Goose bumps pricked my forearm and electricity tingled the back of my neck. I'd been here before - sitting at my desk, telephone receiver pressed hard against a pulsing ear. It was field editor Jim Shockey. From somewhere at the far reaches of a precarious telephone connection linking we two hunting souls, sentences shattered into excited fragments and mutterings that only a trained editor could piece together.
"Big .... giant ... bear. Wind? Boom! .... reload, reload ... Boom! Thirteen steps! Giant ... Huge ... ... Story?"
Yeah, ... story. Typical. Another Shockey spell - binder. Another you - had - to - be - there high adventure. Another vicarious hunt to captivate me and the rest of the North American Hunting Club members. Jim possesses rare talents as a hunter and writer. His words can transport us to those tiny corners of the world where he likes to test himself and his equipment to dizzying extremes. But the words weren't enough for me anymore. It was time to step from the security of my treestand into the fray. And Jim helped make it happen last spring.
British Columbia's Vancouver Island. A few weeks before the late - May departure, a spot became available. North American Hunting Club Executive Director Bill Miller had hunted B.C.'s bears before and kindly handed the opportunity to me. Next thing I knew I was on the phone again with Shockey.
"A bow?! Do you know how big these black bears are? Did you hear about the rancher who got killed up here? Let's see ... 20 yards from an aggressive black bear on the ground. I have kids, Gregg. And I'm sure your wife would be happy when I call to tell her what happened when that pointy stick of yours makes that bear even madder."
I said nothing. I knew that almost all of Jim's hunters carried rifles. And that's the way he prefers it given the demands of the spot - and - stalk approach and the fact that the quarry is an animal that can eat you. Still, I bit my tongue and waited for Jim to continue.
"OK, all right. But I'm not making any promises."
Jim couldn't argue, and I knew it. Challenge drives him. And it's a big part of the reason he hunts exclusively with a Knight muzzleloader. One shot, less range, and against critters with canines, just the right dash of danger thrown in. But this time he'd be guiding. And Jim the guide would have preferred that his hunter choose a hunting tool offering multiple shots and long - range power. Damn the danger.
It was too late. My bow rode in the belly of a 747 along with a bunch of video equipment belonging to "North American Outdoors" producer Forrest Fox. After all, Jim wouldn't mind if we add a little more challenge by trying to tape the whole thing for an episode on ESPN!
"Let's see ... Pope and Young black bear, in the open, inside bow range, three guys, a camera ... "
I said nothing. He'd come around.
And four days later, there we were. Hunkered at the edge of a grassy swathe cut through an otherwise impenetrable grown - over clear - cut. A bristling black bear with eyes glued on three human figures and the lens of a betacam. Fifteen yards and closing. Despite my heart rate (later clocked at around 120 as we re - played the tape) I felt a weird sense of calm as I searched for a way to make a clean killing shot. But we were dead.
The 7 - foot boar had unexpectedly lumbered over a small rise and right into our laps. He was amazing. Huge ... giant ... 13 steps! Jim's words from all those far - away telephone conversations rang in my ears, and then he whispered something that I can't repeat. The bear was too close. We had the wind, but he'd seen us despite his pathetic eyesight. There was no way to draw, no angle to shoot, no way out but to wait and hope. Then he stood.
It seemed as though he loomed high above us there for minutes teetering on the brink of fight or flight. But in seconds he was back on all fours beating a hasty retreat. Instead of relief, I watched as my "opportunity" rumbled far out of bow range, stood again and stared back at us as drool rolled from his lips. "So close I could almost taste them" the bruin must have been lamenting as he glared. Then the Vancouver Island wilderness swallowed him, and we three humans compared notes about what had just happened. Actually, Steve Burke and Jim's cousin, Guy, had also been watching from a couple hundred yards back. They were there in a flash demanding answers, "How close was he?" Steve asked. "We were saying, 'they have to do something!'"
And right there, for the first time in my life, I knew. Finally. I finally knew what it was like to be on this end of the adventure. No hunting experience had ever made me feel so vulnerable, yet so predatory and wild all at the same time.
