, periodically it would be interrupted by another bear we wouldn’t shoot, and we’d continue. The hours elapsed and the miles rolled by under our tires, day gave way to dusk, and we arrived home at dark with nothing but 12 hours of conversation, coffee fatigue and a couple of bear stories for the campfire, all in all an exceptional day.
Ferris Bueller once mused.” The world moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” Hunting bears may have been the pretense to jump in the truck, but the day’s pursuit was really friendship. A day off for 3 friends to find a backcountry mountain road, a little conversation, some good tunes, and a chance to watch the world go by; who wouldn’t want to pull the trigger on that?