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July 2024
Story by Cal Muxlow
State: California
Species: Bear - Black

Bear hunting is not only highly technical but physically and mentally demanding. Plus, shooting a bear with a bow adds an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging pursuit. A great California bear hunter said, “Bears live off the beaten path.” In simpler terms, he is saying to hunt a bear you have to become a bear. Bears do not mind the heat, thorns, steep ridges, and bushes they climb over day after day. To find these rugged bears in the country no one is at is a strenuous task, let alone to stalk one with a bow and be successful is a whole other challenge.

It was the archery-only season for bear and deer in our state of California. After my two younger brothers’ high school football game, we decided to head up to the national forest about an hour and a half away. Two of our good friends tagged along who had great experience in this local forest. We got to our camp late at night and had to wake up early in the morning, but our expectations were high, as young public land hunters are. Since the time California banned hound hunting for bears, the bear population has increased, so hunters have the responsibility to kill these bears for the sake of managing predator control.

We separated into two groups to scan the mountains for any life around. To our surprise, we glassed a bear early in the morning that was further away. We set off to hike two miles in the area where the bear was, and like expected, the bear had moved past that area. On the arrival back to the glassing site, we spotted another one, which was a big chocolate bear. This was no small task to glass up this bear as it was across the canyon about 2.2 miles away underneath some forage. This time, it was mid- morning and the bear was in no rush while eating. I drove around the canyon in 30 minutes and started hiking to the drainage where the bear was last spotted. While walking all around the ridges and fingers, the big chocolate bear was finally spotted. The big boar was sitting down eating berries underneath the bushes to avoid the hot August sun.

Time was in my favor, but to put a good stalk on this great bear was going to be extremely difficult as there were berry bushes all around chest high with thorns. I traveled across the finger where the bear was and started to find routes in the dense bushes to get to this bear. No sighting on this big boar yet, but I was getting closer and closer to where he was. Thoughts started running through my head. What if he already saw me? What if the wind swirled? What if he heard me and spooked already? At this point, I was in the 50-yard perimeter of where the bear was last seen, but little did I know he was even closer. I was working extremely slow. Although, a dry twig cracked under my foot and it produced enough sound for the bear to spook, which was 25 yards from me. That bear ran through the bushes like a train. Disappointment came over me as the whole stalk lasted for a few hours and ended without success.

Hope wasn’t gone yet. The fawn call in my pocket was calling my name to give one last chance at getting this bear. Five minutes of calling and the doubts crept in, but all of a sudden, there was movement in the bushes across the finger about 300 yards away. The image still runs in my head of another big black bear’s head popping up in the high bushes, his ear perked up, looking for that fawn. My binoculars displayed a better look, and the bear had a massive face displaying an old, mature boar with a beautiful black coat. My heart started pumping as I knew this was the moment I was waiting for. This bear was like a shark on land. He would pop his head up every 30 yards looking for the lone fawn and then disappear in the bushes. As he got closer, the bushes swayed like waves in the ocean. The anticipation grew with each step the bear took. I ranged a tree 34 yards away on a path he was taking. I pulled my bow back, and that bear stopped perfectly on a log, presenting a broadside shot. The pins of the bow settled on him, and a sense of calm came over me. I released, and the shot stayed true. It was a perfect shot, and the last breaths of that old bear echoed throughout the forest.

As I sat there wrapping my head around what had just occurred, branches started to break and bushes were moving. I popped my head above the bushes and there stood the chocolate bear 30 yards away. After the bear had left, I started tracking the bear I had shot, which didn’t last long. There lay the bear on the ground only 10 yards from where I shot him. I was ecstatic to have been able to put a quick death on this beautiful mature bear.

I radioed my two brothers, my two friends, and my wife to tell them the good news. Anticipation lingered when they asked, “What’s up, Cal?” I replied, “Bear down!” My wife was filming their reaction, and they reacted with complete mayhem on the mountain with jumping, running, and readiness to come see the bear I had just shot. The long anticipation for them after waiting on the mountain for three hours to hear those words was finally here. They arrived about two hours later since they needed to hike three and a half miles to me. At their arrival, hugs were exchanged over the big bear we had all taken down. We quartered and got the hide from the bear and made it back to the truck with the heavy load splitting between two backpacks. Words can’t express how much I appreciate my brothers, friends, and wife for helping me get this bear. Truly, none of this would have happened without all of them by my side.

I am very grateful to the Lord for giving me such great people in my life to be around and nature to pursue. Laughing out there on the mountain and creating these memories will stay with me forever. I don’t call this hunt and kill “My Bear,” but I call it the “We Bear” because everyone was there for me. After all things considered, what mattered most to me is that the people I am around share the same belief and faith in Jesus Christ, who came as the lamb of God and spilled his blood for those who would believe in him. Thank you, Lord, that we can be servants for you, the author of our salvation. Amen.