by Mike Hull
December 08, 2012
This picture depicts where I was on my knees in relation to the hole and where I fired all 5 shots.
I was about whipped, Four miles of forced marching through rough mountain terrain, Sweat was burning my eyes. The battle was in full progress two hundred yards above me. Already two dogs had been mauled beyond their tolerance. They were out of the fight. I found myself the front runner of over twenty other hunters and the closest one to bring relief to the final four dogs who had cornered what turned out to be the toughest black bear I had ever imagined. I was cursing myself. I had opted to go bear hunting in order to explore seldom seen territory, push my limits, and walk among some of the toughest outdoorsmen in the mountains. I was in the middle of 3600 acres of wilderness known as St Mary’s wilderness area and here I was wimping out. It took every effort I could muster to climb the ridge over the rocks and through the laurel. I was sucking air and my body was begging for rest. I had to reach way down inside to motivate myself to get into the fight. It’s not here, it’s up there, you might as well keep your sorry ass at home if you’re going to give up now, get your butt up there, suck it up, I said to myself. Then the radio sounds from my companion observing from the ridge behind me, ”Go Snuffy, they are right above you”. Oh great they’re watching me now. This is what you came for, this is what you wanted, now do it! I was thinking. Somehow I managed to get to the battle.
The site was on about a 75 degree slope. Mountain laurel, large rocks and a few pines. I could see one dog on top of a huge rock out cropping and I searched the surrounding trees for the bear. I was carrying a Thompson Contender 41 magnum with a 16 inch barrel and folding stock. On my hip was a Taurus Tracker 5 shot 44 magnum with 240 grain Fusion bullets. I eased forward with the contender at the ready. I could hear the other dogs and I could hear the bear growling with a deep guttural “I’m playing for keeps” type growl. It sounded like the bear had a megaphone and the dogs were muffled. It was then that I observed the hole in the bottom of the rock face and the other dogs. All my aches and pains totally disappeared, Focused, assessing and adapting to the situation was prioritized. Two dogs were side by side covering the entrance and moving back and forth like a slinky, they would push the bear back and then the bear would force them out. The growling and barking was unbelievable. No way of ending this standoff with the dogs in the way.
I took my vest off to retrieve my flashlight and a strap for securing the dogs. I laid my contender beside my vest and drew my 44mag handgun due to the close quarters. I crawled up to the right of the crevice and shined my light in but could not see any part of the bear. I backed up to my vest and caught one of the dogs. I didn’t want to tie them in fear of the bear coming out and killing them so I slid my strap under the collar and brought the end back and held on. The other three would not leave the fight and the more I yelled at them the harder they pressed the bear. I couldn’t holster my pistol because I was so close and I can’t begin to describe the growling and ruckus going on. I wasn’t about to reach in the hole to pull the dogs out so I came up with a strategy. I had a quart bag of deer jerky in my vest and my dogs at home will do anything for jerky so I pulled it out and opened it. I fed the dog I had and another dog saw it eating and came within reach. I snatched the second dog and it wasn’t long when the remaining two, missing their back up, saw the other two dogs chowing down and they came over. I dumped some jerky on the ground and while they started eating I was able to lace the remaining dogs on the strap. I had just finished placing the strap in my left hand with the four dogs attached when I heard the bear coming out. I looked up and saw the bear crawling on its belly to get out.
It stopped at the entrance and looked right at me from a distance of 12 feet. I wanted to save the skull so I raised the 44 mag and aimed to the right of its head, one handed with four dogs on leash with the other hand, and pulled the trigger. The bear jerked back and exploded out of the hole. As its body filled the hole I shot again, The bear went to my left and once it was completely out and standing on all fours it seemed to pause, it appeared to be well over 300lb. I fired at the left front shoulder, I saw the bullet hit and the shoulder and the bear flinch. The bear then jerked it’s head around and stared me in the eyes ( if I could read minds I would say that bear was thinking “I’ve had enough of you”) and it charged right at me. I fired two more rounds at what I thought was center mass and jumped out of its way.
As I jumped I released the dogs. What the dogs were doing from the time I started shooting I couldn’t tell you, what seemed like minutes at the time was probably a few seconds, all I know is they weren’t pulling and I couldn’t see them when I was shooting but when I jumped all I can recall is the dogs seemed to meet that bear in midair and they all hit the ground rolling in one big ball of fur and legs, saving my butt. Next thing I know a gun shot went off and I realized they were fighting right on top of my vest and contender I had laid on the ground and it had discharged. I was so hoping a dog didn’t get shot. I had switched places with the bear. I started to reload and realized my extra rounds were in my vest pocket under the bear. About that time a dog yelped out and the bear was sitting up and had it by the neck between both paws and was biting it in the head. I moved around to retrieve my vest or contender and the bear looked up at me and dropped the dog and ran off. Had it came at me I would have been in big trouble. I immediately reloaded! The dogs chased after the bear a short distance and immediately returned. I assumed the bear was lying dead just out of sight. Blood was everywhere, all over my vest and contender.
I never found that bear. We followed blood for about 50 yards and it stopped, the dogs had had enough, the rocks, steep slope and laurel compounded the tracking not to mention my adrenaline dump which made me wonder if I was going to make the two mile hike out of there under my own strength. You might think I missed and shot wildly but I can tell you I had no fear, I have qualified with that 44 on a police range. Every shot was within 12 FEET, I had confidence in the gun and my shooting and knew I was pounding the hell out of that bear and he was already dead but just didn’t know it. I am stunned that I didn’t kill it dead on the spot. The four dogs with me came away with minor wounds. One of the injured dogs earlier had to be euthanized by the vet.
In summary I kept the dogs from getting mangled and they in turn saved me from being mangled. I shot the bear and it made a noble attempt at shooting me. I am stunned and have great remorse that I did not kill that bear on the spot and fear it is wandering around seriously injured. I was looking for a test of endurance, exploring remote areas and possibly some excitement and I think I got an overdose of all three. The only change I would make from what occurred would be to shoot between the eyes on the first shot and have extra ammunition in my pocket.
Update! Two days later a bear was harvested in that area with two gunshot wounds, one through the lower neck just under the skin and one in the left shoulder area. It weighed just over 200lb (looked like 300 to me at the time!) Apparently the two shots I took while aiming made contact but the other 3 completely missed.