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Terrified – A B&C Audio Adventure



By Peter C. Knagge
19th Big Game Awards Program | From Legendary Hunts

I hunted bear in the Galiuro Mountains for several years, but September 9, 1982, was to be a day that I will never forget. It began very much like all my previous hunts. After two days of calling without spotting any bears, and two unfruitful stands on the third day of the season, I set my call on the ground and began to light my pipe.

A hunter needs to be alert after calling, but the lack of success had my guard down. When I heard the faint sound of an animal walking through the small pebbles on the ridge, I was surprised. My first thought was that the sound was a fox since it was so soft. A few seconds later, more stones crunched under foot of the animal. Looking around for the sound, I saw a black object moving toward me. From behind the large rock I was using for cover, the critter moving through the thick brush looked like a black Angus cow that was nearly starved to death. The animal appeared to be nothing but a bag of bones.

When I finally recognized the animal as a bear, I was not very excited. I was sure this bear was not the bear that left the huge track I had been following for so long. This bear was in such bad shape, and so skinny, he could not possibly last through another winter. 

Watching the bear come in, I tried to decide whether to shoot. I caught a glimpse of the bear as he passed through the brush. I could see the hair hanging from his belly, which indicates, just as with cattle, a male. I knew that a boar was necessary to make the 22-inch official score that I wanted. I had called in at least 30 bears, most of them sows and cubs and a few small boars. After five frustrating years of calling so many bears, and not getting a single shot at a big boar, the temptation to shoot grew.

When the bear cleared the brush at 35 yards, I drew my 82-pound pull Laser Magnum bow. I held the 30-yard pin on the top of his scrawny back as he presented an excellent front-quarter shot. At this time I decided to take the bear.

In my entire life, I never imagined I could experience the fear that soon hit me like an avalanche. I had been through some tough times as a rancher, and as a Marine in Viet Nam, but none of those experiences led to the fear that would soon consume my mind and body.

When I drilled the 2219 arrow with a four-bladed Satellite shaft into his chest, the bear rolled on his back, twisting to grab at the shaft of the arrow. But then, he ran straight toward me! Terror overpowered my body. I stood frozen to the spot, since I thought he was coming after me! But, he was not aware of my presence until he hit my scent at about 12 yards. Then, he stood on his hind feet, swinging his front legs wildly as he growled. My feet felt as if they were glued to the ground. “My God! What do I do now?” I thought. 

I hesitate to say it, because you won’t believe it, but that bear looked like he was over eight feet tall. Many times you can expect a black bear to run the other way, but a big, dominant boar who has been king of the mountain is not afraid of anything. He will avoid danger, but when he is provoked, he will not back down from anything.

The fear still haunts, and the details of that day linger. As he charged, it was little relief when I saw the red, bloody froth gushing from his mouth. As he came closer, all I could think was, “Get your knife. You’ve got a fight on your hands.”

My advice to other bowhunters about calling bears would be, “Don’t do it alone!” Have a fellow hunter there to back you up, preferably with a big bore like a .44 Magnum, in the hands of someone who can shoot accurately under extreme pressure. I would not want a .357 Magnum behind me, since I’ve heard too many stories about the number of shots it takes to drop a bear with this gun. Just do not hunt them alone, or it might be the last time you do anything.

In 1977, a rancher friend told me that he had seen a big bear track in the same country where a big buck pronghorn lived. Numerous trips failed to produce even one sighting of the trophy pronghorn, but I did see the tracks of a huge bear. I knew immediately this was the bear I wanted. A number of scouting and hunting trips were fruitless until 1979. I finally saw the big bear, after following his tracks from Aravaipa Canyon to the Muleshoe Ranch. The entire Galiuro Mountain range was his home.

Since bear tracks are fairly easy to see and follow, especially those of a big bear moving uphill or down, I found his sign marking the areas he frequented. I followed his tracks in manzanita berry country and lower on the mountain, in oak country. Usually, during the season when the manzanita berries are ripe, bears can be found higher on the mountain, so I concentrated my hunting efforts there.

In the summer when prickly pear pods are ripe, bears will drop into the desert to enjoy the intoxicating fermented pods. But, there were not many prickly pears in this country, so the adage of “the bears are in the pears” did not apply to my hunt. I believed that persistence would eventually give me my chance, so I continued calling in the ripe manzanita berry country.

Five years of hunting with only one sighting would discourage many a hunter, but I believe that luck is part of every hunt. A hunter can force that luck through knowledge and skill, so I was within a few hundred yards of my big bear. I felt confident that I would call him within bow range.

Every time I stopped to call, I looked for characteristics that would provide a good set up. Generally, I look for things that indicate good bear country, watching especially for high con­centrations of foods currently being used by bears. Next, I look for an area that has either lots of dry oak leaves or small rocks, so that I can hear any animal approaching. I also look for an area that provides enough visibility for a shot. I used to look for visibility out to a few hundred yards so that I could see them coming in. But, experience taught me that even when I could see them early, I could not do anything until they were closer. Now, as long as I can see within my accurate shooting range, I have all the visibility I need. I prefer to shoot within 25 yards, so that I can be totally confident with my shot placement.

Another characteristic that I look for is an area that has no fresh tracks. Fresh tracks tell a hunter where a bear has been, not where he is now. When I find an area that has good (and current) feed, lots of leaves, visibility with good shooting lanes within my accuracy range, no fresh tracks, and good cover, I know that I have a good calling spot. Finally, I make sure that I set up behind a large rock or thick bush. I need the cover in front of me to hide any movement while drawing my bow. I don’t worry about what is behind me, since my scent would alert any bear that might move onto my back trail.

