The first stretch of sunshine in Northwestern Oregon came right in stride with the arrival of spring bear season in 2012. After a long pounding winter, of rain, snow, and some more rain, it was finally time to get out and roam the mountains. Hells Canyon is the deepest river canyon in North America at a just a few feet shy of an 8,000 foot depth in the deepest part of the canyon. There isn’t many places I would rather be in the spring than chasing a few black bears in this canyon.
2012 looked promising from the start. I drew my tag with a buddy as well, and we both worked out a week of time off to hunt right at the start of may in what I consider to be the sweet spot for my area. The weather shaped up perfectly, or so I thought, with nice days of 70-75 degree weather and plenty of sun. It looked to be just what the doctor had order to get the bears on the move. Heading into this hunt, I had no idea that it would be one of the toughest and most challenging hunts to date.
The first day started off well with a solid 8-9 hour pack into a great spot overlooking several south-facing drainages. In Oregon there is no bear hunting with bait or dogs, so all my bear hunting is done via spot and stalk. When arrived to set up camp we located a great looking blonde sow with two cubs. We watched her and her cubs for the remained of the evening until finally the dark set in and we called it a night.
Over the course of the next week, we faced a whole array of situations, none of which lead to a bear. We had a blown stalk with a close call, nights dropping well below freezing, brutal winds, hot days, snowburn, and close to 100 miles on our legs in two separate ridge systems all without punching a tag. I was confused and exhausted after covering so much ground that almost always yielded good bear hunting. Over the course of the week we saw a total of only 9 bears.
The last weekend of may brought us back to the canyon for one last stab at a bruin. The first day we worked our way deep into a location we had hunted three weeks earlier. 4 0′clock rolled around and like clock work a bear that we had seen in our first trip showed up again. Same spot, same bear, but this time with a twist. The first trip this bear had come out of the timber a mere 15 minutes before dark, but this time we had 4 hours to work with. A 2,000 ft deep drainage separated us and the bear, laced with a creek swollen with snowmelt lining the bottom. After a couple minute discussion, the plan developed that I was going to go after the bear solo, while a buddy and my father were going to continue to work the side of the ridge that we were already on.
I started my descent keeping a close eye on the bears location hoping that it would hold tight long enough for me to descend, ford the creek, and climb into position on the opposing north facing slope. After an hour of fast paced scrambling and frantic searching to get into position, I was downwind of the bears last location at 100 yards. I glassed, glassed, and glassed some more, but nothing turned up. One part of the slope was hidden from view above a rimrock sealed outcrop. Slowly working my way through the rocks, climbing slowly upward I began to move toward the last spot I hoped the bear would be. Turning the last corner along the bottom of the rock cliffs, the great cinnamon colored bear appeared out of nowhere at 10 yards. I sunk back against the rock and tried to raise my gun to my shoulder.
I was busted, within a split second the bear reared up onto its hind legs and wheeled around the other direction back around the rock. I had blown it! The long stalk and it was all over that fast. I frantically climbed over the rimrock ridge to peek over the other side. Suddenly, there it was. The bear had went back to feeding, with its head down at 25 yards and a 40 degree downhill angle, I centered up the crosshairs behind the front shoulder and the 7mm mag did the rest.
A short 25 yard trail and it was all over. All except the seven mile pack out across two drainages, but then again smiles and grins make the trek back a little sweeter.