Jim the guide was less enthralled with the whole event. I had a full day left to hunt, my tag was still empty, we had no show for ESPN, and he'd have to put himself in harm's way again in order for us to be successful. Actually, I know that deep down, he loved it.
Besides, it was already an incredible Life Member hunt. In fact, back at camp, all five Life Members had taken big male bears with skulls measuring 19 inches or better. Steve took a beauty the fourth morning, a few hours before our close encounter, and he had a second tag still open.
The next day, the rest of the crew set its sights on home, bags packed for Nanaimo and a ferry ride back to the city of Vancouver. Rain pelted the metal roof of our camp as we said good - byes. And as the trucks pulled away, Jim, Forrest and I climbed into the wet boat to peel across the foggy bay for a last - ditch hunt in the same valley where we'd come so close a day before. The camera showed signs of life again after Vancouver Island's humidity wreaked havoc on it the previous afternoon.
We knew we'd see bears. Seeing bears here, and trophy ones at that, is not an issue during most of the spring season. Jim's success rate on mature boars is close to 100 percent. But finding the right one; a "bow bear" as Jim had come to call it. One feeding in an area where we could slither into the wind with some cover. Or a bully that didn't mind confronting three soaked humans up close. I'd have preferred the first. Of course, we found the second.
"There's your bear," Jim said peering around a sharp bend in an old logging trail. But he'd no sooner spoken than a cool wisp of air touched us squarely on the backs of our necks and sent the bear galloping away along the trail. Amazingly fat for a spring bear, his hulking mass rolled side - to - side like a bus barreling along a bumpy road. But then he stopped and turned to look back at us. And just as I thought he might evaporate into the rainforest jungle, he instead stood, grabbed an 8 - foot tree and bent it to the ground beneath his chin as he planted four paws on the grass. Though I'd never seen anything like it before, there was no mistaking such an obvious show of aggression. Jim confirmed it and said that the old male was warning us to back off, or else. So, like any wise hunters would, we waited 'til his back was turned and shuffled closer.
This cat - and - mouse game continued for something like three - fourths of a mile. He'd stretch the distance to 100 yards, we'd trim it to 70; 90 to 60; 80 to 50. We made progress and Forrest burned tape and chewed up battery life. But he had to. Because every 100 yards or so that incredible bear would reach as high as he could from hind legs, grab some young, unsuspecting 10 - or 12 - foot tall tree and rip it limb - from - limb. And all the while those eyes leered as if he was giving us a frightening sneak peek at our fates.
So, like any smart hunters would, we tried to get closer still. He'd plod, we'd shuffle; 80 to 50; 75 to 45; 70 to 40. And then, at trail's end he stepped into the cover and re - emerged with a few powerful steps in our direction. Huddled close together Jim whispered to me.
"How far can you shoot, Gregg?"
"How far is it?" I asked.
Jim was carrying my Bushnell laser rangefinder and touched the button on the broadside bear.
"Thirty - nine; can you get him?"
Now or never. The giant bear stood in the clear within my effective range. His eyes burned holes in us, but I prayed that a little movement wouldn't spur this bold beast into the jungle. As my index finger hit the corner of my mouth at full draw, the bear turned head - on. There we all were again. Fight or flight? Stand - off. He turned to tramp back to the cover, but as his right front paw pounded the earth he swiveled his head for one last look of disdain. And my arrow arched then vanished behind his front leg. The bear plunged for cover, and we hurried ahead to try to mark his path. But in my heart I knew there was no need. The Rocky Mountain Premier 125 - grain broadhead completely penetrated the old bear's chest and stuck in a stump on the other side.
I slumped to gather my spent emotions. Relief at making a good shot. Excitement for the pursuit and the inherent dangers of bear hunting with bowhunting equipment. Thankfulness for an incredible hunting adventure. And hope. Hope that there would be many more of these days somewhere on my hunting horizon. That I'd find my way to more of the treasured tracts of North America that breathe something special into the lives of hunters like Jim Shockey. Words, no matter how poignant, can never be enough again.