With bears and lions, a hunter will almost always have plenty of time to get off a shot, since they tend to stand and look, trying to figure out what has invaded their territory. Deer and turkey move out when a hunter moves, but bears will stay around long enough for a shot if the hunter uses some cover to partially conceal movement.

Since I believe only one out of five bears that hear a call will come, either out of curiosity or hunger. I am not frustrated by calling stands that do not produce a shot. I also believe that a bear that hears a call from a long distance is less likely to respond so I do not call loudly. I keep my calling soft and make each one softer as I repeat calls from the same stand. I always hope that I have set up within a few hundred yards of a bear that is feeding or has bedded for the day. Of course, I always keep the wind in my face, whether

I am moving to a calling stand or on stand. Any human scent, and the bear is gone.

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During my five years of chasing the big bear’s track, a typical day would find me walking 10 to 12 miles. Within each day, I would call about 10 times. I would walk for 20 minutes to get into country that was beyond my last call, then move to the best vantage point I could find. Whenever I made a stand, I would call for 30 minutes. Some hunters have success calling bears from long distances and waiting much longer, up to two hours. But, my approach and experience has led me to believe that calling will be more productive with soft calls made from more spots, with less time on each stand. I have been known to cover as much as 25 miles in one day, but usually I try to circle out for five or six miles, then work back to where I began.

Some experts say that bears are nocturnal; others say that they feed a few hours in the early morning, then bed for the day.

Somebody must be right, but I figure it doesn’t make any difference with my hunting style. Whether a bear is “laid up” or not, he will respond to a call. My problem is to get on stand, when there’s bear in the vicinity that is within range of my soft calls, without him knowing I am there. That is why I often call into side canyons.

Once on stand, I will normally call from 30 to 45 seconds, wait for 10 minutes and call again, softer, for about 30 seconds. I then wait another 10 minutes, then repeat the cycle using a jackrabbit single-reed call. I do not think the sound made by the caller is that critical; a variety of sounds and calls have successfully called in bears.

I imagine a few bears have been collected by chance where someone stumbles blindly into a bear. To me, that is not bear hunting. Bears are not like other big game animals that have a limited home range of a few square miles in which they live their entire lives. Not only will a bear use an entire mountain, like my bear used the Galiuro Mountains, but they will travel from mountain range to mountain range. Consequently, a bear hunter has to be willing and able to cover ground, especially if he is pursuing one particular bear like I was.

On that eventful day in 1982 when my big bear finally responded to my call, my persistence paid off. The fear still haunts, and the details of that day linger. As he charged, it was little relief when I saw the red, bloody froth gushing from his mouth. As he came closer, all I could think was, “Get your knife. You’ve got a fight on your hands.” I knew this bear was bigger than I first thought, but I was not excited yet, only terrified. I knew that I could not outrun his 35-mile-an-hour speed. I knew climbing a tree was out of the question since the tallest one around was a six-foot juniper. Anyway, I figured climbing a six-foot tree would put my belt buckle right at his nose. I wanted no part of that, so I stood my ground thinking, “Now, why did I do this?”

As he advanced on his hind legs, closing the last 12 yards, his growls contained a few gurgles. At five yards, the bear fell and rolled on his back, paws in the air. It was then, for the first time, that I realized I had shot the big bear that had left his tracks all over the Galiuro Mountains. Excitement began to mingle with the fear that overwhelmed my whole body.

His claws, just five yards in front of me, were huge. The bear stood and charged again, but fell and rolled over. Since he was on a slight incline, the bear lost with each fall the ground he gained with each charge. But he continued to struggle to get me! After five or six attempts, he fell for the last time, spread-eagle over a clump of Spanish dagger. Yet, he clawed forward, trying to reach me, refusing to give up. Even though he was a bag of bones, this king of the mountain fought, clawing forward, until his last breath. If I had not hit my bear solidly through the lungs, I probably would not be telling you this story.

It is not important what the final score of my bear was, or what rank in any book my bear maintains. The important thing is that I took the best bear I could hope to take. The value of records book programs is the objective picture they paint of the size of all animals in the field. A specific score is irrelevant, and who shoots the animal is even less important. I was hesitant to enter this bear in the various programs because of the false assumptions that are sometimes drawn and of the ego that is too often involved. I sometimes wish the trophy books did not list the hunter’s name. Yet, I finally decided that the animal deserved his place in the books, and the validity of the listings would be more accurate if all trophy animals were listed including my bear. Only then will a true picture be painted of what size a big bear can and does obtain, making accurate comparisons possible.

The Importance of Records in Big Game Management

When you enter your trophy into the Boone and Crockett system, you aren’t just honoring the animal and its habitat. You are participating in a data collection system that started in the 1920s and was refined by Club members in 1950. Today, there are nearly 60,000 trophy records. By establishing a records database more than 70 years ago, the Boone and Crockett Club established a scientific baseline from which researchers can use to study wildlife management. If you’re still  on the fence about entering your trophy, we encourage you to read Why Should I Bother to Enter My Trophy. To the best of our ability, we ensure that the trophies entered into the records were taken in accordance with the tenets of fair chase ethics. Despite what some may think, the Boone and Crockett records are not about a name or a score in a book—because in the end, there’s so much more to the score.




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-Theodore Roosevelt